Circuit breakers are one of the essential devices invented for the modern home. Without these hidden, unsung heroes installed in modern home circuits, it would be too unsafe to bring electrical current into the house. Without them, houses would frequently burn down, and we would have none of the modern comforts we take for granted.
They trip if they detect a problem in an electric circuit (a combination of outlets in your home). Typically your kitchen has a different electric circuit than your bathroom to keep you safe. Let’s get see what is going and get it fixed!
When electricity enters your house, it goes to a circuit breaker box (or fuse box in older homes), where it’s divided into a few circuits. Circuit breakers protect the house from defective wiring, overloaded circuits, and other problems.
What Causes Circuit Breakers To Trip and is it dangerous?
Several factors will cause a circuit breaker to trip. Before discussing the reasons for circuit breaker tripping, it’s essential to define a few basic terms. Let’s start with some theory and discuss how you can fix things further down in this article.
What Are The Electrical Measurements?
Electrical current is measured against four values.
- Amps – is the speed or number of electrons passing a point in the circuit in one second.
- Volts – refers to the amount of power that comes from your outlets.
- Watts – is the rate at which electrical work is performed. Watts are calculated by multiplying voltage X amps.
- Ohms – Is the measure of resistance. In a light bulb, the lower the electrical resistance, the brighter the light.
Although each measurement is related, and one can be calculated if two of the other values are known, the only unit we need to understand concerning a circuit breaker is the measure of amps.
The electrons in an electrical circuit move from the negative side of the electrical circuit through to the positive side.
The amperage, often referred to as the current, measures the number of electrons passing a specific point in the electrical circuit every second. 1 amp comprises 6.28 x 1018 electrons.
One amp is the amount of current produced by a force of one volt acting through the resistance of one ohm.
What Does This Mean To A Circuit Breaker?
Circuit breakers are designed to respond to an excess of amps, i.e., the number of electrons passing a specific point each second.
Circuit breakers are rated in the amps they allow to move through the switch.
If the number of electrons exceeds a trip switch’s rating, the trip switch will activate and break the circuit.
The wire’s size determines the amperage that a circuit can carry in that circuit. The thicker the wire, the more electrons can be passed through it every second.
Try to push more current (more electrons) than a wire can handle, and things start happening.
If the number of electrons exceeds the wire thickness, the wire starts to heat up. The result is that the insulation melts, and the wire does not contain electrons (current). The heat produced may create a fire, but the exposed wires may also touch and cause a short circuit. There are several ways to test a circuit breaker.
Either way, it is going to ruin your day!
How Is The Thickness Of Wire Measured?
Wire thickness is rated on the Standard American Wire gauges scale (SWG).
Ironically the smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire. The typical wire gauges which are used are.
- 18 gauge – 10 amps
- 16 gauge – 13 amps
- 14 amps – 15 amps
- 12 gauge – 20 amps
- 10 gauge – 30 amps
- 6 gauge – 50 amps
- 4 gauge – 60 amps
- 2-gauge. – 94 amps
Therefore, a circuit that uses a fourteen-gauge wire will have a 15-amp circuit breaker protecting it. Likewise, a 4-gauge wire will be protected by a 60-amp circuit breaker.
The gauge wire used for a circuit will be based on the amperage draw of the item to be powered.
Typical gauge sizes versus appliances are detailed in the table below.
|18||low-voltage lighting and lamp cords in 10 amps|
|16||light-duty extension cords supporting 13 amps|
|14||light fixtures, lamps, lighting circuits with 15 amps|
|12||kitchen, bathroom, outdoor receptacles, and 120-volt air conditioners supporting 20 amps|
|10||electric clothes dryers, 240-volt window air conditioners, electric water heaters supporting 30 amps|
|6||cooktops and ranges carrying 40-50 amps|
|4||electric furnaces and large electric heaters protected at 60 amps|
What Do You Do If A Circuit Breaker Trips?
