You’re getting ready for work and turn on your hair dryer – next thing you know, the hair dryer stops working and your bathroom is dark. Or you plug in the toaster and lose power through your kitchen. One check of the breaker box, and sure enough, a breaker has tripped again. You flip the switch and power is restored, but why does your circuit breaker keep tripping? Our electricians in Durham are breaking down what causes this common problem and what you need to do to keep your home safe.
What Does a Circuit Breaker Do?
First, let’s look at what circuit breakers do and how they work so you understand why they trip. Electricity through your home all runs through your breaker panel which houses all the individual circuits. For example, the wiring of two guest bedrooms may be on one circuit, while the living room’s wiring will be directed to another. When something goes wrong within the circuit and the current or voltage levels are too high, the breaker trips, immediately shutting off the current to that circuit, and it must be manually turned back to the ON position. Without the breaker, the risk of fire and electric shock would be significantly increased.
Four Reasons Your Circuit Breaker Is Tripping
So, if the breaker trips, it’s because there’s a problem. Let’s look at what the most common problems are.
The most common and easily fixed reason your circuit breaker is tripping is that it’s overloaded. The circuit is designed to handle a specific amperage, so if you plug something into the circuit, it doesn’t have the extra amperage it needs. You will need to reduce the electrical load on the circuit to stop it from tripping. For example, you plug in a space heater, and the breaker trips, so you would either unplug or turn off other electrical items powered by that circuit or use another circuit to power the heater instead.
To determine if this is the issue, unplug everything connected to that circuit before you flip the breaker back on. Give it a few minutes to rest, then turn on the breaker. Begin plugging in or turning on items one at a time, giving a few minutes in between to see what may have caused the circuit to overload.
If this is a single-time issue, it’s generally nothing to be concerned about, but if circuit overloads are frequent, you may need to have new circuits installed and wiring redirected to handle your electricity needs.
A short circuit occurs when the active wire and a neutral wire touch which causes a rapid rise in current to flow through the circuit and overload it. The breaker tripping may be accompanied by a popping sound or even some smoke.
Often, short circuits are caused by damaged wires, faulty switches or outlets, or malfunctioning plugs and cords and, unless fixed or replaced, your home is at an increased risk of fire. If it’s wiring, outlet, or a switch issue, this is an issue that needs an electrician’s attention immediately.
Ground Fault Issue
The ground wire is an electrical wire that runs parallel to active and neutral wires and extends into the ground under your house. It is used to direct excess current away and discharge it into the ground safely, reducing the risk of fire and shock. For example, when your air conditioner kicks on, you may notice a flicker of your lights. This is caused by a small surge of electricity, and the excess is safely directed into the ground.
Ground faults can occur when the electricity is diverted away from under the house into the ground, usually due to the presence of another conductive source, such as water or metal. Poor wiring where wires touch or a wire can touch metal, or areas where water can enter an outlet or switch can lead to a ground fault.
Faulty Circuit Breaker
Sometimes, the circuit breaker just begins to wear out and needs to be replaced. In addition to a circuit breaker tripping or not staying set, you may see damage or smell smoke. If this is the case, you should call an electrician immediately to determine the problem and provide circuit breaker repair and installation.