Tripping AFCI Breaker Problems and How To Fix Them
What would cause a 15 amp AFCI breaker to trip immediately when it is reset and turned on? The Most Common Problems with AFCI Circuits and How to Fix Them.
AFCI Circuit Breaker Problems
Electrical Question: What would cause a 15 amp AFCI breaker to trip immediately when it is reset and turned on?
- A few days ago a 15 amp AFCI breaker tripped, so went down to the basement and flipped it back on, that immediately tripped it again.
- I then went back up to the bedroom and bathroom that the breaker is assigned to and turned everything off and unplugged everything from outlets; then went back and flipped it back on and it was good it stayed on. However, as soon as I turn on any of the lights it trips off again.
- All of the outlets work, tested it with a table lamp, however, as soon as I turn on any of the light switches it trips again. There are total of 5 switches that cause breaker to trip; one controls bedroom ceiling fan light the other the ceiling fan, another is hallway light, another bathroom vanity light and last one is for bathroom fan/light. No matter which switch of those 5 I turn on it trips the breaker.
- The next thing I did was check the AFCI breaker, and the breaker is good. Then I checked all the switches and switches are good. Then I looked at wiring of all the fixtures and everything seemed firmly in place, nothing melted, nothing weird to my amateur eyes.
- Next I started disconnecting each fixture and after disconnecting one I would check if the I could turn on any of the other fixtures and after going through all of them nothing changed as soon as I would flip the switch it would pop the breaker.
- Now interestingly enough the ceiling fan would work on slowest setting, it would not trip the breaker. However, as soon as I would flip any of the other lights on or increase the speed on the fan it would trip the breaker.
- That gave an idea so I took a simple single light bulb fixture and wired it to each of the fixtures wiring first with a 60 watt bulb then with a 13 watt bulb but still not luck of narrowing down the issue, each time I would turn on the light it would trip the breaker.
Any ideas what could be causing this? I would appreciate any help or advice as I am going crazy right now. The house was built in 2010 in Black Hawk County Iowa, it passed all inspection as far as I know. The contractor that built my house is not answering my phone calls. Thank you in advance.
This electrical wiring question came from Alex, in Waterloo, Iowa.
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Alex.
How to Fix Tripping AFCI Breaker Problems
Application: Circuit Wiring for a AFCI.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best performed by a Certified Electrician or a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with hand tools and electrical troubleshooting skills.
Precaution: Identify the circuit, turn it OFF and then Tag it with a Note before performing any wiring or inspections.
The Most Common Problems with AFCI Circuits and How to Fix Them:
- The Basic’s of Arc Fault Circuit Interruption – AFCI
- AFCI protects against arcs that may develop into a fire hazard or electrocution.
- Large electrical arcs, or even sparks, can cause a house fire if a faulty condition continues.
- Electrocution can be caused by a number of things including infants playing with metal objects and placing them into the electrical wall outlets.
- Early AFCI Problems
- When the AFCI circuit breakers were first introduced there were several problems with nuisance tripping mostly from light fixtures.
- The problem is with the size of the arc which occurs anywhere on the circuit, from the switch to the light bulbs, or any type of electrical load.
- Light Switches and a Tripping AFCI
- Your brilliant troubleshooting skills have brought you down to a few possibilities, one most of all, being the light switches.
- The switches may appear to work OK, however the more a switch is used, the more worn out the contacts get, which in turn creates a larger gap between the contact materials which could create an arc that contributes to a tripping AFCI breaker.
- Light Bulbs and Tripping AFCI
- The other possibility which actually works hand in hand with the arcing switch contacts is the type and size of the light bulbs.
- The larger to electrical load, the more potential for a larger arc, therefore elevating the possibility for a tripping AFCI circuit breaker.
- Replacing Worn Out Switches
- The first thing I would do is replace one of the switches that is causing the AFCI to trip off and see if that takes care of the problem.
- Be sure to choose a good reliable quality switch.
- Replacing an AFCI Circuit Breaker
- There is a possibility that the AFCI circuit breaker may need to be replaced with a newer one which has up to date circuitry, because there have been enough problems to require circuit design improvements.
- Older Homes and AFCI Protection
- AFCI is a great technology, and I highly recommend the circuit breakers and receptacles, especially for older homes where there are questionable wiring hazards that need to be identified.