The first thing you need to do is identify which circuit breaker is tripping and then diagnose what is causing the circuit to trip.
Remember that a circuit breaker will trip in three scenarios.
- An appliance is drawing too much current through the circuit.
- There is a faulty appliance on the circuit.
- There is a problem with the circuit itself.
If a circuit breaker trips, the first thing to do is identify which switch is breaking the circuit.
Go to the breaker board and check if the primary system breaker has tripped or if only the individual circuit has tripped.
Follow the steps listed below. Always wear protective equipment, including gloves, eye protection, and boots with rubber soles. Contact a professional when you are not sure what is going on. Electricity can be dangerous so be careful.
Start by inspecting your house. Check if there are no weird smells or water leaks. Check if no electrical devices are turned off suddenly. A lot of devices have a circuit breaker built in to stop them from working if there is a problem. You have to fix this before turning the electricity back on!
- If it is a single circuit that has tripped, skip step 8.
- If the main house switch has tripped, you need to ascertain which circuit is causing the problem.
- To do this, switch off all individual circuits.
- Switch the primary circuit back on. Once you are sure this will not trip, proceed to the next step.
- Switch on each of the individual circuits until the main switch trips again.
- The guilty party is the last circuit you switched, which caused the main switch to trip.
- With this switch turned off, make sure you can turn the others on with no problem.
- If a description of the offending circuit is not shown on the board, walk around the house, and identify the area with no electricity.
- Once you know the affected area, you need to determine the cause. Check if there is a problem in this area. For example, a water leak can cause problems. It is also possible that you smell something burned. Call an electrician if this happens.
- Unplug all the appliances and switch off all the lights in that area.
- Return to the switchboard and turn the affected circuit on.
- If the circuit remains on without tripping, then try all the lights.
- If the circuit still doesn’t trip, plug each appliance in and switch it on. Check your appliances before doing so. If you see black marks or smell something odd, don’t plug them in.
- If the circuit breaker trips when an appliance is plugged in, that is the guilty equipment.
If the circuit breaker doesn’t trip, it may have been an anomaly, or it may have resulted from you having too many appliances operating off one plug point.
If the circuit breaker trips at step 11, it may be a problem with the house circuitry, and you should have this checked out by a certified electrician. We give some more pointers below but this is for people with some experience with electricity.
Why Does My Breaker Keep Tripping With Nothing Plugged In?
When you trip your circuit breaker, you immediately unplug the culprit. Then you go to your breaker and try to power it up. If it doesn’t work, you’re left asking, “Why does my breaker keep tripping with nothing plugged in?”
So, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons you could be tripping your circuit breaker.
Common Circuit Breaker Issues
If your circuit breaker keeps tripping with nothing plugged in, there are four common issues that can lead to this:
- Something Is Still Plugged In
The simplest solution is usually the right one. The first thing you do when a device trips your circuit breaker is to unplug the device. Still, sometimes that’s not all you need to unplug.
Circuit breakers usually cover a large area with many outlets. This means that you can connect multiple devices to the same breaker, even if they’re not in the same area. So, one of the devices connected to an outlet could be causing the issue. Some devices might be hard to remove or you don’t know that they are plugged in (for example a ventilation system in the attic).
The best way to remedy this is to unplug any devices connected to the circuit breaker. If you don’t know your circuit breaker plan, it may be a good idea to unplug all devices in the house.
- A Blown Fuse
When a large current flows through your wires, it can overload your circuit breaker. So, to make sure this doesn’t happen, there’s a safety mechanism built into your circuit breaker.
That safety mechanism is a network of fuses. A fuse is essentially a wire with a low melting point. As the current moves through wires, it creates a small amount of heat. The more current that flows through a wire, the more heat it generates.
Once the current flowing through a fuse reaches a certain limit, the fuse will heat up and melt. This ensures that no large current bursts make it to your circuit breaker. That makes fuses a crucial part of protecting your circuit breaker from overloading.
