Common Circuit Breaker Problems | Why Breakers Keep Tripping
By far, the most common circuit breaker problem is breakers that trip too frequently. If your breakers are tripping too often, there are a few reasons why this may be the case.
Common Circuit Breaker Problems
If you have a wiring problem within the inner workings of your electrical system, this could cause your breaker to turn off when it shouldn't.
Problems with your electrical wiring can also cause electricity to continue to run through the circuit even If it is switched off. Electric shock and fire hazards are common effects of faulty wiring. If you have not had an electrical safety inspection in recent memory, you owe it to you home and family to get this done immediately.
Your licensed electrician will be able to tell you if you have safe or unsafe wiring and what to do about it.
Some signs of miswiring include devices and outlets not working properly or not turning on at all. You may also notice shocks near light switches and receptacles.
Additionally, if there is a weird smell or discoloration near your electrical outlets, turn off power to the circuit at the breaker box and do not turn the circuit back on until a qualified electrician had a chance to take a look. Sometimes burning plastic and electrical components emit a sulfuric, rotten egg-like smell.
If, however, the rotten egg smell doesn't seem to be coming from an outlet or switch, you may have a gas leak! Natural gas manufacturers are required to add a chemical called mercaptan to the gas in order to alert consumers to its presence in the case of a gas leak. Learn about furnace warning signs.
Here are some common signs of miswiring in your home:
- Too many extension cords - extension cords should never be used as a permanent solution. Only use extension cords for short periods of time. If you need more outlets, call your electrician. Learn more extension cords safety tips from Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).
- Dimming and flickering lights
Usually, if you notice dimming and flickering lights, there's a problem with your circuit, not the fixture itself. For instance, if you turn on a high-usage appliance such as a space heater or HVAC system, you may notice the lights dim or flicker. If you frequently notice dimming and flickering lights, ask an electrician about moving lights to a different circuit or installing dedicated circuits for large appliances.
- Strange smells
If you notice a strange smell, such as burning plastic, rotten eggs, or sulfur, you may be smelling a fire hazard. Turn off the power to the circuit from your circuit breaker and call a qualified electrician as soon as possible.
- Shocks and sparks
Unless it's a static shock, shocks and sparking should never be ignored. If you notice melting breakers, sparking outlets, or shocks when you turn on your lights, call an electrician ASAP. Your professional electrician will be able to test the electrical systems to determine if the circuits are working safely and properly.
- Hot outlets and switch plates
Even if electrical fixtures warm up when in use, it's not a good sign If you notice outlets or switches that are hot to the touch. If you notice any outlets or switches that are hot, turn off power to that circuit at the breaker box and then call your electrician right away.
If you do schedule a rewiring of your home, or any electrical service for that matter, it's extremely important to have a qualified electrician do the job, NOT a "handyman."
2. Electrical Load
The most common reason for a tripped breaker or broken fuse is an overloaded circuit. If you are requesting more power from your electrical circuit than it can handle, your electrical panel has a safety mechanism in place to prevent overheating.
If the panel detects a voltage going through your circuit(s) that is greater than their allowance, an automatic shut-off mechanism will cut off the power flow.
This is why your largest energy consumers, such as HVAC systems and other large appliances, tend to use dedicated circuits. Usually, one circuit breaker can handle around 15-20 AMPs, which is less than what some appliances require. That why high-usage appliances may need a 20-30 AMP dedicated circuit.
3. How to Reset a Tripped Breaker
As we mentioned before, the most common circuit breaker problem is a tripped circuit breaker. In order to protect your home and electrical system, your circuit breaker (if it's working properly) will automatically shut off power to any circuit that is drawing too much power for it to handle.
Follow these steps for resetting your circuit breaker:
- Unplug or turn off any devices that are being used in the circuit you wish to restore.
- Locate your main breaker panel and open up the cover.
- Find the tripped breaker, which will be in a different position from the rest of the breakers. The breaker in question will either be flipped all the off or somewhere in the middle of off and on.
- To restore power, switch the breaker to the off position (opposite direction of all the breakers that are on) and then switch it back on.
- If this does not restore power to the circuit, try flipping the switch off and on again. If there still is no power, then you may have a more serious electrical issue. Contact a qualified electrician to diagnose the problem.
Federal Pacific and Zinsco Panels
If you have a Federal Pacific Electric or Zinsco panel, contact a qualified electrician to conduct an electrical safety inspection.
Electric Troubleshooting (if you don't have power)
- Turn off all breakers and turn them back on.
- Check all receptacles with reset buttons (GFCI - press the reset button).
- Make sure neighbors' power is on.
- If nothing caused the power outage or even partial power outage, contact your local power company. Phases of the power company may be out, even in the case of partial power.
- If this is a repetitive issue (it's happened multiple times), call us to come out.
Learn more about electrical troubleshooting.
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