We’ve all been there at one time or another: you plug in an appliance or electronic device and everything grinds to a halt as the circuit breaker trips.
You head to the basement or garage, reset the breaker, and it trips again. At that point, you know there’s a bigger issue.
So, what typically causes a circuit breaker to trip and what’s the solution?
Common Causes of a Breaker Trip
Circuit breakers are, of course, designed to prevent further damage to your electrical system, which is why they cut power when there’s a problem. Generally, there are three causes of a tripped breaker:
- Overloaded Circuit
- Short Circuit
- Ground Fault
Each of these presents a unique situation and require different solutions. Let’s break down each scenario.
An overloaded circuit is by far the most common cause of a breaker trip. An overloaded circuit is just as it sounds — there is too much electricity being pulled through a single circuit.
Let’s say you have a 20 amp circuit. If you have multiple appliances plugged operating that require 30 amps of electricity, the circuit is going to trip to prevent overheating.
With that said, the solution is fairly simple: you need to remove some appliances or devices from the circuit. Move some of the bigger consumers of electricity (hair dryers, portable heaters, etc.) to a different circuit or refrain from using all the devices at the same time.
If this doesn’t fix your problem, there’s a good chance you have a more serious problem, such as a short circuit.
A short is caused when a “hot” wire makes contact with another “hot” wire or neutral wire or when there is a break in a wire. Unfortunately, diagnosing a short can be fairly difficult, because it could occur in the wiring in your home or in the wiring of the device you plugged into the outlet.
- Ensure power is off to the outlet you’re having trouble with.
- Check the power cord of your device for damage and check the outlet for a burning smell or discoloration.
- Check other outlets in the circuit.
- If this investigation doesn’t lead to anything, jump to the ground fault problem below.
A ground fault is a form of a short circuit, except it occurs when a “hot” wire makes contact with the ground wire or the metal outlet box. Checking for a ground fault is similar to checking for a short circuit.
Check the outlets in the area for a burning smell or discoloration and check if you see a “hot” wire (black) making contact with a bare copper wire or the metal outlet box.