One of the most important equipment at our homes is the circuit breaker. It bears stressing that the circuit breaker is the electrical switch which is designed to protect electrical circuits from damage owing to the possible overload or short circuits.
In a nutshell, the basic function of circuit breakers is to interrupt the current flow after protective relays detect a fault. One of the most common issues regarding circuit breakers is that sometimes they trip even though there is no particular load responsible for it.
Usually, this is caused by any of the following: a short circuit, an overcurrent, a ground fault, or just a defective circuit breaker.
During a blackout, one may immediately assume that there is a power cut-off, that is to say that the electricity is cut-off from its source. However, this may not be the case when the blackout only affects only a portion of a building, which means that this only involves a tripped breaker.
It is important to note that a tripping circuit breaker is considered to be a rare case of electrical malfunction but let us discuss the possible reasons on why this may happen.
What are signs of a bad breaker?
Before we go into the details of these possible reasons, let us determine the signs that one needs to know in order to determine whether a circuit breaker is problematic, or may become problematic in the future. Here are the usual key indicators:
Breaker Would not stay in “Reset” Mode
When the circuit breaker would not stay in “reset” mode, this may indicate that the breaker is short-circuiting. When this happens, it is best to call for an electrician just to get your circuit breaker checked.
Moreover, you need to ask your electrician to examine the inner workings of your unit more closely in order to make sure that there are no dangerous issues that may arise.
This is more straightforward. If the circuit breaker, or even the electrical panel box from the outside, emits a burning smell, then this is a strong indicator of a malfunction.
In this case, the main power needs to be turned off and it is important to call a professional immediately for an emergency service. If left unchecked, this may lead to a fire in the house.
It is hot to touch
When you touch the electrical panel box, or the circuit breaker itself, and it is too hot, then this may also be a sign of a malfunction. In this case, it has to be turned off and an electrician has to be called for an emergency service as well.
If there are visible damage to the box or the outlets
If you notice scorch marks outside or near the outlets, appliances, or the circuit box itself, then this is another reason to call an electrician for help. This apparent damage may mean that a wire just melted, and this may cause fire if left unchecked.
In order to locate the source of the heat, Thermal imaging can also find the same. The FLIR camera can reveal where heat escapes inside the house.
With the help of an infrared camera, the heat source can be determined where the same is emanating, thus, helping the inspectors know where the issue is. As we cannot see behind walls, this adds the views that are needed.
Breaker trips frequently
Another sign is when you turn on the switch in a particular area, the breaker turns off. This may mean that there is a need for an additional circuit. Moreover, it is still wise to call for expert advice.
Natural wear and tear
If the house is already old, then this may be an indicator that the circuit is old as well. This is normal, as appliances and devices have their own wear and tear stage.
How do you fix a breaker that keeps tripping? What causes a breaker to trip repeatedly?
The next discussion will be about how to solve the frequent tripping of the circuit breaker. Just like in any other issue, solving the problem with the circuit will need a logical and systematic approach. Below are the usual recommended steps in order to fix this issue:
Double Check Plugged-in Electrical Devices
People sometimes assume that an electrical overload is not the reason, but this may be wrong, and the problem may be caused by a neglected plugged-in appliance.
It is wise to always check the appliances in our houses and check the respective watts that the appliances use.
Always make sure that unused appliances are plugged out as this will help prevent the circuit breaker from tripping.
Furthermore, if the budget allows, it is advisable to buy an electrical circuit breaker finder as it can help provide an accurate location of a particular outlet into its correct breaker.
Check Input Wires
Old input wires that are prone to damage are also a common cause of the problem as these wires tend to have a leakage when busted which results to a short circuit and to the eventual tripping of the breaker.
However, the actual search for the source of the electrical leak should be done by experts.
Reset the Circuit Breaker
If there’s a zero load and no input wire issues were found, the next thing to do is to reset the main panel where the responsible circuit breaker is located.
After resetting, wait for a bit and if it trips again, then it is already an indication that the circuit breaker is already defective.
Replace the Circuit Breaker
If all the troubleshooting methods do not work, then the last thing to do is to replace the circuit breaker altogether. When changing, make sure that the new one will not have compatibility issues.
It is highly advised to use a circuit breaker from the same manufacturer as the main breaker panel. The circuit breakers may look identical, but differences in inner workings may lead to severe electrical complications.
Do I need an electrician to replace a circuit breaker?
The next question now is if it is okay for the circuit breaker to be replaced without expert help.
In doing so, one needs to read the relevant building codes first because there are other structures that prohibit the manual replacement of circuit breakers without expert help.
Moreover, it is important to note that the actual work is tedious, especially if it is done by someone without any working knowledge. This may look simple before the actual work but there are many complexities.
Therefore, it is still best to call for an electrician. Since this involves electrical matters, which are undeniably dangerous, it is recommended to prioritize safety over adventure and recklessness.
But in case one decides to replace by himself, he needs to at least protective gear such as goggles and gloves.
When checking the breaker, one should not directly place himself in front of the breaker, as it may spark and cause electrical burns. One may suffer from electrocution.
If the issue is beyond the person’s skills, it is advisable not to tinker with the issue any further. In case of accidents, the hassle and the hospital bills will not be worth it.
How do you fix an overloaded circuit?
So now, what should be done in case of an overloaded circuit?
The short-term fix is to plug the device into another outlet which preferably is a general purpose circuit, and afterwards, is to flip the circuit breaker back on.
But if a circuit trips repeatedly, the recommendation is to seek for a long-term solution. This is by adding up the electrical load in order to spread it to an “underloaded” circuit. But of course, it is also good to get expert advice to run a new circuit.
Handling an overloaded circuit may sound like a major achievement and for a good reason.
Learning how to do this is a vital skill and may prevent fires in the house and other disasters. Once this is learned properly, fixing an overloaded current may sound less intimidating.
What happens when a breaker is overloaded?
One of the most important function of a circuit breaker is to handle overload current. In this way, when the same is overloaded, the circuit breaker will automatically turn itself off.
However, this is only the initial fix that the breakers may do. It will be up to you to be aware if the overload keeps on happening. There may be something that is needed to be fixed.
The next thing to do is to know the electrical panel well. The circuit breakers inside the electrical box consist of two different types: dedicated and general purpose circuits.
The dedicated circuits have their work cut out for them. This means that these circuits power such “big draw” appliances or serve “big draw” rooms such as kitchens and laundry rooms.
General purpose circuits, on the other hand, serve multiple rooms and even hallways. Often, these are the types of circuits that you plug into for that extra power when everything goes dark.
Another important to do is to perfect the house map, which means drafting the floor plan of the house. Ideally, one is already taped to your electrical panel so that you can easily trace which rooms run to each and every circuit in the electrical panel.
There really is no easy way to bring order to a house’s electrical system. The house owner or anybody therein has to turn off the circuit breakers and move methodically through the house while testing every outlet.
Although doable, yet, it is repetitive since it is done by flipping switches on and off, and also by plugging in and out devices. There is no doubt that the electrical repair will go faster with the help of a partner.
While one person mans and checks the panel, the other one can assume the role of outlet tester. The circuits should only be loaded within only 80 percent of their capacity, or 1,440 watts.
With this, when you plug in a high-wattage device, it is less likely that the circuit will overload. Learning about the house’s electrical system can be great fun and fulfilling.
Nonetheless, if the issue becomes too complex, it is always better to get expert help to avoid any problems.