Determining Why Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

Circuit breakers are built into the electrical system of your house to protect the system and the house from damage from an overloaded or short circuit. The main purpose of the breaker is to sense trouble and immediately break the electrical flow. Circuit breakers have replaced the older fuse box, which required that fuses be replaced when they “blew”. The circuit breaker can be reset to re-establish normal operation. Because they are a critical safety component in your home, be sure to investigate why if your circuit breaker keeps tripping. There are three main possible causes to consider.

Faulty Wiring

Frequent breaking of a circuit breaker in a new home or in a home that has had recent re-wiring could be caused by the way the wiring was installed. In older homes your circuit breaker could be warning you of problems in the wiring system that may have been there for years. The solution might be as simple as re-tightening loose connections.  In all situations, acting on this advance warning can prevent serious problems and even fire. You need the expert assistance of an electrician, as the entire wiring system will have to be checked.  

Short Circuit

A short circuit somewhere in the electrical system is another common reason for the circuit breaker to trip. While it is simple to explain how this could happen, it is difficult to actually fix a short circuit. The breaker is designed to control the amperage carried by a wire. Typical homes use a 20 amp breaker and 14 gauge wire. The maximum for each circuit would be 20 amps.

When a short circuit occurs, the hot wire could be broken or there may be a break in the wire insulation allowing contact with a ground. If this happens, the amperage will be greater than allowed by the breaker and it will trip. Resetting the breaker will not help. It simply trips again. You may notice equipment malfunction, or perhaps even a burning smell or melted wire. This is a serious situation that can be fixed only by a qualified electrician.     


Another reason for a tripped circuit breaker is an overloaded circuit. For example, if the breaker protecting a circuit is rated at 20 amps, then 20 amps is the maximum that will be allowed for that circuit.  When more current passes through the circuit than was intended, the circuit breaker will break the circuit to prevent overheating.

This problem is common in many homes, even more so in older homes not designed to handle the variety of electrical appliances we use today. A few years ago, the home office may have only had a television and a VCR. Today the computer, printer, scanner and CD are all sharing that same circuit. In the kitchen there is not enough counter space to handle all the electrical appliances available.

While you could upgrade the wiring in your house when the circuit breaker keeps tripping, a simpler cheaper approach is to move the appliances with heavy consumption of power to a different less used circuit. You could turn off some of the connected devices. Paying attention to what your circuit breaker is telling can help you maintain a safe and effective home electrical system.

About the Author Greg does work for Airco Service— professional experts in heat and air Oklahoma City can trust. He writes on home construction and DIY home improvement.