Hiller Know-How: What To Do When a Breaker Trips

Photo credit: Circuit Reference

It’s happened to all of us. We’re going about our business when—boom!—suddenly, the power (or part of it) goes out. Having a breaker trip is a common occurrence, but why does it happen?

What does a circuit breaker do? 

As we discussed here on our blog a few weeks ago, a circuit breaker is a precautionary measure that is designed to prevent an electrical fire. Don’t worry when a breaker trips—that’s a function of the protection it provides.

Generally, everything in your house that uses electricity pulls it through circuits, which are connected to the breaker. If too much electricity is being pulled through a certain route, the breaker trips the circuit and turns it off.

An elevated level of electricity can be very warm, which could cause a fire. When the breaker flips, it’s usually an easy fix: go down to the electrical panel, find the breaker that’s tripped, turn it to the off position, and turn it back on again. (Not sure what it to look for? Popular Mechanics has some pictures here.)

What causes a breaker to trip (and what can I do about it)?

There are two main reasons a breaker might trip. The first is an overloaded circuit. When a too many appliances are plugged into one outlet or group of combined outlets, it can draw too much electricity through the circuit.

For example, sometimes running a microwave, refrigerator and toaster at the same time can cause the kitchen breaker to trip. When this happens, you can try unplugging appliances you aren’t using, or plugging some appliances into different outlets that aren’t a part of the circuit you just tripped. Remember: it can be unsafe to have too many devices plugged into the same outlet, so resist the urge to load all of your appliances into the outlet at once!

Another common reason a breaker trips has to do with short circuits. This is a bigger issue, and happens when certain wires accidentally touch. This can occur either within the wiring of your home or with something you plug in. After making sure your appliance is unplugged, look for melted wires and check for the smell of burning/melted wires (we all know the smell). This is a more serious problem, so if you’re unable to visually locate a melted wire, be sure to get advice from a competent electrician.

There are various other reasons a breaker could trip. Old wiring or wires that have been chewed by rodents may have a lowered capacity for handling electricity. Or, it could be a ground fault, a more serious issue with the electrical wiring. If you suspect you may have a ground fault, or can’t stop a breaker from repeatedly tripping, contact Hiller Electric to handle the job. With our 24/7 service and 50 years of work in the Omaha community, you can count on Hiller Electric to get the job done quickly and professionally.