What To Do When Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping
Circuit breakers are designed to protect electrical circuits from damage caused by overload and short circuits.
Sometimes circuit breakers start tripping quickly and frequently, protecting the electric circuit but also signaling an issue with the load, power switches, outlets, or maybe even wiring.
And the "best" of all, like everything else, sometimes even a circuit breaker may malfunction.
Published: November 5, 2022.
Why Electric Circuit Breaker Trips?
An electric circuit breaker is an electromechanical device designed to break an electric circuit if/when the electric current reaches a predefined level, given in Amps.
For example, 25 Amps electric breaker will trip (break/shut off) the electric circuit and stop the current when the current reaches ~25 Amps.
Although we would like to keep things as simple as possible, it is good to know that there are classes of electric breakers regarding the speed they react when the electric current reaches a certain level.
Also, electric breakers are classified according to the number of phases they support - one (mono) phase, two phases, etc.
But, to keep things as simple as possible, keep in mind that the electric circuit breaker trips when the current reaches a certain predetermined value.
How To Know That The Breaker Has Tripped?
If the electric power went off only in a part of your home, most probably one or rarely more electric breakers tripped.
Note: If the electric power went off in a whole house, check if your neighbors have power, and if they do, check the main house electric breaker(s).
When the power goes off, check the electrical panel or fuse box and verify if all the breakers are On. If there is one that is in the Off position, DO NOT move it to the On position right away.
When the electric breaker trips often, it is good to know possible reasons why that happens.
Tripped Breaker: Too Many Appliances
When the breaker trips, first check what part of your home is without power, and if there are several devices and appliances powered off, it is a good idea to unplug them.
So, unplug all affected devices and appliances and turn off all switches that have lost power, and reset the electric breaker.
Note: When resetting your circuit breaker, it is a good idea to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes (some sparks may appear if there are still some devices and appliances turned On on the affected electric circuit) and NOT to stand right ahead of the circuit breaker. Call me paranoid, but ... safety first!
After resetting the electric breaker, plug in and turn on one device at a time and check the electric breaker - if it trips again, write down all the connected and turned On appliances and their current draw.
Also, if possible, it is a good idea to monitor the electric current through the electric breaker - this gives the accurate value of the current that all connected loads draw.
If the total current is approximately equal to the maximum current of the electric breaker, then the reason why the electric breaker trips are too many devices and appliances being connected to the same electric breaker.
If the total current is not equal to the maximum current, there may be other reasons why the breaker trips.
Tripped Breaker: Bad Appliance
If You suspect that there is a bad appliance, change the order of connecting the appliances.
If the electric breaker always trips when a certain appliance is connected, there is some issue with that appliance - do NOT use that appliance anymore until checked/repaired by a certified technician.
Tripped Breaker: Short Circuit
This is not the most common reason why electric breakers trip, but it can happen.
When phase wire comes in contact with neutral or ground wire (ground fault), it is called a short circuit, leading to a huge current that can cause smoke, fire, and similar issues.
And that is where electric breakers do their job - they trip, preventing damage to the wires, switches, outlets, and property in general.
And this is one of many reasons why one should NEVER GO CHEAP with electric breakers, wires, and other components of the home electric system.
Note: all these components mean nothing if they are connected in the wrong way ...
Short circuits may be caused by the following:
- damage caused by animals chewing on wires and cables,
- loose connections,
- a faulty electrical switch, receptacle, appliance, or other components of the electrical circuit,
- water leakage, etc.
Note: water and electricity don't go well together. If there is a water leakage in the bathroom or kitchen and if there are issues with power (the breaker keeps on tripping), don't go in the affected area without the rubber insulating boots and other safety equipment. Personally, if that happens, call a certified electrician (and plumber) to resolve the issues and repair what must be repaired.
Tripped Breaker: Bad Electric Breaker
No matter how good electric breakers may be, they can also go bad.
When the electric breaker goes bad, it can:
- trip too soon: in this situation, an electric breaker trips before the current reaches a certain level. Although this situation may be very annoying, it is not as dangerous as other situations.
- trip too late: an electric breaker may trip when the electric current passing through the breaker is significantly stronger than the default current of the electric breaker. This situation may lead to rather dangerous situations - wires can overheat, fires may start, etc.
- not trip at all: an electric is "fried" - regardless of the current passing through the breaker, it simply cannot trip and break the circuit. This is a very dangerous situation.
There is only one thing that can be done with a bad electric breaker - it must be replaced with the new one having the same default current.
Note: when replacing the electric breaker, it is highly recommended to let a certified electrician do the job. It is a very wise long-term investment.
How To Tell If A Circuit Breaker Is Bad?
Several warning signs may lead to the conclusion that the circuit breaker is bad, including:
- a circuit breaker keeps on tripping, with no or almost no load connected,
- a circuit breaker is hot to the touch,
- a burning smell in the electrical or fuse box,
- a damaged circuit breaker or a circuit breaker with scorch marks,
- discolored wiring leading to or from the electric breaker, etc.
Again, if unsure, contact the professional electrician to pinpoint the reason why your electric breaker keeps on tripping and to resolve/repair the problem.
Tripped Breaker Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about electric breakers and their potential issues.
What does it mean if a breaker keeps tripping?
That means that a too-strong current passes through the electric breaker and causes the electric breaker to disconnect the electric circuit to protect it from any possible damage due to the too-strong current.
How do you fix a circuit breaker that keeps tripping?
Decrease the load of that electrical circuit below the electric breaker tripping current.
If the default breaker tripping current significantly differ from the current that actually causes the breaker to trip, replace the breaker.
Should I replace my breaker if it keeps tripping?
If the electric breaker trips too soon, too late, or does NOT trip at all, replace the electric breaker.
How do you find out what is tripping my electric breaker?
By connecting and disconnecting various loads, measuring the current through the electric breaker, and by measuring the electric current of each device/appliance connected to that electric breaker.
Will a surge protector stop a breaker from tripping?
No, the surge protector will not stop a breaker from tripping. A surge protector protects the devices and appliances from high-voltage transients that have already "passed" through the electric breaker.
Long Story Short: Frequently tripping electric breakers may be caused by benign issues, but it may also be a warning sign of something serious.
When that happens, whatever you do, be sure to stay safe - note down the affected area (wall power sockets, switches, appliances), check if there is a burning smell anywhere, and check the fuse box.
Again, if unsure, always contact a professional electrician and let them do their job. Electricity is not something to be played with ...