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Why Do Circuit Breakers Trip?

Tripped circuit breaker: many of us have experienced them at some point in our homes, yet instead of asking ourselves, “Why Do Breakers Trip?”, we reset the breaker without much thought. Before flipping the switch back over to the “ON” position, however, it’s important to understand why the breaker tripped in the first place, and what can be done to keep it from happening again.

As a top Dallas electrician, ElectricMan Inc. understands the danger of ignoring the warning signs of a tripped circuit breaker. But first, you need to know what a breaker does and how it works.

What Does a Circuit Breaker Do?

Simply put, home or business circuit breaker is a safety device that monitors the amount of electrical current going through the electrical wires in your home and shuts off the circuit if too much electricity is being pulled through it, or if there is any disturbance in the current that could result in a fire.

Whereas a fuse performs the same task but can only be used once, a circuit breaker can perform over and over with the use of a switch that trips to indicate when it has effectively cut off current to a particular area.

What Causes a Breaker to Trip?

So, why do circuit breakers trip, and what kind of things could cause a circuit breaker to trip? Some of the most common causes of a tripped breaker include:

Overloaded Circuits

Often, when there are too many appliances plugged into an electrical circuit, the wiring reaches unsafe heat levels as it is pulling more electricity through the circuit than it is designed to accommodate. This puts your home at risk for a fire. That’s when the circuit breaker trips, shutting off everything that is plugged into that circuit, preventing overheating and reducing the risk of fire. This happens often in older homes, where the wiring was not designed to withstand the power of modern appliances.

For example, in some homes, running a microwave, a toaster oven and a refrigerator all on the same circuit may cause your wires to overheat, tripping the breaker. In this instance, making the load a little lighter, or splitting the circuit, may do the trick in keeping it from tripping the breaker.

Electrical Shorts

Other times, a tripped breaker can happen as a result of an electrical short. These short circuits are typically due to damaged, faulty, or loose wiring in your home.

Other Common Causes of Short Circuits Include:

  • Old and worn-out appliances
  • Rodents or other animals chewing through your wirings
  • Damaged insulation surrounding the wires.

Because of the large range of possible culprits, diagnosing an electrical short can be more difficult and therefore should not be ignored. Determining whether a short circuit is from an appliance may be as simple as disconnecting your appliance and resetting the breaker. However, if it continues to trip, definitely call a professional electrician

Ground Fault

A ground fault can also be a culprit of a tripped circuit breaker and is caused by a live or hot wire coming into contact with a ground wire. The circuit breaker typically will trip in these instances from the surge of current from the ground fault. Similar to a short circuit, ground faults can be caused by faulty wiring and outdated appliances. This particular issue can be a fire hazard and can pose a risk for electrical shock. As this is a potentially dangerous problem, it’s best to bring in a professional electrician.

How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad

Because of the many reasons why your circuit breaker could be tripping, and because of the purpose of the circuit breaker, you should never take a tripped breaker lightly. It’s important to understand that the circuit breaker is a safety device; simply switching the circuit back on without investigating the culprit can become costly in the long run and, in many cases, extremely dangerous.

Signs of a Bad Circuit Breaker
  • You notice odd smoke or burning-like odors from your electrical panel
  • The breaker is warm if you touch it
  • The circuit breaker is tripping even when electronics, appliances, and other devices are unplugged
  • There are visible signs of damage, such as frayed and worn wiring or burn marks on your outlets and panels
  • The circuit breaker doesn’t remain on once it’s been reset
  • Your appliances aren’t performing as they should
  • The lights in your home continue to flicker or dim even after the wiring has been inspected
  • The breaker is outdated

If your breaker trips consistently, chances are there is a potentially dangerous electrical issue that needs to be looked at. ElectricMan Inc. is a top electrician in Dallas and the surrounding areas, with over 35 years of residential and commercial experience in the electrical field.

Call ElectricMan Inc. at (972) 362-1804 to make sure that your home is safe and free from the risk of a short or a fire.

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