Why Does My Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping? – Easy Fixes –

The circuit breakers in your house or building are there to protect you from the dangers of electrical faults. Therefore, it can be pretty stressful when one of those breakers repeatedly trips, especially if it’s powering something important.

Unfortunately, troubleshooting a tripping circuit breaker isn’t always straightforward. Don’t worry, though. This guide will teach you how to find and fix the problem in an efficient manner.

When your circuit breaker keeps tripping, there’s likely either an electrical fault or an overload in the circuit it protects. In order to fix it, you must first identify the culprit. That involves a simple process of elimination.

There are only two main places the issue can be: in a faulty (or misused) appliance, or in the circuit itself. After a few key checks, you can usually determine the problem, fix or replace it, and be back in business.

Note: The following article is primarily focused on a home system, but most of the principles equally apply to other structures.

Why Does My Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping?

Finding the root cause behind your tripping circuit breaker will require a bit of detective work on your part. So grab your sleuthing hat and pipe, and let’s get cracking!

This is a standard process of elimination: narrow-down and rule-out. Otherwise, we run the risk of chasing our own tail and wasting precious time and energy. Here is a tried and true method to find the cause:

Step 1: Identify the Behavior Of The Breaker

First, determine which way your breaker is behaving:

  • A) The breaker will not reset at all
  • B) The breaker resets and then trips within one or two seconds
  • C) The breaker resets and holds for an inconsistent amount of time, possibly even hours or days.
why does my circuit breaker keep tripping turn breaker on

We’ll take these one at a time, since they each require a different approach.

A) The breaker will not reset at all

This is a direct short circuit (or possibly a “phase-to-phase” short, though unlikely). This could be in the circuit wiring or in an appliance. Leave the breaker off and proceed to step 2.

B) The breaker resets and trips within one or two seconds

This indicates a “soft” short. Typically, this is a result of water grounding out the circuit. Oftentimes, this will be found with an outside buried cable or outlet box that water has compromised. A soft short can also be caused by pinched insulation on a conductor, where the copper isn’t quite touching grounded metal, but leaks current through the ultra-thin insulation. Move on to step 2.

C) The breaker resets and holds for a while

Likely, this is an overload (technically, overcurrent) situation. There is too much power demand for the breaker rating. The breaker is doing its job by removing power from the circuit because, otherwise, there is a potential fire hazard downstream! DO NOT REPLACE WITH A LARGER BREAKER!! The breaker is sized according to the wire gauge and it is important to keep the proper rating (15A=14Awg, 20A=12Awg, 30A=10Awg, etc.).

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Another possibility with a breaker that trips every now and then is a faulty appliance that is used sporadically. Perhaps the breaker only trips when that appliance is turned on. This is hard to identify sometimes when the faulty appliance is controlled automatically by a timer or other sensor (think about recirculation fans or Christmas lights).

Turn the breaker on to make sure everything on your list is now working. If the breaker will not stay set, just go on to the next step.

Related: What Causes A Burning Smell From The Dryer?

Step 2: Identify The Affected Circuit

To start narrowing down your hunt, you must first identify the affected circuit which the tripping circuit breaker protects. This means that you’ve got to find EVERYTHING that is connected to that circuit.

Ideally, you’ll find that each circuit breaker has a clear label telling you what area(s) of the house it serves. If that’s the case, you’re off to a good start. But there is only so much room to write on the panel labels, so you’ll need to go a bit further than that.

Before you reset the circuit breaker, make a note of which appliances or parts of your house are not working. Make a detailed list of each outlet and light that doesn’t operate. Don’t forget to check fans, too!

If you have access to a plug-in tester, that is the best option to test each outlet for power. They are fairly inexpensive, and provide valuable (though basic) information about the health of the circuit.

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Otherwise, you can use a lamp or other convenient plug-in device to test each outlet for power. This will let you know exactly which outlets are on the affected circuit.

Important: While you are going around and checking the circuit, unplug anything that is on that circuit. Turn off all lights that may be on that circuit as well.

Once you have all of the appliances and devices written down, move on to the next step.

Related: Why Does My Stove Keep Tripping The Breaker?

