Circuit breakers are switches designed to protect your electrical circuits from damage caused by electrical overloads or short circuiting. Basically, electrical current flows into your home into the breaker box (usually located in the garage or in the basement) where it’s divided into a number of circuits and sent around the house. For rooms that only need electricity for small things like lights and TVs, you usually only need 15-amp circuits. For rooms with larger appliances, like the kitchen or bathroom, you’ll usually have 20-amp circuits. Some appliances, like the oven or dryer, are so large they need 30 – 50-amp circuits to themselves! When you hear about a circuit breaker “tripping,” it means the circuit has detected what’s known as a fault condition and has shut off that circuit to prevent the wiring from overheating and potentially igniting.
Resetting a tripped circuit breaker is usually pretty easy – just go back to the electrical panel, find the circuit that’s not facing the same direction as the rest and flip it back to where it belongs. If the breaker trips again right after you do this, that’s a problem – you need to figure out the cause of the issue before you can fix it.
If your circuit breaker trips upon resetting, you could be facing one of three problems:
- Overloaded circuit
- Short circuit
- Ground fault
An overloaded circuit is the main thing that would cause your breakers to trip. Basically, it means there is more current flowing through the circuit than it is designed to handle, so it shuts off to prevent damage.
Remember earlier when we were talking about the different levels of current different rooms in your home get? When looking for an overloaded circuit, try to find any appliances on the same circuit that would be using more electricity than the circuit allowed. Pay particular attention to things like space heaters, toasters, hair dryers or straighteners, etc. – these tend to require the most current.
The solution for overloaded currents is usually pretty easy – just unplug things you’re not using! If this doesn’t solve the problem, call an electrician – you may have loose connections somewhere, though this is rare.
If the problem is not caused by an overloaded circuit, a short circuit may be the issue. Short circuits are a little more serious than overloaded circuits, caused when the hot (black) wire touches another hot wire or a neutral wire. The best way to tell if you have a short circuit is to first inspect your power cords for damage or a melted appearance (make sure the appliance is unplugged) and to check the outlets or plugs for discoloration or a burned smell. If you can’t find the problem, call an electrician to take a look at it.
If you’ve checked it out and you don’t think you have an overloaded or short circuit, check to see if a ground fault is causing your circuit breaker to trip. A ground fault condition exists when the hot (black) wire touches the ground (bare) wire or the side of a metal outlet box. If you have a ground fault.