Electrical Sounds and What They Mean

You’re in the middle of doing something around the house or working hard on a project at the office when you hear a strange noise coming from the electrical outlet. Is it a short? Is the wiring faulty? Is the building about to catch fire?! At that moment, all you can think about is getting out of there as fast as possible. But before you call the fire department or insurance company, take a deep breath and relax. It’s probably not as bad as it seems—it might not even be something to worry about at all! 

Your electrical system can talk to you. It produces sounds that can clue you in to what it needs. Luckily, most of these noises are relatively harmless and indicate nothing more than the normal flow of electricity. However, some noises warn you about serious problems that require immediate attention from an electrician. 

Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common electrical sounds and what they mean:


This is probably the sound that strikes the most fear into our hearts. A pop coming from an electrical outlet is rarely a good sign. More often than not, it means there’s a loose connection somewhere in the circuit, that your circuit breaker is tripping, or a fuse has blown. This usually happens because there’s too much electricity flowing through that overloads the system. If this occurs frequently, having an electrician check things out is a good idea, as it could be a sign of faulty wiring or a damaged outlet. Popping sounds coming from your outlets or appliances could also indicate that there is an electrical shortage. Shut off the power and unplug the appliances, then check for signs of damage or loose connections. If there is damage or the problem persists, call an electrician. If you hear a pop followed by sparks or smoke, that’s definitely cause for alarm, and you should evacuate the building immediately. Once everyone is safe, call your local electrician or fire department for assistance.


A hissing sound from an outlet is usually nothing to worry about—it’s just electricity flowing through the wires. If the sound is accompanied by sparks, smoke, or a burning smell, turn off the power at the breaker box immediately and call an electrician. Hissing could signal an overloaded circuit that could start a fire if left unchecked. Shut off the power and unplug appliances if you hear hissing sounds. Once the appliances are unplugged, check for signs of water damage. If there is water damage, call an electrician.


Sizzling noises from your outlets, switches, or breaker box could signify dangerous arcing. Arcing occurs when electricity jumps through the air, often because of loose connections or damaged wiring. If you hear this sound, you must call an electrician immediately, as arcing can cause fires.


If you hear a humming noise from an outlet, it’s just an overloaded circuit causing the wires to vibrate. However, if the sound is loud and persistent, it could signify loose wiring or faulty equipment. Either way, it’s best to have an electrician take a look. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry—and electrocuting yourself isn’t fun either! 


Cracking sounds from your outlets or appliances could indicate an electrical overload. If you hear cracking, shut off the power and unplug the appliances. Once the appliances are unplugged, check the circuits and reset the breaker if necessary. If the problem persists, call an electrician.


A boom from your electrical panel is never a good sign and always warrants a call to an electrician. This loud noise is usually caused by a transformer failure and can often be accompanied by a bright light show. If you see or hear this happening, clear the area immediately and call for help. Do not attempt to fix this problem yourself! Transformer failures are hazardous; it’s best to let an electrician handle it.

While hearing strange noises from your electrical outlets can be disconcerting, the sounds are generally harmless and easy to fix. But, if you’re ever in doubt, or there are sparks or smoke accompanying the sound, err on the side of caution and call Plugged in Electrical immediately. We’ll be able to diagnose the problem quickly and get your home or office back up and running in no time flat—without any fires!

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