However, the main issue with fuses is that once they melt, you have to replace them. A melted fuse means there’s an open circuit in your breaker. This means that no current can flow through. So, you have to replace the fuse and complete the circuit.
With something as hazardous as a circuit breaker, it’s always better to find a good electrician. Attempting to change out a fuse on your own can be incredibly unsafe.
- A Short Circuit
If you’ve unplugged all your devices and your breaker keeps tripping, it could be because of a short circuit.
When a neutral wire touches an active wire, it can cause a short circuit. This mostly happens due to faulty wiring. It can happen if a pet chews through wires or if you spill a drink on an outlet.
This is, again, very dangerous because a short circuit can start an electrical fire. If you suspect that you may have a short circuit, don’t try to power up your circuit breaker. Contact an electrician as soon as you can for help.
- Faulty Circuit Breaker
After you’ve ruled out a blown fuse and a short circuit, the problem is most likely the circuit breaker itself. Many people fear their circuit breaker and avoid it at all costs.
That means that they forget that, like any other device, breakers need maintenance. So, if you’ve left your breaker untouched for several years, it’s going to deteriorate.
Even if you maintain your breaker frequently, it has a shelf life. For this reason, if your circuit breaker is more than about 10 to 15 years old, it may be time to replace it.
Older homes have circuit breakers that need to be replaced if they trip. Newer homes have circuit breakers that flip, it is possible to flip the switch back again to reactivate them (do this only after you have found the source of the problem!).
It’s never a good idea to attempt to change out your circuit breaker on your own. You need to cut the power at the source and there are many wires to keep track of. So, if you plan on getting a new circuit breaker, call in a professional.
Safety Precautions to Consider
Dealing with electricity can be scary. Not only do you risk a shock, but it could also lead to dangerous scenarios like a fire. That’s why calling an electrician is usually the best option.
However, if you’re going to attempt any fixes on your breaker, you have to take precautions.
The most important safety measure you need to take is to insulate yourself. You want to surround yourself with as many insulating materials as possible. This can include:
You can wear plastic gloves to protect your hands and stand on a wooden panel. This should ensure that the electrical current doesn’t reach you.
Another good idea is to use insulated tools. This can be tricky since most standard tools are metal. You can, however, wrap the ends of your tools in a plastic wrap of a leather case.
Tips and Tricks You Can Try Before Calling the Electrician
In most cases, you won’t be able to fix many parts of your breaker on your own. Still, there are some things you can try before you call in your electrician.
Checking Your Light Switches
You have to remember that light switches are also part of your electrical system. So, there’s a small chance that your light switches are what’s tripping the circuit breaker.
Try turning off all light switches before powering up the circuit breaker.
Identifying the Problem
If it’s not the light switch, then there’s probably very little you can do. However, it might still be a good idea to find the issue. Electricians can be expensive, especially if they charge by the hour. So, finding the problem first will help you keep your costs low.
To do this, all you have to do is turn on all the lights in the house before tripping the circuit breaker. If one of the lights doesn’t turn on, then you’ve found the issue. You need to replace its fuse.
However, if none of the lights turn on at all, then the issue is more likely a short circuit or a faulty circuit breaker.
Circuit breakers tripping are an irritation; however, if they didn’t perform this function, the result could be your home burning down, with all the resulting horror. Trip switches operate on an uninterrupted basis, year after year, often covered in cobwebs and rarely looked at, and yet these devices have saved countless properties and lives over the years.
If the circuit breaker trips, follow the steps above, and you will soon be able to resolve the situation and eliminate the issue which is causing the problem. Be sure to contact a professional if needed and wear protective equipment.
It can be annoying when your circuit breaker won’t start. So, you find yourself wondering, “Why does my breaker keep tripping with nothing plugged in?”
The answer can be one of four issues.
However, the most likely cause is that something is still plugged-in and you just can’t find it. If not, then it’s best if you call in an electrician to help you get to the bottom of it.