Do you ever find yourself using a hair dryer, watching a show, or warming up by a space heater just to be met with a localized blackout? When your breaker keeps tripping, it can be annoying and sometimes impossible to complete your daily routine. If your breaker keeps tripping, read on to know what it means, what’s causing it, and how to fix the problem for good.

Why do Breakers Trip?

The first thing to know is that a breaker tripping means that you’re being kept safe. The purpose of a circuit breaker is to help control and regulate the electrical flow in your home. If there is a chance of overheating, the breaker will trip, essentially stopping all of the power flow through that circuit. This helps to prevent blown fuses, damage to your wiring, or even potentially dangerous fires. So while it is certainly annoying to deal with, it’s also a relief to know that you’re being kept safe.

What Causes a Breaker to Trip?

Even with that being said, if your breaker keeps tripping it’s signaling that something is wrong with your electrical set up. There can be a number of reasons that prompt immediate action from your breakers to shut off and keep you safe. Some are quick fixes that involve adjusting your behavior or habits from within the house while others involve more extensive maintenance and electric work done by professionals. If you can’t confidently pinpoint why your breaker keeps tripping, always err on the side of caution. Call an electrician to evaluate the situation for you.

While it is definitely safest to consult an expert, there are some pretty common triggers for these annoying blackouts and being able to identify what’s causing the problem can aid in a quick (and hopefully inexpensive) fix.

Common Reasons that Breakers Trip

The electrical set up of any home can be complicated, especially for those without any formal training. But there are three very common causes that may explain why your breaker keeps tripping.

1) Overloaded circuit

Meaning: The most common culprit and, thankfully, the easiest to remedy, is simply having an overloaded circuit. This means that there are too many devices running too much power through the same circuit. This often happens when a hair dryer, which uses a relatively large number of amps to run, is plugged into the same circuit that other large appliances are using. Air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions, vacuums, and space heaters are common culprits.

Fix: The easiest solution is to turn off and unplug the item that is using too much power. If you have to dry your hair, turn off the heater. If the air conditioner needs to be blasting, dry your hair in another room that’s not on the same circuit. Time your day so that multiple appliances aren’t being used at the same time. An overloaded circuit could also be caused by an appliance that is overheating or working too hard due to a fault — like an air conditioner working overtime in the middle of August. Check the integrity of larger appliances to make sure that they’re working at their most efficient before plugging them back in.

2) Short Circuit

Meaning: A less likely but more dangerous explanation for a tripped breaker is a short circuit. Unlike an overloaded circuit which can be remedied by unloading some of the power running through that line, a short circuit is a wiring mishap. It happens when one of the hot wires touches a neutral wire in the outlet. This creates a huge surge of energy that flows through the circuit, overheating it, and causing the breaker to trip. It can be caused by old wiring, a broken appliance or plug, or animals chewing on the wiring.

Fix: First, you’ll need to find where the short circuit is. Identify which plugs have been affected and look for a dark discoloration around the outlet or even smell for smoke or burning. Even though the breaker is tripped, it is still dangerous to mess with faulty wires, so make sure to consult a professional electrician to help you rewire the outlet.

3) Ground Fault

Meaning: The third most-common cause of a tripped breaker is a ground fault. Instead of the hot wire touching a neutral wire like a short circuit, in a ground fault, the hot wire touches the bare copper of a ground wire or part of the box connected to it. This happens when the electrical equipment is faulty and prone to unexpected and uncontrolled contact.

Fix: Like a short circuit, a professional should definitely be contacted. A ground fault is very dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that many areas have strict requirements to keep homes safe when it comes to the grounding of certain circuits and outlets. If your outlets look normal and there is no overloading, contact an electrician to look for a possible ground fault.

A tripped breaker can be annoying and potentially dangerous. Before running straight to the breaker panel and flipping that breaker back to “on,” make sure that you discover the cause of the power overload and consult a professional if necessary. After all, electricity can be tricky, and safety should always be your number-one priority.

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