As children, we loved shuffling around the carpet and then turning to our siblings or friends and giving them a zap. You could see the electricity arc from your finger like magic. As we age, however we may be a little more concerned when we noticed other things like our outlets when they spark the same when we plug in or pull out our radios or refrigerators.

Of course it would give us pause. Were we about to burn the house down? Should we rush to the phone to call the fire department or the electrician?

Though some of those electrical arcs are harmless, it is wise to understand what’s happening.

In essence, think of your electrical system like water flow. As it rushes around your house, it’s contained in the wiring. When you plug in that radio or appliance however it changes directions and starts to send power to the new connection. Unlike water however, as your plug gets closer to the outlet, the energy can jump the gap prematurely. Electricity can arc through the air to a nearby connection just like our static electricity did when we were children.

For the most part, this too is harmless, though there are some sparks that warrant further investigation.

  1. When the spark lasts too long – A spark when you’re plugging in an outlet should last only a mere second until you get the appliance plugged in. If the spark lasts any longer, it’s worth a second look.
  2. When the spark is too big – Sparks leaping from the outlet and reaching further than the width of the plug are usually an indication of something far more dangerous.
  3. When the spark isn’t blue – Yellow or white sparks aren’t a good thing.
  4. When the spark has an accompanying smell – Sparks with a burning smell usually indicate just that; a fire.

If you see sparks like these when you’re just sitting or even when you’re working with an outlet by either plugging in an appliance then be prepared to call your electrician. Your safety isn’t worth the fascination one might have with electrical current.