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Written By Ellie BrooksPublished 10/13/22
When the lights go dark, it may not be the result of a total power outage. A tripped breaker can cut the power to a lone circuit. This isn’t usually a big deal. Simply reset the breaker and move on. If your power breaker keeps tripping, however, there could be a lurking problem to get to the bottom of.
There are three primary reasons for a nuisance circuit breaker. This article will cover all three—and what you can do about it.
A circuit is a wired loop within a home that carries an electrical current. Generally, all circuits in a home go through a breaker box, a service panel with a series of switches, or breakers. Circuit breakers are standard pieces of modern home safety equipment. If the breaker detects an overload of electricity in a circuit, it will shut off—or “trip”—to cut the power and avoid a potentially dangerous incident.
Circuit breakers function automatically. If the problem that caused an initial trip has not been resolved, the breaker will continue to trip even after someone manually resets it.
Circuit breakers trip from an overload of power. This overload can be the result of overconsumption of power, poor wiring, or power surges. Let’s look at each cause in greater detail.
1. Too many appliances are drawing power from the same circuit.
Many homeowners have had the experience of tripping a breaker after powering on an appliance that is plugged into the same circuit as other power-hungry devices. Imagine a chilly winter’s night when you have lights on, television playing, phone charging, and laptop plugged in. You get cold and plug in a space heater and boom—the room goes dark and quiet. This is the circuit breaker working just as it is intended to.
Continue to use the circuit with the same configuration of appliances, and the breaker will continue to trip. If your circuit breaker started tripping suddenly, you may be overloading the circuit with too many devices.
2. The home’s electrical wiring is faulty or failing.
Inexpert wiring or wiring that is deteriorating can also cause a breaker to trip. Modern electrical systems usually consist of three wires. A black-coated wire, or hot wire, channels power from the circuit breaker to the electrical outlet, light, or other hardwired electrical device. A white-coated wire, or neutral wire, transfers unused power back to the breaker. Finally, a bare or green-coated wire acts as a ground to channel electricity into the earth in case of a short circuit. A ground wire is necessary to operate an electrical appliance, but it is a critical safety feature of modern electrical systems. The risk of electrocution is substantially greater without it.
When two hot wires or a hot wire and neutral wire touch, there is an unimpeded flow of electricity. This is an electrical short. The overwhelming amount of power will trigger the circuit breaker, severing the powerful current. If the contact point between wires is not corrected, the breaker will continue to trip even after being reset. This is a good thing. A short circuit is a major safety and fire hazard.
Contact between the hot wire and another material or substance can also cause a short. The wire may touch the metal box of an outlet or piece of in-wall building material. Splashing water from a bathroom or kitchen sink can enter an electrical outlet and cause a short. These events will trigger a circuit breaker as well.
3. The electrical system is being overwhelmed by power surges.
A power surge is a sudden increase in voltage in an electrical system. Several external factors can trigger a power surge. Lightning strikes, for example, can overwhelm an electrical system with a surge of electricity. Tree branches or animals touching powerlines can also cause surges, as can the sudden restoration of power following an outage.
External causes of power surges tend to be one-off events that are remedied quickly by local authorities. If power surges are repeatedly tripping a breaker in a residential home, faulty in-home wiring is the most likely cause.
Resetting a tripped breaker is simple. Follow these steps.
Older homes used fuse boxes instead of modern circuit breakers. If your home has not been updated, you will need to locate the blown fuse and purchase a replacement from the hardware store.
If your breaker tripped because of too many appliances drawing power from the same circuit, the solution is straightforward. Simply reconfigure the arrangement of your appliances so you’re not overwhelming one circuit. If you need to use a powered device temporarily, consider unplugging unused or unnecessary devices on the same circuit. You could unplug your television, for instance, before plugging in your vacuum cleaner to the same outlet.
Repeated circuit problems that are the apparent result of shorts, ground faults, unexplained power surges, or other wiring problems need to be addressed by a professional electrician immediately. Never attempt to make any repairs to high-voltage wiring unless you are trained and licensed to do so. Unlicensed electrical work is illegal and extremely dangerous.
Leave the breaker switch in the “off” position until an electrician can remedy the problem.
Home warranty electrical coverage can differ across policies and companies. Liberty Home Guard’s coverage is exceptionally robust, and our System Guard and Total Home Guard plans cover all mechanical parts and components that are integrated within a residential electrical system.
If something should go wrong with your home’s electrical system, a Liberty Home Guard plan will allow for fast and affordable repair. We maintain a network of licensed technicians across the nation, and we can have a professional at your home and ready to diagnose your electrical problem within 24 to 48 hours of you submitting a claim.
Get a free coverage quote or learn more by calling (866)-432-1283.