Why Circuit Breakers Trip Off and What To Do Next
What Causes a Circuit Breaker to Trip Off? The Most Common Problems that Cause a Tripping Circuit Breaker.© By: Dave Rongey
Tripping Circuit Breaker Problem
Electrical Question: What Causes a Circuit Breaker to Trip Off?
Tripping Breaker Question #1
Mona in California asks:
Are tripping circuit breakers dangerous for computers and electronic devices?
- In my kitchen, while using microwave and toaster oven at same time trips the breaker. Also when using my hairdryer in the bathroom and the microwave or other appliance the circuit trips off.
- This also shuts down the TV, two DVD recorders and probably the Mac Book Pro but since it has battery back-up it stays on. Is this dangerous for his Mac.
- The property owner is allowing some guy to fix the problem by changing a 20 amp circuit breaker to a 30 amp circuit breaker. This must be wrong.
- I didn’t think the kitchen should be connected to any other place in house.
- I know some things in kitchen should have their own circuit breaker.
Help, I need to show how dangerous this could be if the owner proceeds as planned.
Thanks for your electrical question Mona.
Dave Replies to this question and more:
Why Circuit Breakers Trip Off
Application: Identifying Electrical Circuit Problems.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – This electrical work is best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor or Certified Electrician.
Tools Required: Electricians Pouch of Hand Tools for Rough-In Wiring, Electric Drill and Auger Bits and Extension Cord. All safety measures must be taken for your protection while working around environmental and construction hazards and when working with all types of tools.
Estimated Time: Depends on the extent of the project, the type of construction and available access to the project area.
Precaution: Any existing wiring in the project area should be identified, turned OFF and Tagged. Old electrical wiring that will be replaced with new electrical wiring should be removed.
Notice: Installing additional electrical wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.
The Purpose of a Circuit Breaker
Circuit breakers prevent electrical overload that could damage electrical wiring components which could result in a fire.
How to Troubleshoot a Circuit Breaker Problem
- Mona’s question describes a serious electrical wiring condition and the wrong solution to the problem.
- As described, there is a overload condition with the electrical system of the home because dedicated circuits are not installed according to current codes.
- As Mona has stated, the kitchen should have its own dedicated circuits, in fact there should be at least two 20 amp circuits for the kitchen counter top receptacles which should be protected by GFCI.
- When a circuit becomes overload and starts to trip the breaker off this is an indication that the electrical system should be evaluated and additional circuits should be installed to bring the home up to the current code requirements.
Tripping Breaker Question #2
Jim in Texas asks:
My son has a circuit breaker that just started to trip pretty much as soon as he resets it.
The Most Common Problems that Cause a Tripping Circuit Breaker
- I am trying to help him fix the problem. I have a good tester but am not sure to how to determine the probable cause without simply replacing stuff and sometimes that can get expensive besides time consuming.
If you have any suggestions would appreciate a plan of action.
Tripping Breaker Question #3
Van in Michigan asks:
I responded to a work request for a breaker not working in the main panel of an apartment.
- The problem was with a 15 amp circuit breaker for the living room and part of a bedroom that tripped and would not reset. When you try to reset; it would buzz and hum then the breaker trips again. It even arcs a little at times.
- I troubleshooted the circuit to find a short in outlets and switches. No wires were broken or burnt. The neutral and common were all intact. I replaced the breaker with new 15 amp breaker, but it still trips. How can I find the fault in the circuit? With the breaker in the off position; could I perform a continuity test to find the short? I get voltage from all the other breakers around it.
Any advice will be appreciated.
Troubleshooting the Cause of a Tripping Circuit Breaker
IMPORTANT: If a circuit breaker is tripping off it may not be a problem with the breaker itself.
- Improper Circuit Design
If a circuit is not designed properly the breaker may trip off due to an overloaded condition.
- Improper Circuit Installation
If the circuit wiring and components are not installed correctly there could be a direct short in the circuit which could cause the breaker to trip off.
- Large Equipment Can Cause Overload
Equipment that requires a lot of power may overload the circuit and cause it to trip off, this is why some equipment require a separate dedicated circuit to be installed.
- A Device Connected to the Circuit Has a Problem
Devices could cause a circuit to trip off due to many problems including
- Damaged electrical receptacle outlet.
- Damaged electric cord.
- Damaged internal electric component.
- Bad motor bearings or worn out parts.
What to do about a Tripping Circuit Breaker
Now that we have discussed the possible problems associated with a tripping circuit breaker the following should be considered for possible solutions:
- Electric Circuit Problem
- The circuit should be evaluated to make sure it is sized properly and installed according to applicable codes.
- In some cases circuit wiring may need to be replaced, or an additional circuit may be required.
- Device or Equipment Problem
- Faulty items should be disconnected from the circuit and repaired or replaced as needed.
- Faulty Circuit Breaker
- If a circuit breaker is found to be faulty then it should be replaced.
Selecting the Right Circuit Breaker
- A circuit breaker should only be replaced by the same type and amperage breaker which is properly size for the circuit wire size.
- A circuit breaker should NEVER be replaced with one that is of a larger amperage rating because this could allow the electrical wiring to become overloaded which will over heat the wiring and could cause a fire.
Important: A tripping circuit breaker may be an indication that additional circuits may be required.
More about Electrical Wiring and Circuit Breakers
Electrical Circuit Wiring
- This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.
Home Electrical Circuit Breakers
- A guide to home electrical circuit breakers and how they work to protect your electrical wiring.
- When properly installed, your home electrical wiring is protected by a circuit protection device.
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.
More articles about 220 volt circuit questions, Electrical Repair, Electrical Troubleshooting and Home Electrical Wiring:
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