Step 3: Disable All Electrical Components On That Circuit

As mentioned in the above step, it is important to make sure ALL of the circuit loads are off. Don’t overlook loads such as:

  • Lights, bath fans, ceiling fans
  • Lamps, portable heaters, portable fans
  • Power strips, phone/tablet chargers, nightlights
  • Computers, TVs, other electronics
  • Outside lights, Christmas lights, security lights
  • Attic lights, basement lights

I once had a customer with a tripped circuit breaker issue that really had me scratching my head. I thought I had identified and eliminated everything on the circuit, but couldn’t figure out why the breaker still wouldn’t reset.

The problem turned out to be a bad surge protector that was hidden behind a dresser in their son’s bedroom. They didn’t even know it was there, as nothing was plugged into it. But it was internally defective and causing a short circuit.

Such an easy fix, though it took me over an hour to find it. So be thorough in your process and don’t assume anything!

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Once you are confident you have ALL electrical loads on the circuit disconnected or turned off, proceed to Step 4.

Turn The Breaker On

Try turning the breaker on. Make sure you first turn it all the way to the off position, and then back on.

If the breaker will not reset, then you have a circuit issue. Your best bet may be to call a qualified electrician.

If the breaker resets, great! That means the problem is likely in an appliance or light fixture.

Step 4: Test Individual Appliances And Look For Patterns

Now, we’ll test each component one by one. Follow these steps:

  1. Turn the breaker on.
  2. Start by turning on all lights and fans on the circuit. Leave them on throughout the test.
  3. Next, begin plugging in every appliance that you had previously unplugged, waiting a minute or so between each.
  4. If at any point, the breaker trips, stop. Turn off the last thing you turned on before the trip. Reset the breaker. Now try turning on the device again.
  5. If the breaker trips again, you’ve found your culprit. It’s either the device (likely) or the outlet (unlikely).
  6. To be sure, try the device in another outlet on a different circuit. If that circuit trips, the device is defective.
  7. If it doesn’t trip the other circuit, try the device on a different outlet on the original circuit. If it doesn’t trip, then the original outlet may have a problem. Or the device has an intermittent issue that only shorts out occasionally.
  8. Plug the device into any outlet and see how it behaves over time. If it’s bad, eventually, it will trip the breaker again and remove all doubt.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Dishwasher Keeps Tripping Breaker

Is It Dangerous If A Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping?

Yes, it should be considered dangerous if you have a circuit breaker that keeps tripping.

To know why, you must first understand the purpose of that circuit breaker. It’s very dangerous when too much electrical current flows through a circuit. So, a circuit breaker is installed at the front end of every circuit to prevent that from happening.

A properly functioning circuit breaker will sense excessive current in the circuit and will trip, stopping current flow. Effectively, it behaves as the “weak link” in the circuit. Without it, some other part of the circuit will inevitably fail and a fire may ensue.

Sometimes a breaker will trip from a fluke occurrence – perhaps a surge in the current flow from the utility or a lightning strike. However, if the same circuit breaker trips multiple times for unknown reasons, that means there’s either an ongoing electrical fault somewhere on that circuit, or it’s an overloaded circuit. 

Note: It is also possible that the breaker is faulty. But unless it is a really old breaker, this is actually fairly rare. Usually, the reason a breaker goes bad is because there is another problem on the circuit (or has been in the past).

Excessive breaker tripping and resetting can eventually wear out the breaker, causing it to become weak and fail to hold. Check out this helpful article on how to tell if a circuit breaker is bad.

If you don’t fix the fault and stop the circuit breaker from tripping, you run the risk of:

  • Wearing out the breaker until it no longer functions as it should.
  • Electrical fires starting and spreading throughout the house or building.
  • Damage to any appliance on that circuit, potentially requiring expensive replacements and repairs.
why does my circuit breaker keep tripping fire in jbox

So, when you have a repeatedly tripping circuit breaker, don’t just reset it and forget it. Be sure to identify what is causing the tripping. You should only fix it yourself if you have the necessary skills and tools. If not, call an electrician or other qualified individual.

Related: Circuit Breaker Is ON But No Power To The Outlet?

How To Reset A Tripped Circuit Breaker

Resetting a tripped circuit breaker is very straightforward.

A standard circuit breaker has 3 positions:

  • ON: On one side, you have the ON position (usually oriented toward the center of the panel). That means the electrical current will flow through the breaker and the circuit.
  • OFF: You also have the OFF position (oriented toward the outside). That will stop any electricity from flowing in the circuit.
  • Center: Most relevant to this article, you have the center position. When your circuit breaker trips, it will not go to the OFF position. Instead, it’ll go to the center to indicate that it tripped and was not shut off on purpose. In this position, no electricity will flow in the circuit.

