You finally have some free time on your hands. So, you decide to get on with those odd jobs around your home you’ve been putting off for months, like hanging frames on the wall?
You gather your supplies, pick up the drill, and choose a spot. Then, a few seconds into drilling, you see sparks, hear crackling from inside the wall, and look at the blackened tip of your drill bit.
Your heart sinks as you realize you’ve just drilled into an electrical cable. So, you rush to do a quick online search for ‘what happens if you drill into a live wire?’
To make things easier, we rounded up everything you need to know about drilling into cables.
Let’s dive in.
What Happens if You Drill into a Live Wire?
Drilling into cables is pretty rare, but it does happen, especially in older buildings or those that have been renovated recently. In cases like this, what happens is that the wires tend to be grouped and placed closer to the back side of the sheetrock than what you’d expect.
Sometimes they’re even placed in some of the most unpredictable places ever!
So, it’s not really your fault that you drilled into a live wire. Knowing that you can start thinking of how you’re going to fix it.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
After you get over the initial realization that you’ve just drilled into a live wire, the first thing you have to check is your safety.
Almost all drills nowadays come in a plastic covering to help keep you safe in situations like this. So, if you’re using a safety drill, you’ll be safe from any possible electric shock that may have occurred when you drilled into the wire.
On the other hand, some drills come with a metal chuck. If your hand was in contact with the metal precisely when the drill comes in contact with the wire, there’s a strong chance you might get electrocuted.
After all, what any electrical current wants is to find a way to the ground. So, at the point of drilling into the wire, the electricity will leave the wire, run through the drill bit and chuck, then through your body.
Understand Your Household Wiring
After making sure you haven’t been injured in any way, step back from the wall and put the tools down. Then, head to the breaker switch and turn it off to disconnect the main power from your home.
In situations like this, it helps to know the types of wiring running through your house. Generally, home electrical wiring falls into two categories: power and lighting.
Power distribution consists of wires running above if your foundation is cement. Alternatively, the cables can run from below if you have a basement or crawl space beneath the house.
These wires usually carry a much heavier gauge. Thus, they tend to have a more devastating effect if they’re not repaired properly.
Lighting distribution wires are typically set up to run from above the home. So, if you have an attic, that’s probably where the wires originate, then they’re spread out through the entire house.
They tend to use lower ampacity rates and less gauge than power wires. Nevertheless, they can still cause severe damage to your home if cut or damaged in any way.
Look for Nearby Switches
After you’ve drilled into a wire, take a look around. Do you see any outlets for switches close by? Are you near any big appliances?
By answering these questions, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of electrical wiring is running through this specific portion of the wall.
An easier way to check if the outlet or switch is still receiving power or not is to use a voltage tester or a handheld meter. They’re easy to use and can help you quickly determine whether or not there’s electric current running through the wires.
Assess the Damage
Even if you only notice what seems like bits of wire insulation on the drill bit, you still need to find a way to fix it. A partially cut wire can cause a hot spot, which can either be a loose or overtightened connection that results in a local overheating of the wires.
Over time, this can be a potential fire hazard. Another problem is that you may notice the nearby outlet or switch isn’t working, or worse, that it causes a shock whenever anybody touches it.
If you do smell any burning or catch a glimpse of a small flame inside the walls, it’s time to call the cavalry. Then, quickly get yourself and anyone else out of the house and at a safe distance.
Repair the Damage
If you have any basic experience in electrical wiring, you can always fix the problem yourself. The alternative is to call a qualified electrician to do it for you.
It’ll cost you a few extra bucks, but when it comes to electrical work, it’s better to let the experts handle it. This way, you can rest easy, knowing that the wiring is all set up and your home is safe.
Then, once they’re done fixing the wiring, the next step is to fix the drywall. Again, you can do it yourself if you have some experience. Or, you can enlist the help of a contractor to repair the wall.
How to Avoid Drilling into a Live Wire?
Whether you’ve already drilled into a live wire or want to stay ahead of the game, this is certainly one thing you want to avoid at all costs.
Remember that there will be times when you’ll want to drill into the stud. This is usually recommended if you’re hanging heavier objects, like a bookshelf or a TV set.
Below are some handy tips and techniques that can help you do just that without the risk of drilling into live wires.
Take a look.
Stop Drilling When You Feel Resistance
US building codes require contractors run electrical wiring through holes drilled into the 2x4 studs behind the drywall. To avoid potential electrical problems, they place protective metal plating to cover the holes through which the wires run through.
These metal plates are put there to prevent anyone from drilling into the wires. So, if you feel resistance as you’re drilling, stop immediately. It might mean you’ve run into one of the metal plates.
Keep in mind that if the drill hits something behind the drywall and you only feel any pressure, this is almost certainly a stud.
Another way to be sure is to look at the drill bit tip. Do you see any sawdust? Then, that means you’ve hit a stud.
Limit the Depth of the Drill
Place a piece of tape on the drill bit at around 1/2 or 3/4 inches. This will act as a guideline to help you stop drilling once you pass through the depth of the sheetrock.
After all, you don’t need to drill any deeper than that. You only need to get through the drywall to secure the nail in place. Going farther than that serves no benefit, and you’ll end up having an unsteady nail, a wobbly frame, and possible damage to the wires.
That is, of course, unless you want to use the stud to hang something heavy. Then, as mentioned above, studs offer better support and stability to whatever heavy object you want to hang.
Use a Wire Finder
Wire finders, also called wire sensors or stud finders, are quick, non-invasive ways to help you determine the path of the electrical wiring in the walls. They take the guesswork out of finding the perfect spot to drill so you don’t spend all day second-guessing yourself.
These gadgets can be handy if your home is in a highly renovated area or an older home. First, make sure you start where you’re certain there’s electrical wiring, like near a switch or outlet. Then, work your way backward to trace the wiring.
Start by powering on the device and moving it horizontally across the wall. When it finds a stud, it’ll give you a reading, which can be a blinking light or a reading on a digital display, depending on the make and model of the device.
Using a pencil, lightly mark the location of the stud. Then, keep moving horizontally along the wall to locate more studs if needed.
It’s worth mentioning that studs are typically spaced from 16 to 24 inches apart. So, after finding the first stud, you can use these average measurements to give you an estimate of where the next one will be.
So, what happens if you drill into a live wire? Well, we’ve seen the possible scenarios that might happen in a situation like this.
We’ve also provided some easy-fix solutions to help you repair the electrical wiring. You’ll find that the tips mentioned here can also help prevent something simple, like a cut wire, from escalating into something far more substantial, like a fire breaking out or having the power go out in your home.
At the end of the day, your safety, and the safety of your loved ones, should be your number one priority. So, plan ahead before you start drilling and work smart.