Sure, it might be annoying, and a sign of a problem you’ve got to deal with, but an electrical breaker that works – as in it trips when it’s supposed to – is important to your home and family’s safety. It’s a safety device and it’s doing its job. It’s built to cut off the electrical current when something is wrong. A functioning circuit breaker is one of the most effective methods of keeping your family safe from an electrical fire.
Now, you may ultimately need to fix, or call an electrician to fix, whatever it is that’s causing the breaker to trip. This is especially true if it’s tripping repeatedly or for unknown reasons. Working with anything electric isn’t something to toy with or risk. It’s always better to call a professional expert if you have any questions or concerns. Here are a few suggestions and ideas to consider. It could be a safe and easy fix without calling for pro help.
Let’s go over a few basics first. Power from the utility company runs through a wire into your circuit breaker. From there, the electricity moves through individual circuits. A circuit is a wiring loop that starts and ends at the breaker panel. Each breaker in the panel has an on-off switch. Each switch regulates an electrical circuit in your house. When a breaker trips, its switch immediately flips to “OFF.” It must be manually reset to “ON” in order for power to move through the circuit again.
What’s a Circuit Overload?
A circuit overload happens when more electric current goes through the wires than the wires can accept. The wires overheat. The circuit breaker should trip the circuit.
This may happen when you have too many appliances and devices, especially major ones or ones which use a lot of energy, on the same circuit. This may happen more often in older homes, with older electric systems. Common examples include a kitchen with a number of major energy-using appliances, or an older home with multiple new, modern TVs, theatre systems, computers and devices overloading older components.
To check for a circuit overload, the next time the power is tripped, go to the circuit breaker box. Turn off all the switches to all the possible circuits being affected. Unplug all appliances and devices on the circuits.
Go back to the panel and turn on the switches. Now plug in and turn on each electric device one at a time. Wait a minute or two after each device or appliance. See if the electricity is staying on.
Each time you add another energy-user to the circuit, you’re drawing more electricity. If the breaker trips again before you’ve turned everything on again, now you know something.
You can repeat the project, changing the order you plug in and turn on items. You may be able to get an accurate estimate of how many devices an appliances can be run in this one area of the house (on this one circuit) without overloading and tripping the system.
Circuit overload is a frequent reason for a trip. You can avoid it by running fewer devices at the same time on that circuit. The most effective long-term answer is for a pro electrician to upgrade and safeguard your home’s electricity and wiring.
Check a Short Circuit
A short circuit is two wires contacting each other when they shouldn’t be touching. A short can take place in an electrical outlet, a switch, or within a device if wires hang or are damaged. When a circuit shorts, it sends a surge of electricity. It shoots through the wires and the circuit breaker should trip. It all happens in milliseconds.
To test for a short, you can do a test like the circuit overload test. If you plug in or switch on a device with a short in its wiring, it will instantly trip the circuit. It doesn’t matter how many more things are plugged into the circuit.
If you notice using a specific appliance, such as a hair dryer, trips the breaker every time you turn it on, try plugging it into an outlet on a different circuit. If it trips there, too, there’s a short in the dryer. Do not use the appliance again until it can be fixed, or you take the chance of being shocked.
A short circuit can also happen in an outlet or switch. If you get a trip every time you turn on a certain light or use a specific outlet, it’s probably a shorting circuit. Electrical shorts in residential electrical wiring should be examined and repaired by a licensed electrician. You shouldn’t use the outlet or switch until an expert fixes it.
When It’s Time to Call a Pro
When a sudden, strange electric surge happens, it’s called a “fault” or “fault current.” Electricity will naturally find the fastest, easiest path to the ground. Ask Ben Franklin.
A ground fault is a problem when it’s in your house. It’s when electricity, instead of going through wiring as designed, takes a different path, in milliseconds, to the ground. A ground fault can happen from a leaking pipe, a leak from a window, moisture in an outlet or circuit breaker or wet, damaged or touching wires. If you have a ground fault, the circuit breaker should trip ASAP, hopefully before a serious injury or house damage.
Today’s codes and ordinances have regulations mandating ground wires for additional safety. The biggest danger with a ground fault is when electricity uses a person as the path to the ground. This results in electrocution.
GFCI outlets, introduced and made more common over the last 50 years, are another safety mechanism. They can be installed anywhere, but are most common in kitchens and bathrooms. A GFCI outlet shuts off power the instant it has a ground fault.
If a ground fault is the issue, the root cause of the water should be found and repaired, and any kind of damaged wiring or devices need to be replaced.
Your best bet? Hire an expert to do the job. South End Electric has the background and understanding to ensure a safe and smooth installation. We can provide electrical safety inspections and installation, inspections and work with GFCI outlets. In addition, our professionals provide whole-house generator sales and installation to meet your needs. See everything South End Electric can do for you. Call us direct at 704-368-4694.