Who doesn’t get a little frustrated when the power goes out every now and then? Especially when you’re in the middle of something. Circuit breakers seem to fail at the least opportune time. But why do circuit breakers fail anyway?
First, let’s get back to the basics. We know that circuit breakers trip when there’s too much current flowing in a circuit. So when the power goes out, it is most likely because the current traveling through the breakers exceed the normal operating limit of the breaker. Remember, circuit breakers will trip to protect you. So let’s explore the three common reasons why they fail in the first place and do some housekeeping.
Properly Reset Circuit Breakers
Let’s take a trip to your client’s electrical panel. Did you reset the breaker properly? It may be common sense but sometimes we miss the simplest solution. A rushed job leads to forgetting the basics. Make sure you turn the breaker to the “off” position before flipping it back on. Remember the tripped position is in the middle. Turning the breaking off from the tripped position will set the components back to proper position and reset the breaker. Now turn the breaker back to the “on” position and check if it’s working again. If it’s still not working, move on to the three common problems below.
One of the most common reasons why circuit breakers trip is due to an overload in the circuit. This means the sum of the wattage on the circuit exceeds the electrical capacity / normal operating wattage. Therefore the circuit trips from the overload of wattage on the circuit. After the breaker trips, let it cool down then reset. If it trips again after you reset, it is most likely an overloaded circuit. Too many appliances on the same circuit at the same time causes an overload. Another reason could be a faulty appliance plugged into the circuit. Your breakers will trip if there is an overload.
Notify your client regarding their normal operating circuits, which is normally 120 Volts (15 Amps) for households. Remind them to avoid plugging in too many appliances on the same circuit at the same time. Keep the appliances off the same circuits or turn them off to reduce the electrical load. For instance, blow dryers running at the same time on the same circuit. Use them one at a time if there’s no other circuits available. Without breakers, this situation will overheat the circuit and potentially cause fire and even damage the appliances on the circuit. Remember, circuit breakers trip to keep you and your electrical system safe and sound.
Another cause is a short circuit. This is a bit more serious and harder to spot than an overloaded circuit. A short in the circuit can generate high electric current that could cause damage to the circuit, fire, or even an explosion. A short occurs when a hot wire (usually black wire) comes in contact with another hot wire or touches a neutral wire (usually white wire). When this happens, a huge amount of current will travel through the circuit which generates heat. The breaker will then trip the circuit to prevent excessive heat and potential fire hazards.
If the breaker keeps tripping but won’t reset, then you most likely have a short somewhere in the circuit. Shorts are harder to spot because the cause could be a faulty wiring, break in a wire in the circuit, or loose connection. Inspect a short by indicating a burning smell from the breaker or some type of burn or discoloration around the breaker. Check if the cause is an appliance by unplugging each one at a time and resetting the breaker. If the breaker stays closed after resetting then you have found the appliance that’s causing the problem. However, if you can’t get to the bottom of the issue or are not sure if this in fact is a short, it is best to contact a more experienced electrician. This will ensure your safety and get things done properly.
A type of short circuit is known as a ground fault. This occurs when the hot wire comes in contact with the ground wire (usually no cover, just copper) or something that acts as ground like the side of a metal outlet box. Similar to short circuits, a surge of electricity will flow through the circuit and trip the breaker to prevent overheating and potential fire hazards. Inspect for ground fault using similar steps as a short circuit. This task could be daunting so remember to consult a more experienced electrician if you are unsure about anything.
Circuit breakers trip to protect us and prevent fire hazards. It is a good idea to make sure your client is aware of their household circuit limits. If you cannot find the root cause of the electrical problem, do your due diligence and contact a more experienced electrician.
If your client is in need of emergency temporary power, contact our 24/7 emergency line at 800.497.6255. We also have a wide range of obsolete breakers you can check out here if you need to replace any breakers. Speak to our knowledgeable sales team during our regular hours to help you out with any questions you have.