Ask an Expert about Electricity & Natural Gas


Have you ever wondered why shoes hanging on a power line don’t get fried? Or why natural gas flames are blue? Now you can get answers to these and all your energy-related questions. Just Ask an Expert!

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New!  When does my house use the most electricity?

Answer:Great question, Todd! According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, homes in the U.S. use the most electricity on hot summer afternoons when we all turn on our air conditioning. Experts report that almost half of our electricity use at home is for cooling and heating. Next highest electricity uses are water heaters, washer/dryers, and lights. So your house probably uses the most electricity on hot days when your air conditioning is running, the lights are on, and you are doing laundry and/or taking a shower.

How do people survive being struck by lightning?

Answer: Contrary to popular belief, most people who are struck by lightning do, in fact, survive. According to the National Weather Service, of roughly 700 people struck by lightning every year in the U.S., on average only 10% (about 70 people) are killed—although the other 90% suffer some level of short-term or long-term injury.

The reason most people survive a lightning strike is that the strike only lasts thousandths of a second. But the electricity passing through the body can cause permanent tissue damage, especially to the nervous system. And the explosive expansion of the air around the strike can damage victims’ hearing and cause falls and related injuries.

TIP: The safest place during a lightning storm is either inside a house or other plumbed and wired building, or inside a hardtop vehicle. Do not shelter under trees or in sheds, as these will increase your risk of being struck. For more lightning safety tips, please visit our lightning safety page in the Electrical Emergency section of this website.

I once saw a pair of shoes hanging from a power line. Why didn’t the shoes get burned up by the electricity in the line?

Answer: Shoes hanging on a power line don’t get burned for the same reason that birds standing on a power line don’t get shocked: they don’t give electricity a path to the ground, so electricity stays in the line and does not go through them. But if the shoes were to touch a power line and a power pole at the same time, they would provide a path to the ground and would get blasted with electric current. It wouldn’t be pretty!

By the way, if you ever see someone throwing shoes up onto a line, tell them to stop! The shoes can damage the power line, or someone trying to get the shoes down could be seriously shocked or even killed.

Why does the flame on my stove burners look blue, but the flame of a campfire is yellow?

Answer: A natural gas flame burns hotter than a campfire. In general, cooler flames appear yellow, orange, or red, while hotter flames look blue or white. (Flecks of orange in your gas flames are OK, but if the flame is yellow, large, and flickering, the appliance may need a safety adjustment by a qualified repair person.)

Do electric eels really create electricity?

Answer: Yes! An electric eel uses chemicals in its body to manufacture electricity. A large electric eel can produce a charge of up to 650 volts, which is more than five times the shocking power of a household outlet.

Who discovered natural gas?

Answer: The ancient Chinese were the first to discover underground deposits of natural gas. In 600 BC, Confucius wrote of wells 100 feet deep yielding water and natural gas along the Tibetan borer. The Chinese piped the gas to where it was needed through long, hollow bamboo stalks.

How much energy is in a bolt of lightning?

Answer: One lightning strike can carry up to 30 million volts—as much electricity as 2.5 million car batteries.

When a circuit is open, do electrons go backwards, or do they just stop?

Answer: Neither! In the wires of an electrical circuit, the electrons are always jiggling around. When a circuit is closed to run an appliance or a light bulb, the electrons jiggle a lot and travel through the wire. When the circuit is open, all the electrons just jiggle where they are—kind of like running in place.

Why didn’t Ben Franklin get electrocuted when he tied a metal key to a kite string and flew the kite in a thunderstorm?

Answer: Ben Franklin probably did not do his famous kite experiment the way it is usually portrayed. (Franklin never wrote about it himself, and the only description we have of it was written by another scholar, Joseph Priestley, 15 years later.) Franklin believed lightning was a flow of electricity taking place in nature. He knew of electricity’s dangers, and would probably not have risked being struck by lightning by flying his kite during a storm. It is more likely that Franklin flew his kite before the storm occurred, and that his famous key gave off an electric spark by drawing small electrical charges from the air.