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Why Does My Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping?

KSAL Staff - December 3, 2015 6:59 am

salina fire department

A recent fire that started from an overloaded outlet has prompted a safety message from the Salina Fire Department.

Having to keep messing with a tripped circuit breaker over and over can get annoying after awhile. Simply flipping the breaker back on, could cost you more than some frustration.

However, that continuous tripped breaker is telling you something.

Breakers are a safety device. It is designed to protect not only the equipment but the wiring and the house as well. So when it trips, there is a reason and it should be taken seriously. A circuit breaker “trips” or shuts off the electrical flow to protect the circuit from overheating and causing damage–even possibly an electrical fire.

So, before you go and flip the switch on again, take a moment to determine what the root cause is of the tripping.

The three typical causes are:

  • Overloaded Circuit
  • Short Circuit
  • Ground Fault

Circuit Overload

The circuit overloading is the most common reason your circuit breaker is tripping.

That means you’re running too many heavy power consuming devices at the same time on the same circuit.

For example, if you have a 15 amp circuit with 20 amps worth of electricity running through that same circuit because your hair dryer, TV and air conditioner were all on at the same time, then the circuit breaker will trip to prevent overheating.

Here are three possible solutions:

Redistribute the power-heavy devices on the overloaded circuit to another general purpose circuit.

Turn off some devices on the circuit to reduce the electrical load.

Another cause of an overloaded circuit is an overheating appliance. It pulls in more amps than normal, causing the circuit to overload. Space heaters are notorious for this during the winter.

Short Circuit

The next possible (and more dangerous) cause is a short circuit.

A short circuit happens when a “hot” wire (black) touches another hot wire or touches a “neutral” wire (white) in one of your outlets.

When these two wires touch, a large amount of current flows, creating more heat than the circuit can handle, so it shuts off.

You can tell if there was a short circuit by checking your outlets and plugs for the smell of burning, or brown/black discoloration.

These wires can cross for multiple reasons, but it could be as simple as a loose connection or improper wiring.

Ground Fault

Similar to a short circuit. A ground fault happens when a hot wire (black) touches the ground wire (bare copper) on the side of a metal outlet box which is connected to the ground wire.

Just like a short circuit, you need to see if anything looks out of the ordinary with your outlets.

Safety Message from the Salina Fire Department

City of Salina