If you’ve ever had a circuit breaker keep tripping, you know how frustrating it can be. Those continual breaker trips leave you without electrical power in one or more outlets or even a whole room of your house … yet you’re in the dark (pun intended) as to the reason.
To shed a little light on the subject, here’s an explanation for why your breaker keeps tripping.
How Do You Know If Your Breaker Has Tripped?
When one or more of your appliances and/or lights suddenly shuts off, the cause is often a tripped breaker in your residential electrical panel.
What Is The Breaker Doing When It Trips?
Strange as it may seem, a breaker trip is actually a good thing. Your breakers are designed to trip in case of excess electrical current. This safety measure shuts off the current to help protect your electric circuits (and by extension, your home and family) from overloading, heating up and possibly causing an electrical fire.
Inside a circuit breaker you will find a spring hooked over a small piece of soft metal (a melt-able fusible alloy). Each breaker in the panel is then connected to an electrical wire that runs through your house to your electrical plugs and lights. The electricity that flows through your house runs through the soft metal.
When the connected wiring is at risk of overheating, this small piece of metal melts, resulting in the spring extending and pulling the switch off and shutting down that particular circuit. When the metal cools down and hardens, the breaker can then be reset.
A regular fuse works in a very similar way, but instead of a spring, the “melt-able” metal is the bridge itself. When overheated, it melts (or pops) and breaks the connection. Fuses must be replaced each time there is a fault, while circuit breakers can be switched back to an “on” position.
What Does It Look Like When The Breaker Trips?
Take a look at your service panel (TIP: Keep a flashlight handy next to the panel, in case nearby lights are affected.). Normally, the breakers are lined up in neat rows, all in the ON position. However, when a breaker trips, the breaker switch will move so that it is sitting in the middle or the off position. It is actually quite easy to see which breaker tripped as it won’t be lined up with the other breakers in its row.
What To Do First When Your Breaker Trips
Start by turning off and unplugging all appliances and lights that went out when the breaker tripped. Then flip the tripped breaker all the way off and then back to the ON position.
4 Common Reasons For Your Breaker to Trip
1. Overloaded Circuit
An overloaded circuit means that the demand for electricity exceeds the circuit’s capacity. (In other words, you’ve got too many gizmos connected to that circuit or one gizmo – such as an air conditioner or clothes dryer — which is drawing an extra-large amount of power.) The classic example of an overloaded circuit is when someone tries to plug an enormous display of holiday lights into a single outdoor plug.
How Do You Know If Your Circuit Is Overloaded?
Besides the fact that your breaker keeps tripping, you’ll probably notice other warning signs, such as lights dimming when you turn on additional items connected to that circuit.
To solve the problem, redistribute the load by leaving some devices unplugged or connecting them to a different circuit. Large appliances may need their own dedicated circuit. Consider upgrading your electrical panel so it can safely power all your electrical gadgets.
2. Short Circuit
Short circuits are caused by wiring problems, in either: 1) a device that is plugged into an outlet on that electrical circuit or 2) the circuit itself. (Called a “hard short,” the latter type of short circuit means that a neutral white wire is coming into contact with a hot (powered) black wire.)
How To Prevent Short Circuits?
Inspect electrical appliances outlets regularly for signs of damage, such as a frayed power cord or scorching. Have a professional electrician perform a home electrical safety inspection at least once per year. If a breaker keeps tripping as soon as you reset it, that is a strong indication you have a short circuit – so stop trying to reset and call an electrician to check it out.
3. Arc Fault
What Are Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs)?
Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters are an advanced kind of circuit breaker. AFCIs detect power fluctuations due to dangerous arcing (sparking) between electrical contact points, often the result of loose connections. Because AFCIs take only fractions of a second to react by tripping, they are more reliable than a standard breaker for keeping your home safe.
Never ignore an AFCI breaker that keeps tripping. It is a red flag for an electrical problem that needs expert attention – fast!
4. Ground Fault
What Are Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)?
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) protect against short circuits that result from a hot wire touching a ground wire, a metal wall box, or wooden framing. Ground faults can cause lethal electric shock and are particularly hazardous in combination with liquid – in your kitchen, bathroom, outdoors, etc. That’s why the Canadian Electrical Code requires GFCI installation for any outlet near a source of water.
If you have a ground fault anywhere in your home electrical system, your circuit breaker may tend to trip again as soon as it is reset.
Power Your Calgary Home Safely With Sun Electrical
If you’re having issues with breaker trips, contact Sun Electrical for a Calgary-area electrical panel safety inspection, electrical service upgrade, and/or expert electrical repair. We’ll keep your power on … safely.