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What Causes A Breaker To Trip?

In modern homes, there is a circuit breaker box that controls the flow of electricity throughout your home. It is broken into individual “circuits” that direct lines of electricity to specific sections of your home like the kitchen or bedroom. When a breaker “trips,” it will stop the flow of electricity to all outlets, lights, fans, and anything plugged into the outlets. The circuit will also be visible in the breaker box because it will most likely be the only switch in the “off” position.

We have had a few customers contact us needing help troubleshooting their electrical problems. If you notice the electricity isn’t working in one or two rooms, the first thing to check would be your breaker box. If the lever on the circuit breaker has tripped from on to off there are a few common reasons. If you continue through troubleshooting your problem and can’t fix it on your own, please contact us. We’re always available to help!

What is a circuit breaker?

Your home is connected to the public utility electrical line through a direct port on the side of your house. That line then goes directly to a circuit breaker box which spreads out the lines of 120-volt electrical wiring through the rest of your house. This is intentionally designed to give you the ability to turn off or on the electricity to specific sections of your home. You might want to install fan in your bedroom, but still want to make sure the tv is running in your living room. If you had to turn off the electricity to the entire house for every minor update like a light fixture, it would be pretty inconvenient. It also helps with troubleshooting specific electrical problems when a breaker trips. 

circuit breaker

There are three common reasons why a circuit breaker will trip: a ground fault, a short circuit, and an overloaded circuit.

  • Ground Fault

A Ground Fault occurs when a hot wire connects with metal, wood framing, or a ground wire. A ground fault is dangerous in areas with high levels of moisture like bathrooms, outdoor outlets, and kitchens. This is one reason why you’ll notice more GCFI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) outlets in those areas.

A ground fault is a hard short. This means it causes an instant increase in the electrical flow because there is a reduction in resistance in the medium the electricity is moving through. Because there is that increase in electrical flow, the circuit breaker will heat up and trip. To fix this, you need to find the exposed hot wire and remove its connection to the wood, metal, or ground wire. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up outlets and working with electricity, please contact us.

  • Short Circuit

A Short Circuit is another hard short. It is caused when your hot wire (black) touches the neutral wire (white). The connection between the two wires lowers the resistance for the electrical current and increases the flow. This is what triggers the tripping mechanism in the circuit breaker. Where the ground fault is caused by wiring inside the outlets, a short circuit could be caused by wiring inside the appliances connected to the outlet. The best way to figure out the problem is to unplug all appliances on the affected circuit. If you reset it, and it doesn’t automatically trip, you will know the problem is a short in one of the appliances. You can plug each one back in and when it trips again, you’ll know which appliance needs repair.

  • Overloaded Circuit

The overloaded circuit is the most common reason for a breaker to trip. It happens when a circuit is using more electricity than it is designed to carry. This could mean there are too many lights, fans, tvs, and other appliances operating at one time. Every circuit breaker is set up to safely “trip” when it heats up to a certain point. That heat is generated by how much electricity is moving through it. If you have too many appliances pulling electricity from the same circuit, it will naturally heat up and trip. When the circuit trips, the electrical pathway from negative to positive poles is disconnected. This causes the electricity to stop flowing to all items along the circuit. 

Again, the first thing you should do when troubleshooting your problem is to unplug all of the appliances. If it is an overloaded circuit, you can flip the breaker back on, and it will run perfectly fine again. Then you can replug a few of your appliances, but try to not plug all of them back in again to the same circuit.

When to call an electrician?

If you have troubleshot the three most common problems and your breaker continues to trip, it might be time to call a local electrician. Here at Lawson Electrical, we have helped thousands of local people solve their electrical problems. Click here to get in contact today!

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