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Breaker Keeps Tripping

A circuit breaker, also commonly referred to as just a “breaker,” is a safety device used in some homes to stop the flow of electrical current in a circuit. A breaker will “trip” (cut the power) whenever it senses too much current flowing through the circuit. Too much current flowing through a circuit can cause fires.

What Causes a Circuit Breaker to Trip?

In addition to an overloaded circuit, other common causes of breaker tripping include short circuits and ground faults.

  • Short Circuits: These happen when two wires that aren’t supposed to be touching are touching. Examples of wires that should never touch are “hot” wires, or a hot wire touching a neutral wire. A telltale sign of a short circuit is burning smell near your outlets, and sometimes even char marks surrounding the outlet.
  • Ground Fault: This is similar to a short circuit, but instead of two outlet wires touching, it involves a hot wire touching a ground wire.

Breakers that keep tripping are more common in older homes – typically those that are 30 years or older. A breaker that keeps shutting off is a definite sign of electrical problems, so call an electrician right away. If you detect sparks, smoking, or burning, call the fire department immediately.

How to Fix a Breaker That Keeps Tripping

Most people, when the breaker in their home trips, go immediately to the breaker panel to flip them back on. Rather than constant tripping and resetting, it’s best to get to the root cause of the tripping. Step one would be to isolate, if possible, what device is causing the breaker to trip. Look for patterns – does the breaker trip every time you start a load of laundry? Does it trip only when you use the microwave and toaster at the same time?

How to fix the breaker tripping problem depends on what’s actually causing it to trip. It could be:

  • A faulty appliance
  • Faulty electrical wiring
  • The breaker itself needs repair or replacement

We recommend calling in an electrician at this point, but if you’re curious to understand more about how circuit breakers work, keep reading!

How Circuit Breakers Work

Most houses get electricity from a power plant. That electricity gets from the power plant to your house through a power distribution grid. All the electricity in your house moves through a circuit (in reality, it’s one big circuit comprised of a bunch of little circuits). The circuit has two ends. The first end has the “hot wire.” This is the wire that leads from the power plant to your circuit. On the other end is the neutral wire, which leads to the ground. Why the ground, you ask? Because the high energy source needs to be balanced by an electrically neutral source.

The power distribution grid is delivering between 120 and 240 volts of electricity to your house, and your house offers resistance. This “resistance” is formed by all your electrical appliances, and is what makes your appliances work. A circuit breaker will open a circuit whenever it detects that it has reached unsafe levels. Once a breaker trips, you can reset and try to use it again, but if the root of the problem isn’t addressed, it will likely keep tripping.

For more information on circuit breakers that constantly trip, contact John K. McCraw Electrical today and we can come out for an inspection!

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