All about tripping your circuit breakers

We’ve all done it at one point or another – we’re busy performing some task in a particular area of our home and then all of a sudden the lights go out! Everything else is on in the house, but your area’s tapped! Congratulations, you’ve tripped a circuit breaker.


Your circuit breakers are safety devices that make sure that the electrical system in your house doesn’t overheat or catch fire. When you trip a breaker, you can easily turn things back on by resetting it – but it’s important to make sure you know why the breaker tripped to begin with. Chances are, it could be nothing – but it also could be something serious.


That’s what today’s blog is all about – what to do when you trip a breaker. Let’s jump right in!


What caused the breaker to trip?


Usually, circuit breakers trip for one of the following four reasons:


Circuit overload – If too many appliances are being used at once on one, single circuit, chances are they’re drawing more power than the circuit can handle. This causes the circuit to overheat and trip the breaker.


Short circuit – When a hot wire touches a neutral one – the current flows between the two at a fast speed – which in turn causes overheating and a tripped breaker.


Ground fault – Very similar to a short circuit, ground faults occur when hot wires cross-ground wires OR touches a rounded junction box. When that happens, there’s too much current, the circuit overheats and trips the breaker.


Faulty appliances – Sometimes a tripped breaker has nothing to do with the system and instead – is 100% due to an appliance that’s drawing too much power.


Why it happened


Most tipped breakers happen due to overloads, so it’s always important to reconsider what it was you were doing when the lights went out. Were you running an appliance? Using a vacuum cleaner? Chances are, if it was an appliance that draws a fair amount of power, than it’s a good indication as to why the breaker tripped.


Air conditioners and furnaces can also trip breakers, so if you weren’t using an appliance, those should be your next stops. Especially if one of them turned on right before the breaker tripped – then you might have your culprit.


That being said – if it’s a short circuit or a ground fault – it could be a more serious problem. Check outlets for sparks and or scorch marks and be sure to keep your nose peeled for any burning odors. Even if you aren’t seeing these signs – if you are repeatedly tripping the same breaker, then it’s best to have an electrician come out and make sure everything’s ok.


If your appliance is the problem, then it’s time to get it either fixed or replaced. A telltale sign the appliance might be at fault is the amount of heat it’s giving off- particularly in it’s chord. Also if it’s sparking, smells like melted plastic or is smoking – then, well – you’ve probably found your problem.

Electrical panels and circuit breakers are just like anything else – they don’t last forever and older models can fall well short of meeting the demands of today’s appliances. As such, it’s a good idea to have a pro come in every year or so and give your breaker box a look to make sure it’s working properly and make any repairs as necessary. If you need your system evaluated, give us a call and we’ll come and inspect. Good luck!