What’s causing your circuit breaker to trip?

It’s cooking, washing clothes, or turning on the blender. The power suddenly goes out in one area of your house. One of your circuit breakers is being tripped. What could cause this?

Do you consider it a minor inconvenience or a sign that there might be a fire in your home? Older houses and homes that are fixer-uppers could be at risk. Freshome asked electrical experts to help explain why your circuit breakers are tripping and how you can fix it.

Short Circuit

A short circuit is one reason for a tripped circuit breaker. James Dickson, owner at Mr. Electric of McKinney (TX).

Dickson explains that this happens when a hotwire contacts a neutral or ground wire along the circuit. He explains that this causes an overload of current through the circuit breaker for a short time. It is usually less than a second and can cause heat. Dickson explains that the circuit breaker shuts off automatically in such cases to prevent an electric fire.

Ground Fault

Ground faults are responsible for approximately 200 deaths per year. This makes ground faults the main cause of most residential electrocutions (66%). Dickson explains that a ground fault is when the return current of a neutral wire does not match the current given to an appliance. To avoid a ground fault trip, currents should match within 3-5 milliamps.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has provided an example of what can happen when there is a ground fault. The appliance’s metal housing is charged with electricity when a bare wire inside it touches it. You will be shocked if you touch an appliance while touching another grounded object, such as a trendy water faucet.

Arc Fault

Dickson says that circuit breakers can distinguish between parallel and series arcs and know the standard arc conditions. “When a certain amount of electricity exceeds these standards, the circuit breaker will trip the circuit breaker.” This fault relies on circuit boards and preloaded data to determine the conditions of a circuit. It sets it apart from other circuit breaker trips. Dickson states that the three other types of tripping (short circuit and ground fault) use mechanical methods.

Circuit overloaded

An overloaded circuit is another cause of a tripped breaker. According to Dickson, this is the most serious reason a circuit breaker could trip. He says that an overloaded circuit is when electrical circuits are “pushed to, and past, their rated limits because of too high a load.” “Components (switches/receptacles) can start to fail, or the insulation on the copper (hopefully not aluminum) wire will start to melt off.” And when this happens, Dickson says the electricity will start to arc between the wire and any combustible source. This is dangerous as it increases the likelihood of starting a fire.

Tom Wallace, a Certified Master Inspector at Home Check Inspections, Riverview, FL, says circuit breakers can trip most often when too much current is in the circuit. Circuits can overload if too many devices are operating at once or one device is using too much energy. Make sure that your new bathroom technology doesn’t contribute to the problem.

Dedicated Circuits

Fixed appliances may require separate circuits. These circuits ensure that the appliances can be used without overloading the system. According to the National Electrical Code, these are the appliances that require a dedicated circuit.

  • Refrigerators/freezers
  • Ovens
  • Wall ovens/electric ranges
  • Dishwashers
  • Toasters
  • Washers and dryers
  • Space heaters
  • Furnaces and HVAC units
  • Blow dryers
  • Garage door openers

Protection GFCI/AFCI

According to Wallace, circuit breakers can trip when protected by GFCI (ground fault interrupter) or AFCI [arc fault circuit interrupter]. He says that GFCI breakers trip when a circuit detects a ground fault. New home constructions require GFCI protection for wet areas, such as bathrooms, kitchen, exterior, and garage. Wallace explains that AFCI breakers will trip when there is an arc fault in the circuit. These breakers are usually required in bedrooms, dining areas, and living rooms.

Avoid Tripping Circuit Breakers

“Handymen can avoid trip circuit breakers by ensuring their remodeler or installer is using both GFCI receptacles as well as an AFCI circuit breaker,” says Bill Timmons (Marketing Manager Residential Products at Legrand).

Timmons states that “many new appliances in laundry rooms and kitchens confuse circuit breakers.” He also notes that it is difficult for elderly or disabled homeowners to access the basement to reset a tripped breaker. An AFCI breaker can recognize and remove an arcing situation faster than a standard circuit breaker.

Freshome suggests that you seek a qualified electrician if your circuit breaker continues to trip.

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