Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping? Here’s Why

May 6, 2024
Washer Repair

Do you have a circuit breaker in your home that keeps tripping? If you’re constantly running to the circuit board to reset the breaker, this guide is for you! While the occasional trip is normal, regular tripping suggests an issue with how the appliance is being used or the circuit itself. 

In this guide, we break down the most common reasons for a circuit breaker that keeps tripping, and what you can do to fix the problem.

How Do Circuit Breakers Work?

Circuit breakers are a fail-safe device used in modern home electrical systems. They automatically stop the electricity when a problem occurs, such as overloading or short circuits. The circuit breaker is a thin strip made of two different types of metals, which bends if the current goes above a certain level. The bending triggers the mechanism that interrupts the power circuit, ensuring the power is immediately cut off. 

Once the issue that caused the tripping is fixed, you can manually reset the breaker to restore power to the circuit. This is where circuit breakers differ from fuses—once a fuse is blown, it needs to be replaced, but a circuit breaker can be safely reset each time it is tripped.

How Do Circuit Breakers Ensure Home Safety?

Circuit breakers help to ensure home safety by preventing electrical overloads and other faults that can cause electrical fires. When the electrical current exceeds the circuit’s capacity, the power is immediately cut. Overloaded circuits can cause overheating, which can cause fires that spread quickly throughout your home. Since circuit breakers have become common in homes, electrical fires are far less prevalent—they’re essential to modern home safety. 

Common Causes of Tripped Breakers

There are three common causes of tripped circuit breakers: overloaded circuits, short circuits, and ground faults. All of these can cause excess electrical currents, causing the circuit breaker to trip to protect your home. 

Overloaded Circuit

An overloaded circuit is probably the most common reason for a tripped breaker. It usually occurs when too many electrical devices are being used on a single circuit, particularly devices that use a lot of electricity, like a dryer or heater. This draws more power than the circuit can handle, and the circuit breaker shuts off the power to prevent the wiring from overheating and causing fires. 

Short Circuit

Short circuits are less common, but significantly more serious than an overloaded circuit. In layman’s terms, a short circuit occurs when a live wire makes contact with a neutral wire, allowing the current to flow through the newly created pathway. This causes a sudden surge in electricity, which creates a lot of heat that can start a fire. 

Short circuits are usually caused by a fault, such as a badly wired appliance, damaged wires, or improper wiring in your home. Along with the circuit breaker tripping, a short circuit might be accompanied by the smell of burning and even scorching on the power outlet!

Ground Fault

Similar to a short circuit, a ground fault occurs due to a wiring fault. It means that a wire carrying a current has touched either a ground wire or a piece of metal not designed to carry a current. This creates an electrical pathway to the ground and can result in a large electrical surge that trips the breaker. Ground faults can present a risk of electrocution, especially in areas with a lot of water, like in a bathroom.

Diagnosing the Issue

To figure out what caused your circuit breaker to trip, you need to work out if the problem lies with an overloaded circuit or with a wiring issue in the appliance itself. 

Check the Circuit

The most likely culprit for a tripped circuit breaker is an overloaded circuit, so this is the best place to start. Check to see how many appliances are plugged into the circuit. Ideally, appliances that use a lot of power like a dryer should only share the circuit with low-power appliances such as lights.

If your circuit has a lot of high-power appliances plugged in and there are no other telltale signs of a wiring issue, like scorching or a burning smell, then overloading is likely to blame.

Check Your Appliances

If the circuit does not seem to be overloaded, there may be an issue with one of your appliances drawing too much power. This can be due to a wiring issue, so proceed with caution—only attempt to troubleshoot this if you have electrical DIY experience. 

If you notice scorching or a smell of burning, call in an electrician immediately—it’s not worth risking electrocution! If there are no signs of burning or scorching, you can try plugging the appliance into a different circuit and checking to see if it trips the breaker. If so, that’s a good indication that there is a fault with the appliance—it may have damaged wiring that is overloading the circuit.

Fixing the Issue

Once you’ve figured out why the breaker keeps tripping, you’ll need to reset the circuit breaker to use the circuit again. Here’s what to do:

Resetting the Breaker

  1. Find the tripped breaker on your circuit board. It will be the only switch in a different position from the others. 
  2. Move the switch to the fully off position, then flip it to the on position. 
  3. Restart your appliance, ensuring the circuit is not overloaded. Monitor the issue to see if it recurs. 

Preventing the Issue from Recurring

To keep the circuit breaker from tripping again, follow these tips:

  • Make sure you’re not using too many appliances on a single circuit. Check the total wattage and compare it to the circuit’s capacity. 
  • Make sure all your appliances are regularly serviced and in good working order. 
  • Install surge protectors to help prevent overload and damage from faulty wiring.

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