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Tripped Breakers: Causes and Solutions

Circuit breakers tripping are a common occurrence at home. While hopefully not too common, tripped breakers can indicate anything from a blown fuse to a ground fault. Circuit breakers ‘trip’, or shut off power to an area when one of these dangerous events occurs. The nature of the problem will likely depend on whether or not resetting the breaker works. Often, the breaker will continue to trip after you have reset it and used the device or outlet that initiated the trip. A short circuit or overloaded circuit are often the primary causes of tripped breakers. Here is a look at some of the causes and solutions for a tripped breaker.

Overloaded Circuit

When the circuit is trying to support a higher electrical load than it is capable of supporting, it will overload. An excessive amount of current running through the breaker will ‘break the circuit’ as a preventative measure to protect the circuit from overheating. Most of the time, a circuit overload is induced from having too many devices plugged into one outlet or multiple outlets running on one circuit. To address overloaded circuits and prevent them from occurring, be sure to relocate high power consuming items, such as heaters, lamps, and hair dryers to to different circuit. Avoid plugging in and using multiple devices on a single circuit. Loose connections can also cause overloads. Shut off the power and inspect outlets for loose wires. Also, check the electrical panel box for a loose hot wire running to the breaker. Tightening these connections should resolve the problem. If not, you may have a more serious problem.

Short Circuits

A short circuit is a more serious cause of a tripped breaker. This occurs when the hot wire comes into contact with another hot wire or neutral wire. If there is a break in the wire in the circuit, a short can also occur. The problem with short circuits is that they could be caused by a device plugged into an outlet or by your home wiring itself. If you suspect that a device plugged into an outlet is the causes, shut off power and inspect the cords of the device for damage. Next, check the outlet itself for damage or a burning smell. Open the outlet to expose the wires and inspect the insulation on the wires for damage and ensure that a black and white wire are not touching. Continue to repeat this process for all outlets on the circuit. If you cannot find the problem, the problem may be a ground fault.

Ground Faults

A ground fault is essentially the same problem as a short circuit except the hot wire comes into contact with the bare copper ground wire or the metal outlet box. Like a short circuit, you should inspect all outlets on the circuit until you locate the problem. Ground faults, like shorts, can be hard to diagnose. The best thing to do is shut off lights, unplug everything from the outlets, reset the breaker, and take notice if it trips immediately. If this happens, the problem may be in the wiring–in the switches or outlets. If it does not trip, the short may be located in something plugged into the outlet. In this case, plug everything back into the outlet until you’ve determined the responsible device and have it repaired or replaced. If you are still uncertain or suspect a more serious problem, call a professional electrician.