More about AFCI Electrical Wiring
GFCI and AFCI Circuit Breakers
Arc Fault Circuit Interruption AFCI provides the extra measure of safety for your family. AFCI’s are installed serving required house wiring circuits protecting areas such as the bedrooms. AFCI protects the bedroom circuit devices against the danger of arcing which can lead to fire.
Electrical Codes for AFCI Circuits
Dave explains Electrical Codes for AFCI Circuit Home Wiring.
The following may also be helpful for you:
Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all Electric Wiring Projects.
The Safest Way to Test Electrical Devices and Identify Electric Wires!The Non-Contact Electrical Tester
This is a testing tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and is the first test tool I grab to help identify electrical wiring. It is a Non-contact tester that I use to easily Detect Voltage in Cables, Cords, Circuit Breakers, Lighting Fixtures, Switches, Outlets and Wires. Simply insert the end of the tester into an outlet, lamp socket, or hold the end of the tester against the wire you wish to test. Very handy and easy to use.
The Quickest Way to Check for Faulty Electrical Wiring!The Plug-In Outlet Tester
This is the first tool I grab to troubleshoot a problem with outlet circuit wiring. This popular tester is also used by most inspectors to test for power and check the polarity of circuit wiring.
It detects probable improper wiring conditions in standard 110-125 VAC outlets Provides 6 probable wiring conditions that are quick and easy to read for ultimate efficiency Lights indicate if wiring is correct and indicator light chart is included Tests standard 3-wire outlets UL Listed Light indicates if wiring is incorrect Very handy and easy to use.
Strip Off Wire Insulation without Nicking and Damaging the Electric Wire!The Wire Stripper and Wire Cutter
My absolute favorite wire stripping tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and this is the tool I use to safely strip electrical wires.
This handy tool has multiple uses:
The wire gauges are shown on the side of the tool so you know which slot to use for stripping insulation.
The end of the tool can be used to grip and bend wire which is handy for attaching wire onto the screw terminals of switches and outlets..
The wire stripper will work on both solid and stranded wire. This tool is Very Handy and Easy to Use.
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I’m having a similar problem, but a little more bizarre. Our house was built in 2010 and every once in a while three of the AFCI breakers start tripping pretty much at the same time, one on the kitchen downstairs and two on upstairs bedrooms. At its worst, I can’t even reset the breakers without their immediately tripping. The breaker will even trip when there is nothing on in the room.
We live in Alaska and get some pretty powerful winds here. It appears that this problem arises after a windstorm plagues us for a day or two, and then just goes away. I’ve replaced the breakers twice, and the ones in there are only a couple of months old. Can there be a connection between the winds and the problem? Any advise on how I can fix this? I’ve had a good electrician here twice but he’s stumped.
Yes nuisance trips of AFCI breakers can be a problem, however because of the correlation between the time of the tripping and the windy weather conditions I would focus on the incoming electrical service, especially if it is the overhead type. My reasoning is because of the movement of the overhead lines from the utility company to the home can move a lot which could eventually create a loose splice at the service connection outside of the weather head. I would confess that this would be an odd occurrence or possibility because the AFCI should be reacting to the arc faults of the downstream circuit, however it would be worth looking into due to your description. I would contact your local electrical utility provider and request them to take a look at the incoming service and connections. They could use an thermal heat detector to scan the connections for excessive heat. Of course, this inspection would be best right after a windstorm when you are experiencing this problem of tripping AFCI breakers. The aforementioned possibility would be supported especially if you have noticed any lights that flicker at the same time that the AFCI breakers react.
I hope this helps,
Great advise. I called our local utility and they’re coming by today to check. The guy at the utility was skeptical, but I’m convinced this is the problem. It’s more than a little windy today (15mph+) and the breakers are tripping and I noticed a definite flicker to the lights when they are on. And since 4-5 breakers are tripping, it can’t be something on any individual circuit. It has to be the service connection.
Great website. And thanks again for the help.
Thank you Scott,
I would be interested to know the utility company’s findings. If the overhead drop splice is found to be OK then it would be good for them to pull the meter and inspect the meter socket. Meter sockets may experience deteriorating and burnt lug connections, however this is more common in the summer time when the electrical load is higher. Temperature swings can create expansion and contractions with larger wire, especially aluminum, which can then create a burnt lug connection that will then cause power abnormalities with the home circuits.