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What Happens if a Live Wire Comes Loose From an Electrical Outlet?

Electricity is permanently present in a wall outlet. Plugging a cord into the outlet allows electricity to flow from the outlet to an appliance. Repeated plugging and unplugging places physical stress on the outlet and may result in a wire working loose.

Electricity Supply

Loose wiring can cause fires, injury and death.

Connecting an appliance to an outlet completes an electrical circuit. The "hot" and "neutral" wires from the power supply link through the appliance. The circuit is not complete if the "live" wire feeding electricity to the outlet is unattached, and appliances using that outlet will not work.

Buzzing Noise

A loose "hot" wire may remain near enough to another conductor for electricity to arc to the "grounding" or "neutral" parts of the circuit. As electricity "jumps" from the hot wire to another conductor it does so as a series of sparks. A short “pop” accompanies each spark, producing a buzzing noise. The arcing acts like an arc welder and may vaporise metal components. Left unchecked, the terminal, the end of the wire and the insulation protecting the outlet are likely to suffer damage.

Heating

The ability of a wire to carry an electric current is a function of its diameter. As current passes through a conductor it meets resistance and, in overcoming the resistance, it generates heat. Smaller conductors generate more heat while larger conductors generate less. Wires designed to cope with the anticipated current without over heating will feed a correctly wired outlet. The tip or edge of a loose wire resting against a terminal acts like a narrowing of the conductor and may produce a considerable amount of heat. This may heat the entire outlet and cause plastic to melt.

Safety

The destruction of terminals and insulation, combined with the production of heat may melt the outlet, causing short circuits and potentially setting fire to the building. It may also destroy insulation and expose "live" wiring. Contact with live wiring may cause severe burns or death.

About the Author

David Robinson has written professionally since 2000. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Meteorological Society. He has written for the "Telegraph" and "Guardian" newspapers in the U.K., government publications, websites, magazines and school textbooks. He holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in geography and education and a teaching certificate from Durham University, England.