My circuit breaker keeps tripping - now what?

June 29, 2019

 

A tripped circuit breaker can leave you in the dark or without access to important appliances. A breaker tripping once or twice is an inconvenience but probably nothing to worry about. However, if you experience tripped breakers frequently, it may signify a larger problem that needs to be addressed. 

 

A circuit breaker “trips” (shuts off the electrical flow) in order to protect the circuit from overheating. It’s a safeguard that helps prevent damage and electrical fires. 

 

 

The three most common causes of a tripped circuit breaker are:

  • Overloaded circuit

  • Short Circuit

  • Ground Fault

 

 

Overloaded Circuit


This is the most common cause of a tripped breaker. It usually happens when you’re running too many power-consuming devices on the same circuit at the same time. Maybe you turned on your hair dryer while a space heater was running, or you have several small appliances running all at once in your kitchen. The demand (or load) on the circuit is too high, and the breaker trips to prevent overheating. 

 

 

With a little detective work, you can often find the appliance or device that is causing the issue. Before flipping the breaker back on, try to remember what was running when the breaker tripped. 

 

  • Can you isolate the appliance that you turned on just before the breaker tripped?

  • Have you recently added a new device or appliance to the circuit?

  • Did you start using a space heater or other seasonal device that you haven't used in a while?

 

 

Have you noticed that any of your appliances have been running hot, making any strange new noises, having trouble starting, or not working as efficiently? A failing or faulty appliance will draw in more amps than usual, which can cause the circuit to overload.

 

If your appliances are good, there are two solutions for an overloaded circuit:

 

  • Move power-hungry devices from the overloaded circuit to another circuit that has fewer items plugged in.

  • Turn off some of the devices on the circuit to reduce the load.

 

If this doesn’t resolve the issue, you may need to have an electrician install a new dedicated circuit and outlet to handle your home’s amp load.

 

 

 

Short Circuit

 

 

A more dangerous potential cause of a breaker tripping frequently is a short circuit. A short circuit is caused when a “hot” or energized wire touches either another hot wire or a “neutral” wire in one of your outlets. This results in a large current flow, creating more heat than the circuit can handle.

 

A short circuit should cause a breaker to trip if the breaker is working properly. It might cause sparks, popping sounds or even smoke. You may observe blackening around the outlet slots or notice a burnt smell. If this happens, leave the circuit breaker tripped and call an electrician right away.

 

There are many potential culprits of a short circuit, including a loose connection, improper wiring, or damaged wires. A faulty switch, plug, cord, or appliance may be to blame. Short circuits are a fire hazard, so don’t wait to address the problem—call an electrician.

 

 

 Ground Fault

 

 

A ground fault is similar to a short circuit. It occurs when a hot wire touches the bare copper grounding wire. Like a short circuit, you may notice discoloration or a burning smell around your outlets. Ground faults are usually the result of damaged or faulty equipment. They are also dangerous, as they render the safe “grounding” of your outlet useless, and can energize the metal housing of appliances or electrical boxes. If you suspect a ground fault, call an electrician ASAP!

 

 

 

Give us a call anytime at (540)552-5397 if you need help with tripped breakers or

other electrical issues. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

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