Education Library

Breaker Tripping – What to do now

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HELP! Breaker Tripping: Is My House or Business Going to Burn Down?


PROBLEM: Circuit breaker tripping repeatedly.

We had two service calls this week with the same symptom: “The breaker keeps tripping!”

Turned out the cause—and the recommended solution—was very different for each!

Case 1: Breaker tripping because of faulty wiring

In the first home, the breaker was tripping immediately after being turned on, making a strong arcing sound (that electrical buzzing noise).

breaker tripping burnt wireOur initial visit (not charged for) determined that the circuit controlled:

  • a kitchen GFCI receptacle,
  • the refrigerator receptacle (also a GFCI, which is NOT recommended),
  • a washer receptacle (not a GFCI, which IS recommended),
  • and an outside motion-sensor light, in that sequence.

Troubleshooting determined that the fault lay between the refrigerator and washer receptacles. A second visit determined that the wiring was badly burnt. The photo is an actual photo of the wire replaced.
Our recommendation to the owner: a thorough check of all wiring for safety purposes.

Case 2: Breaker tripping because of defective equipment

The other situation involved someone’s second home. The owners had just come in for the weekend and had issues with the alarm system, which happened to be on the circuit that had tripped. Every time the breaker was re-set, it would trip after 3-5 minutes of being on.

The owners called Easley Electric. To help them avoid the cost of an unnecessary visit at their location, we advised them over the phone to first try unplugging all equipment on the circuit one at a time, since sometimes defective equipment causes this kind of problem.

The owners followed our instructions and discovered the source of the problem was a defective dehumidifier. That solved the problem—their breaker was safe and they could sleep easy.

Circuit breaker safety

A breaker is a control device, like a governor on a vehicle. Its purpose is to keep you from overloading the wiring. If it’s tripping, that’s a GOOD thing! It means it’s doing its job, and in most instances it’s protecting you from a fire.

So here are my recommendations in situations like these:

1)    First and foremost, NEVER BYPASS THE PROTECTION! It’s there to protect! Don’t keep it from doing its job. Putting in a bigger breaker is NOT a good idea!

2)    Try to make a reasonable analysis of the problem. Start by disconnecting anything that could be a problem and see if that corrects it. If not, get advice from someone you trust.

3)    If unsure, leave the circuit off! Call a qualified electrician as soon as it is reasonably convenient. If it’s after-hours, wait only if you feel safe waiting; if you feel it’s a life/safety issue, get someone out ASAP.

4)    Ask the electrician—once you have determined that you can trust him—if he or she sees any other potential problems. A good electrician will be honest with you without putting pressure on or trying to convince you to spend money unnecessarily.

5)    Finally, keep the big picture in mind, and don’t be “penny-wise and pound-foolish.” It never ceases to amaze me that people will spend up into 5 figures readily to make a house look nice with vinyl siding, but won’t spend the same amount to ensure that their home is safe electrically (e.g., when it really does need re-wiring). Find someone you can trust, and go with their recommendation. That way, you won’t “wake up dead.”

Ken Stewart, Easley Electric Inc.
We’ll Never Leave YOU In The Dark!