Don’t push the switch from the center to the ON position to reset a tripped breaker. Instead, do this:

  • First, move the switch fully to the fully position.
  • Second, move the switch all the way to the ON position.

Related: What To Check If Your Dryer Keeps Tripping Breaker?

FAQs

Why Does My Breaker Keep Tripping With Nothing Plugged In?

Sometimes, it’s not an appliance that causes your circuit breaker to keep tripping. So once you rule out any problems with your devices, there are a few other things to consider.

Once you’re sure that none of your appliances are on, you’ll have to troubleshoot for:

  • Short circuits: caused by problems with your electrical wiring.
  • Excessive currents or voltages: from power surges during thunderstorms.
  • Ground faults: when a live part of the circuit comes into contact with a grounded component.
  • Faulty circuit breaker: if you have an old or defective circuit breaker at the end of its useful lifespan.

Troubleshooting the above can be pretty risky if you’re not sure what you’re doing. So, again, don’t be afraid to contact an electrician to do it for you.

Related: Top Reasons Why A Washing Machine Keeps Tripping The Breaker

Why Does My Circuit Breaker Trip Only At Night?

As you’ve seen in earlier parts of this guide, troubleshooting a tripping circuit breaker involves trial and error, as well as spotting patterns.

So, if your circuit breaker keeps tripping at night, focus your attention on appliances that only run during that time.

For example:

  • Do you have automatic lights that only turn on at night?
  • Do you have a HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system that runs at night?
  • Do you have computer systems or similar equipment that run at night?
  • What about security lights that are motion triggered?
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Once you narrow down the appliances that might cause the circuit breaker to trip only at night, troubleshoot them one at a time using the same steps described above.

For example, you can plug the appliances into different circuits in your house to see if they trip other circuit breakers instead.

Why Does My Circuit Breaker Trip After 30 Minutes?

After resetting a tripped circuit breaker, you might find that there’s a slight delay before it trips again. That delay could be 30 minutes or even a few hours before the breaker randomly trips again.

There are a couple of reasons that can cause this:

  • Overload: If a circuit is only slightly overloaded, the beaker might not trip immediately. Typically, there are a variety of loads on a circuit, and the draw of those loads can fluctuate regularly as they are being utilized.
  • Intermittent Use: Many of the loads on a circuit are not being used at all times. So, if there is a defective appliance or device, the circuit only trips when that particular device is utilized.
    For example, a refrigerator motor automatically turns on via an internal thermostat. You won’t necessarily know when that happens and therefore not suspect it.

In short, you must check for electrical faults in:

  • All appliances plugged into that circuit, like lights, TVs, kitchen equipment, and anything else.
  • All power sockets and switches on that circuit, including wall switches and wall outlets that you plug appliances into.
  • Last of all, check electrical wiring for that circuit, which might have been chewed on by pests or otherwise damaged.

How To Fix A Tripped Breaker That Won’t Reset

When you try to reset your circuit breaker, but it trips instantly, that’s usually a telltale sign that there’s a short circuit. However, it could also be a worn-out breaker.

Do not try to force the circuit breaker to stay on. Instead, you must troubleshoot the circuit and fix the root cause first. Refer to the Step 3 above.

Why Does My Breaker Trip After A Few Seconds?

Suppose you successfully reset the circuit breaker, but it trips after a few seconds of delay. In that case, you likely have a ground fault in the circuit caused by water intrusion.

Since water is not a great conductor (as compared to most metals), it can take some time for the electricity to short out. A ground fault occurs when the electricity flows straight to the ground instead of going through the circuit normally.

Again, you must resolve the root cause of this issue before you can turn your circuit breaker back on again.

Final Thoughts

If your circuit breaker keeps tripping, it’s critical that you figure out why. Continuing to reset the breaker without addressing the problem will eventually result in a worse situation, including:

  • A worn-out breaker that will stop tripping when it should, greatly increasing the chance of fire.
  • A worn-out breaker that will no longer reset and hold.
  • Permanent damage to the device or appliance that has a fault issue.
  • Electric shock to the user of the device or appliance that has a fault.

To be on the safe side, when you experience a breaker tripping occasionally, get the problem taken care of ASAP. That way, you can have peace of mind that everything is functioning properly.

Also Read: Why Is My Outdoor Power Outlet Not Working?

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