Why Do Household Circuit Breakers Keep Breaking?

When an electrical breaker trips and shuts off power, it's doing its job.

Overloaded Circuit

Electrical breakers manage electricity for each circuit.Electrical breakers manage electricity for each circuit.
Electricity enters your home through the service entrance, or breaker box. Breakers divide the electricity into different circuits and determine how much electricity each circuit carries. If the demand on a circuit becomes too high, the breaker trips to stop the connection. If you turn on a vacuum and the power stops, the problem is obvious. If it's not clear, you should investigate. In some cases, you may need an electrician.

An overloaded circuit means you are trying to draw too much electricity from one circuit. You may have numerous outlets and light fixtures along one circuit, but you can't always use everything at once. Finding which item is pushing the circuit over its limit is sometimes tricky. Look for things that automatically change settings or cycles, drawing more power intermittently. Space heaters, washing machines and refrigerators work this way. If nothing can be found, you may have something plugged into an outlet on the same circuit in a different area of the house. Don't assume each room has exclusive use of one circuit. Overload is remedied by relocating some items to outlets on different circuits, explains The Circuit Detective.

Poor Connections

Loose or corroded connections at the service entrance can cause increased resistance, which generates heat. Breakers are designed to shut off power when this happens. If any breaker inside the box feels hot, there is a problem. If not, flip the breaker completely off, which usually requires some force, then flip it back on. If it trips again, leave it off. Continually resetting it can cause a fire, according to "Popular Mechanics." You may only have a defective breaker, but it could be a more serious problem. Hiring an electrician is a safer way to be sure.

Short Circuit

A short circuit occurs when an uninsulated, live electrical wire touches a ground or neutral wire. When wiring is insulated and connected properly, the electricity that flows through it meets resistance at its destination, which slows the flow. For example, electricity moving through an appliance slows down when it meets the resistance of a motor, explains expert Tim Carter of Ask the Builder. If wiring is broken or loses its insulation, the flow increases. Because circuit breakers regulate the flow of electricity, keeping it under a certain level, a breaker will trip if there is a short circuit. Short circuits require the attention of an electrician.

Defective Electrical Devices

Breakers sometimes trip even though the electrical system in the home is safe and there is no clear circuit overload. Defective appliances or other electrical devices can use power erratically. Short circuits inside an appliance can create enough disturbance to trip a breaker. Older electrical items may need repair or maintenance to function safely. If an electrical device is used improperly, stressed beyond its intended use or damaged, it can use electricity in surges or it may use steady, excessive amounts and cause the breaker to trip.

About the Author

Lee Carroll, a writer based in east Tennessee, has authored numerous law and DIY home improvement articles and essays. In addition to holding a degree in paralegal studies, she has more than 10 years of experience renovating newer homes and restoring historic property.