If the power goes out while you’re drying your hair or turning on an appliance, it’s most likely due to a tripped circuit breaker. A circuit breaker is an essential part of any home and helps keep your family safe. When a breaker receives a large amount of electrical current that is too much for it to handle, it automatically shuts off the circuit to prevent overheating, potential fire hazards, and bodily injuries. An overloaded circuit breaker that continues to trip indicates a much bigger problem with your electrical system.
Keep in mind that you’re not just overloading an outlet, you’re overloading a circuit. Each circuit supplies power to several lights and outlets. For example, Circuit A might power all the master bathroom outlets and the ceiling fan, while Circuit B supplies electricity to your kitchen outlets and guest bathroom. Each circuit is connected to a breaker or fuse. If you overload a circuit, you could lose power in an entire room.
The following are reasons your breaker might trip:
The most common cause of a tripped breaker is too much power consumption. This happens when more electricity is flowing through the breaker than intended. Most modern circuit breakers can handle about 15 or 20 amps, so you’re looking at a max load of either (15A x 120V =) 1800 watts or (20A x 120V =) 2400 watts before the breaker trips. If you want to determine how much your breaker can handle, it will be labeled either 15 or 20. If your breaker trips, it’s a good indication that you have too many appliances or electrical devices running simultaneously on the same circuit. This can be dangerous as it may lead to overheating, which could put your electronics, appliances and electrical devices at risk. To fix the issue, consider moving appliances around and unplugging devices not in use.
A “fault” is defined as any abnormal flow of electricity. A ground fault occurs when a wire that is “hot” (meaning has electricity running through it) makes contact with the grounding wire (the bare copper wire) or the metal electrical box. This typically happens when the insulation inside the walls breaks down over time. This is especially true when it’s a damp, wet, or dusty environment. Ground faults can be extremely dangerous, as there is a high likelihood of shock if a person comes in contact with the path of least resistance to the ground. If the ground happens to be damp at the time of contact, the shock is likely to be much worse. Breaker boxes are designed to protect people from shock due to ground faults. When ground faults occur, they allow more electricity to pass through a circuit than it’s designed for. The breaker will trip and shut the electrical current off when it flows in an uncontrolled fashion. Ground faults can be caused by several factors, including water leakage, as water is a huge conductor of electricity. Power tools without proper insulation can also cause a ground fault so if you’re working in outdoor or below grade settings, make sure you use a GFCI outlet.
A short circuit occurs when live wires touch each other or a neutral wire, which creates a large current flow of electricity that generates more heat than the circuit can handle. The circuit shuts off to prevent more damage. Short circuits can occur when insects chew the wire insulation and cause two or more hot wires to touch. They also occur when there is a loose connection at an outlet or junction box. Some short circuits can generate a lot of heat and even cause electrical fires. If you notice a burning smell or see discoloration on the outlet or breaker, you need to contact a professional electrician before the damage becomes more severe.
Damaged or incompatible appliances can cause your breaker to trip, as they draw more power than the circuit can handle. To determine which of your appliances is causing a problem, unplug all appliances and re-plug them one at a time to see which is the culprit.
Electrical problems can be very dangerous, and are not something you want to resolve yourself. If your breaker keeps tripping and you’re unsure of the problem, schedule a visit with an A#1 Air certified electrician now.