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Getting a charge out of life

Static Electricity

Sometimes we get calls from people who are getting shocks when they touch a switch plate or outlet plate. Getting large sparks flying out of the wall would be one (dangerous) thing but this is getting small little sparks at your figertips.

These little but scary shocks are from static electricity. When you walk across a rug (bare floors don't usually cause it) a little electrical charge builds up in you. This is released (discharged) when you touch the metal plate or plate screw. The metal provides a path for the built-up charge to be released to ground. (Literally, the metal is connected through a system the goes into the earth outside your home.)

Also, it happens when you first touch the plate, not if you pull your hand back and then touch again. With the second touch, since you haven't been walking across the rug, there's no charge to be released.

This type of situation is normal, happening more often in the winter when the air is drier. (Moist air can constantly absorb the charges.) It happens not only at switches, outlets and metal lamps, but also if you touch metal air ducts or hot water baseboard heating pipes or steam radiators.

Now you know a little more, which you can charge off to experience.