What to Do If Your Circuit Breaker Trips

Circuit-BreakerCircuit breakers are switches made to protect your electric circuits from being damaged by electrical overloads or short-circuiting.

Basically, electric current flows into your home into the breaker box (usually built in the garage or in the basement in the home) where it’s split into a number of circuits and sent throughout the house.

For rooms that only need electrical power for small things like lighting fixtures and televisions, you usually only need 15-amp circuits. For rooms with bigger appliances, such as the kitchen or bathroom, you’ll usually have 20-amp circuits. Certain appliances, like the oven or dryer, are so power consuming they need 30 – 50-amp circuits all to themselves! When it is said that a circuit breaker “trips,” it means that circuit has detected what’s known as a fault condition and has shut itself off to prevent the wiring from overheating and potentially igniting itself.

Resetting a tripped circuit breaker is generally pretty easy – you just need to go back to the electrical panel, find the circuit that’s not facing the same direction as the rest and flip it back to it’s original setting. If the breaker trips again right after you do this, that’s a problem – you’ll have to figure out the cause of the problem before you can fix it.

If your circuit breaker trips right after being reset, you could be facing one of three issues:

  •  an overloaded circuit
  •  a short circuit
  •  a ground fault


Overloaded Circuit

An overloaded circuit is the most likely problem that would make your breakers trip. In simple terms, it means there is more current flowing through the circuit than it is made to carry, so it shuts off to stop any damage.

Remember earlier when we spoke about the different levels of current certain rooms in your home receives? When you are searching for an overloaded circuit, try finding any appliances on the overloaded circuit that would be using more electricity than the circuit would allow. Pay extra attention to objects such as space heaters, toasters, hair dryers straighteners, etc. – These things tend to consume the most power.

The solution for overloaded currents is pretty simple – just unplug things you’re not using! If this doesn’t solve the issue, call an electrician – you may have loose connections somewhere in the house, though this is pretty rare.

Short Circuit

If the problem is not being caused by an overloaded circuit, most likely a short circuit is the issue. Short circuits are a slightly more serious problem than overloaded circuits, which happens when the hot (black) wire touches another hot wire or a neutral wire. The surest way to tell if you are having a short circuit is to first check your power cables for damage or a melted covering (make sure the appliance is unplugged first)  and to check the power outlets or plugs for discoloration or a burning smell. If you can’t locate the problem, hire an electrician to take a look at it.

Ground Fault

If you’ve looked at the two other possibilities and checked for problems, but you don’t think you have an overloaded or a short circuit, you should check to see if a ground fault is causing your troubles. A ground fault exists when the hot (black) wire touches the ground (bare) wire or the walls of a metal outlet box. If you have a ground fault, it’s best to have a Vancouver electrician take care of the problem.