How to Deal With Circuit Breaker Issues
One issue that electricians are often called to deal with is circuit breaker problems. These devices can act up for many reasons. Here is a look at how the system works and how to troubleshoot for common causes of circuit breaker faults.
How Do Circuit Breakers Work?
Modern home wiring is centrally controlled at the electrical panel. Within the panel, you will find a number of switches that control the flow of current to the circuits in your home. These switches, called circuit breakers, can be manually turned on and off.
When a circuit breaker is switched to the “on” position, current flows freely from this point through a path of wires. This pathway, called a circuit, runs to different electrical outlets or built-in powered items throughout your house. It then returns to the breaker to make a complete loop. The electrical current cannot flow if the switch is turned off.
Circuit breakers also serve as a protective measure to protect your home and electrical system from the damage caused by power surges. Each circuit is rated for a certain electrical load, which is based on the gauge of wire and the items that it is required to power. The number of amps for each switch is listed directly on the breaker when you look in the panel. If the electrical load on the circuit is detected to be too high, the breaker will detect this level and flip to the “off” position.
GFCIs as In-Line Circuit Breakers
While each circuit has a breaker in place at the electrical panel, there may be additional breakers embedded into GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets. Electrical code states that these GFCI outlets are required if an outlet is within a certain distance of a water source, like in the kitchen or bathroom. If a GFCI breaker activates, then it will disconnect power at this outlet and everything after this point in the circuit. All items that are powered by the breaker before the wiring gets to the GFCI outlet will remain powered. GFCI breakers can be reset with the push of a button.
Detecting Circuit Breaker Issues
Circuit breakers that are acting up will trip unexpectedly and cut power to one or more electrical circuits. If you pay attention to the circumstances around when the breakers are tripping, this information can help your electrician to diagnose and solve the issue more quickly. Here are some things to watch out for.
The recent uptick in air fryers has been great for the small kitchen appliance industry. However, if you are sticking the air fryer on a circuit that does not have the capacity to handle the required current, then using it can trip the breaker. This is one of the easiest issues to diagnose because it tends to happen when you turn on a certain item.
Solving this issue can be done in several ways. You can move the appliance to a circuit that has fewer items drawing power or a circuit rated for a higher load. If you only need to use the item once in a while, you may be able to keep the other items on the circuit powered “off” while using the high-amp appliance as a short-term solution. You can also talk to your electrician about upgrading the capacity of your circuit or adding an additional circuit. In some cases, you may wish to get a designated circuit for that particular item. This is common when the electrical load is close to the maximum that the circuit can handle without tripping.
Even if you do not use high-amp appliances, it is still possible to overload a circuit by plugging too many items into it. When first wiring a home, electricians base the number of outlets on a circuit on the load it expects to get. For example, circuits that go to kitchens or bathrooms are more likely to run high-amp appliances and operate near water. Therefore, they are more likely to have fewer outlets and breakers rated for more current. However, homeowners may bypass the small number of outlets by adding extension cords with additional ports. The more of these that you have in your house, the more likely it is that you can overload a circuit.
Signs of an overloaded circuit include dimming or flickering lights when you plug in or turn on a device that draws a high current. A simple solution for this issue is to reduce or relocate the number of items plugged into a circuit. If you have an older home, this is more likely to be an issue because it was designed at a time when houses had fewer requirements for electric items. In this case, you may wish to have an electrician add a new circuit to handle additional loads.
The colored tubing around wires serves as an insulator to keep the electricity flowing in the direction that you want. If the sheath around the wiring is exposed, then electricity can flow to other places. In many cases, this can cause a circuit to overload and a breaker to flip.
Electricity follows the path of least resistance, so it will be most likely to travel toward water or metal. If the wire is near an item that is metal or water but not touching, it may create an arc, where sparks jump through the air from one area to another. If exposed wiring travels through a damp area such as a crawl space, the water from humidity or moist soil can be enough to cause a circuit to overload.
If the breaker trips whenever any item on the circuit is powered on, damaged wiring is a likely cause. If wires from more than one circuit are tripping when something is powered on, you may have damage to multiple circuits. You may also have damaged wiring if you see or hear sparks, hear buzzing, smell burning, or feel heat coming from an outlet or a switch.
Damaged wiring is the main source of electrical fires. Circuit breakers are one of the ways to prevent this issue. If you suspect damaged wires, it is safest to keep any affected circuits turned off and to call an electrician as soon as possible.
Over time, circuit breakers can fail. If the breaker flips randomly and you cannot connect it to times when devices start or are turned on, then this is a clue that faulty breakers could be your issue. If you have not added items or changed the way you use a circuit before the breaker started flipping off, this is more evidence of the idea that a breaker is bad. Breakers should be tested and replaced by a professional electrician.
Talk to the Professionals
To learn more about troubleshooting the circuits in your home, speak to the experts at Finch Home Solutions in Shakopee, MN. In addition to helping you diagnose your circuit breaker issues and implement solutions, we provide a wide variety of additional electrical services. These include rewiring, repair, service upgrades, car charging, and installation of electrical panels, lighting, and outlets. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff can help you to better understand your existing system and discuss potential upgrades to your home. Give us a call today for more information.