What Is a Short Protection Circuit?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A short protection circuit is an electrical circuit with a safety feature to address concerns about short circuits, where power moves through a circuit abnormally, often causing a current overload. Shorts, as they are known, can be dangerous and may also cause damage to equipment. Particularly for high energy systems, putting measures in place to respond quickly to shorts is very important, and often required under the electrical code.

Fuses in a fusebox.
Fuses in a fusebox.

There are two common methods of adding short protection to an electrical circuit, fuses and breakers. Fuses contain a thin strip of wire that melts in high temperatures associated with current overloads, turning the circuit off. Breakers operate mechanically, responding to current overloads by flipping to break the circuit. Both options have advantages and disadvantages; the key issue for consumers is that after a short, fuses need to be replaced, while breakers can be returned to their normal operating position.

Circuit breakers prevent shortages by mechanically breaking the circuit when an overload is detected.
Circuit breakers prevent shortages by mechanically breaking the circuit when an overload is detected.

The goal of a short protection circuit is to react as soon as abnormal flows of electricity are detected. This will prevent damage to the circuit and can reduce the risks of injuries. When a short develops, the circuit breaks, no longer allowing energy to move through it. The short protection circuit can also turn off the power supply. Until an electrician examines the circuit and determines the nature of the problem, it will remain off.

An electrician can determine if a short protection circuit is necessary or recommended, and will install a circuit appropriate to the needs.
An electrician can determine if a short protection circuit is necessary or recommended, and will install a circuit appropriate to the needs.

Addressing shorts can be challenging, as they do not always cause a current overload. Sometimes current fluctuates or other problems develop, and none of the sensors in a circuit are able to detect and respond to the change. A short protection circuit may have several safety features in place to detect different kinds of electrical problems and turn the current off. Usually if an operator turns the circuit back on without fixing the problem, it will turn itself off again until the issue is fixed.

Electrical codes often require the use of a short protection circuit to protect public safety. Shorts can potentially be extremely dangerous and may cause issues like electrical arcs, where extremely hot plasma shoots through the air. People in the way of the arc can experience severe burns or death, depending on the circumstances. Lesser problems can include shocks from malfunctioning circuits or extensive damage to an electrical system, necessitating costly repairs to address the issue. An electrician can determine if a short protection circuit is necessary or recommended, and will install a circuit appropriate to the needs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

JimmyT

Does this relate in any way to surge protectors like you would use with your computer? It seems like maybe a surge protector is a miniature version of of a circuit breaker, because it provides overload protection.

jmc88

@Emilski - I just read the article on tripping circuit breakers, and it mentioned your exact problem. It sounds like you just have too many things using power at once. There probably isn't a short.

If it's too inconvenient, you can have an electrician install an extra breaker that should eliminate the problem.

Emilski

Now I understand what fuses are for. I know that my grandparents always had a drawer full of them, but every house I've lived in has had circuit breakers. I've ruined the fuse on strings of Christmas lights, as well.

I've had problems before with circuits tripping in my kitchen. Is this normal? Usually it happens when I am using my stand mixer. I have to unplug something to avoid tripping the breaker. If I had a short, nothing would work, right?

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    • Fuses in a fusebox.
      Fuses in a fusebox.
    • Circuit breakers prevent shortages by mechanically breaking the circuit when an overload is detected.
      Circuit breakers prevent shortages by mechanically breaking the circuit when an overload is detected.
    • An electrician can determine if a short protection circuit is necessary or recommended, and will install a circuit appropriate to the needs.
      An electrician can determine if a short protection circuit is necessary or recommended, and will install a circuit appropriate to the needs.