“The breaker keeps tripping!” What could it be? An old breaker? To many appliances plugged in at the same time? An electrical panel elf that enjoys torturing you every time you plug in your hair dryer?
Let’s take a journey together and examine the causes that might trip a breaker – from the harmless to the more hazardous!
The Nitty Gritty on Tripping Breakers There are a handful of reasons breakers can trip, and it’s always important to know the reason WHY your breaker is tripping to maintain safety. As always, if you feel there’s a bigger issue at hand or are not comfortable in your electrical panel, it is best to reach out to a professional electrician. (I know a good one. wink-wink) 1. Overloaded Circuits Electrical circuits are designed to handle a limited amount of electricity, and when you draw more electricity than the circuit can safely handle, the breaker will trip as a safety measure. This, friends, is an overloaded circuit, the most common of issues your breaker will face. Circuit breakers are designed to trip when too much power is being drawn, because it can lead to overheating in the form of a fire, and/or potentially damage all electrical devices plugged into the circuit. When your breaker trips, first check to see what is plugged in. Problematic devices may include vacuums, air conditioners, space heaters, hairdryers, corded tools, among other things. The less noticeable signs that a circuit may be overloaded include: · Dimming lights, especially if lights dim when you turn on appliances or more lights · Buzzing outlets or switches · Outlet or switch covers that are warm to the touch · Burning odor from outlets or switches · Scorched plugs or outlets · Power tools, appliances, or electronics that seem to lack sufficient power Additionally, the buzzing sounds, burning smells, and unusually warm devices could be indicators of other wiring problems, such as loose connections or short circuits. If any of these problems persist after you’ve taken steps to prevent circuit overloads, contact an electrician. 2. Short Circuits Webster's dictionary defines a short circuit as "a connection of comparatively low resistance accidentally or intentionally made between points on a circuit between which the resistance is normally much greater." The Internet Movie Database or imdb.com defines it as "Johnny Number 5 is an experimental robot in a lab is electrocuted, suddenly becomes intelligent, and escapes; hijinks ensue, 6.7 stars." For today’s discussion, let’s focus on Webster’s definition. Simply put, your live electrical wire is coming in contact with a neutral wire at some point along the circuit. This usually occurs at an outlet, light fixture, or switch. Short circuits can be dangerous, as they create massive amounts of heat; they are the most common cause of electrical fires. Similar to an overloaded circuit, the buzzing sounds, burning smells, and unusually warm devices can indicate a short circuit. If any of these problems persist after taking steps to prevent short circuits, it is best to contact an electrician. 3. Ground Fault Surges Like short circuits, a ground fault surge occurs when a hot wire comes into contact with a ground wire, the edge of the box, or any other grounded source. The main danger of ground faults comes in the likelihood of electrocution if a person happens to be in contact with the path of least resistance to ground. If not handled properly, it can cause an electrical fire. The most typical cause of a ground fault surge occurs when water leaks into an electrical box, loose wires come into contact with a ground wire or a grounded device, and if insulation is worn on appliances. In any case, a licensed electrician should be called as this is extremely dangerous. I hope this is helpful! If you have specific questions about the electrical safety in your own home or office, don't hesitate to reach out to your Master Electrician at Mansfield Electric.