Why Do Circuit Breakers Trip?

A common problem in homes and offices is circuit breakers tripping.   Although it seems like a nuisance, remember that the circuit breakers are a safety device designed to “break the circuit” in order to protect people from shocks and prevent fires.  Be thankful that everyone is safe because the breaker did trip, instead of being upset for the interruption.

It isn’t difficult to reset the breaker, but before you perform a reset you should investigate what caused it to trip in the first place.   This is especially important in the cold months when holiday lights and space heaters are more frequently used.

There are 2 main reasons why circuit breakers trip:

Overload: The most common cause is an overloaded circuit – too many appliances using a circuit at the same time.  You can plug in 2 appliances at each outlet on a circuit, but if they are all running at the same time to power lamps, vacuum cleaners, TVs, and other appliances, it may be too much power demand for that one circuit to carry safely.

Breakers are installed by amperages, such as 15 amps or 20 amps.   This setup as shown is a good candidate for a tripped breaker because the total amperage drawn by 4 appliances used at the same time could be more than that.   

In bathrooms and bedrooms, the use of 2 or more heating appliances, like hair dryers and curling irons, can cause circuits to trip.  Those types of electrical appliances should always be used at a time or should be plugged into separate circuits.

Short: A less common but more dangerous problem is the short circuit.  A short is caused when the hot wire (black or red) touches another hot wire or touches a neutral wire (white), or if there is a break in a wire.   These can occur either in the wiring in your home or in the wiring of an appliance you have plugged into an outlet.  Here are a few things you can check before you reset the circuit breaker.

  • unplug appliances and look closely at the power cord.  If the cord is damaged, frayed, melted, or you can see the bare wire, get that appliance repaired before you plug it in again.  The problem is probably in that appliance so you can reset your breaker and see if it trips or stays on.
  • check the outlets – do you see any discoloration or smell any burnt odor?  If so, the problem is probably in your wiring and you should call an electrician.  Do not reset that breaker, just wait for the professional.

If you have a circuit that trips frequently due to overloading, you might want us to upgrade or add another circuit in that location.    As your children grow and your family has a greater need for hairdryers and similar items, your bathroom circuits might not provide enough power.    If you have a short circuit, we’ll be glad to resolve that for you as well.

Give us a call and we’ll explain the options for improving your situation.  No matter what electrical needs you have,  Frye Electric can take care of them.   We’ve been a trusted professional business around Indianapolis for over 37 years, and you can count on us to give you excellent service and professional results.

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