Every home’s electrical system is made up of a network of circuits which distribute power. These circuits are all protected by mechanisms called circuit breakers, which automatically terminate the supply of power to the circuit when electrical problems occur. Circuit breakers perform a vitally important function, as they can prevent damage to appliances and reduce the risk of an electrical fire. Circuit breakers are located in the main service panel, and operate by levered on/off switches which control the power supply to particular circuits (for example, the water heater or the wall and ceiling lights). When an electrical problem arises, the circuit breaker will ‘trip’ – the lever-switch will automatically shift to the off position – and this will cut off the power supply to the particular circuit. Experiencing a trip can be frustrating, but often trips can be simply resolved. However, it is necessary to understand the different causes of tripped circuit breakers, because in some cases, you will need to call in a professional electrician to take a look at the issue.
There are three main causes of tripped circuit breakers:
This is the most common cause of circuit trips. Circuit overload occurs when the circuit is drawing more power than it can carry. The circuit breaker is heat-sensitive and detects when a certain amount of current is being drawn, and trips when the current drawn passes a particular threshold. Usually, overloading occurs when you are operating too many appliances on a circuit at once. Vacuum cleaners, old appliances which draw a lot of power, and AC units are particularly common causes of overload, especially when used in conjunction with other appliances. When your circuit trips because it is overloaded, simply identify the circuit which has tripped, remove an appliance or two from the circuit, and flick the switch of the breaker back into the ‘on’ position. If the circuit breaker switch stays in the on position and does not trip again, the problem has been resolved. Going forward, you will need to be aware of how much electrical strain you are putting on that particular circuit.
This is the second most common reason why circuit breakers trip. There can be two causes of a short circuit: the first is when the hot wire (the black wire) touches the neutral wire (the white wire), allowing for a sudden unimpeded flow of current, causing the breaker to trip; the second is when there is a problem in the wiring of one of the devices plugged into that particular circuit. You will realize there has been a short circuit when the circuit breaker continuously trips, no matter how many times you shift the lever back into the on position. When a short circuit occurs, it is a good idea to remove some of the devices from the faulty circuit, in case the problem is not with the circuit wiring but is with one of your appliances. However, if the breaker continues to trip, it is advised you call in a professional electrician to diagnose the electrical wiring fault which could be causing the short circuit. It is important you do this immediately, as you do not want to run the risk of an electrical fire.
Sometimes, a short circuit is caused by a ground fault. A ground fault occurs when the hot wire comes into contact with a ground wire, or a metal wall box, or wood framing members. Ground faults can be dangerous, but do not occur frequently as most homes are equipped with GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) to prevent ground faults from occurring. If the circuit breaker trips continuously even when you try to reset it, this could be an indication that your electrical system is experiencing a ground fault. This must be repaired immediately, as ground faults – especially in rooms like the kitchen or bathroom where there is plenty moisture – can become highly dangerous.
Most of the time, you’ll find that you are able to reset your tripped circuit breaker yourself without any further hassle. However, in some cases, the breaker is tripping for a more serious reason than mere overloading. In these cases, you should heed the warning sign that your circuit breaker is giving you by repeatedly tripping, and call in the professionals. At Art Plumbing, Air Conditioning & Electric, we are known for our speedy and reliable service, and will be sure to give you a professional diagnosis of the problem so that the necessary electrical repairs can be made. Don’t hesitate to call us today at 1-800-475-1504 if you are experiencing repeated circuit breaker trips.
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