If you have ever turned your microwave on and the whole kitchen goes dark, more than likely your circuit breaker tripped.
While there are many reasons that may cause a circuit breaker to trip, it’s never caused by a simple nuisance trip. A circuit breaker is designed to trip and shut off power and in very rare cases, it means that the actual breaker box is broken and needs replacing. Often however, danger impends during three common hazardous situations:
Once you understand the root cause of a tripped breaker, you can begin assessing and working through our list of troubleshooting tips. You’ll become your own technician in no time.
There are several different types of circuit breakers commonly found in residential and commercial buildings. They can be classified by voltage, structure type, as well as their interrupting mechanism. This is a list of some of the most common circuit breaker types:
Low-voltage circuit breakers
Designed for direct current applications
Common in commercial and domestic locations
Medium-voltage circuit breaker
Uses electrical current sensors to trip the power
Common in commercial applications for indoor or outdoor use
High-voltage circuit breaker
Uses sensors that operate through current transformers
Common in large commercial and industrial applications
Magnetic circuit breakers
Equipped with an electromagnet that cuts off power when the electrical current gets too strong
Common type of low-voltage circuit breaker
Thermal circuit breaker
Equipped with metal strips that bend and cut off the power when they get too hot
Common type of low voltage circuit breaker
Thermal magnetic circuit breaker
Combines the interrupting function of both thermal and magnetic circuit breakers
Most common in distribution boards
Features a “test” button along with the “on” and “off” switch to protect from ground faults
Common in areas susceptible to water and damp conditions (residential, commercial, and industrial areas)
The first reason your circuit breaker could trip is because there are too many devices connected to the circuit. This is referred to as the “electrical load capacity.” Each breaker is designed with different amperage ratings (generally 15-amp or 20-amp) and are intended to trip when using over 80% of its load (2). This is to prevent the wires from overheating and causing an electrical fire.
Since breakers are only designed to handle 80% of their rated load, it’s important to calculate the amount of amperage your devices draw from the circuit.
An overloaded circuit is a result of too many appliances drawing power from the same circuit. Once you’ve calculated your breaker’s load capacity and measured the total amperage drawing from your electrical devices, you can begin fixing the problem.
Short circuit isn’t just a 1986 film about a fun-loving robot named “Johnny 5,” although that was a classic movie! The short circuit we’re referring to, however, is a short in an electrical connection. Shorts occur when the path of electricity has the least resistance. In simpler terms, this is when two or more wires that aren’t supposed to come in contact, touch each other (6). This is a common problem in appliances and household wiring and can result in electric shocks, burns, and fires. Here a few reasons your circuit could short:
Always make sure the power has been turned off from the main breaker box before inspecting. The first step in identifying the problem is to perform a thorough examination of all connections and electrical wiring (5).
A ground fault occurs when electricity leaks from its intended path on the current to the ground. When a ground fault occurs, large amounts of electricity is forced to flow through the circuit breaker causing it to trip. This can cause potential dangers of electric shock, burns, and electrical fires.
There are many reasons why a ground fault would occur, but here are a few:
Installing GFCI protected outlets or circuit breakers are a great way to stay safe from the dangers of ground faults. A GFCI breaker can be built in or added to the circuit panel in your building. Unlike a normal breaker panel, a GFCI breaker panel is normally larger and has its own test and reset buttons to protect against ground faults. All electrical receptacles that are installed to a GFCI breaker will have full ground fault circuit protection.
GFCI outlets, on the other hand, are much easier to install. How to install a GFCI outlet?
These are just a few ways to troubleshoot a tripped breaker. Depending on the problem, some issues can be tackled at home while other problems will require the help of a certified electrician.
YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CONTACT AN ELECTRICIAN BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY ELECTRICAL WORK!
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Electrical trips can occur due to worn out insulation, conductive dust or debris, water, or electrical wiring deterioration. Discover more ways to troubleshoot your GFCI if it starts to trip.
GFCI breakers and receptacles keep you safe from electric shocks and fires. Use a GFCI outlet in areas with a high chance of water coming into contact with the electrical current, such as a bathroom or kitchen.
Circuits and outlets come in either 15-amp or 20-amp options, and the amperage of the outlet must never exceed the amperage of the circuit. Follow NEC requirements to make sure you have the correct voltage, and never overload your circuits.
AFCIs and GFCIs are both NEC requirements to increase the safety and reduce the risk of injury within buildings. Read to learn more about the differences between the two and the NEC requirements for installation.
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