What is a Tripped Circuit Breaker, and How Do You Fix It?

What Is a Tripped Circuit Breaker and How Do You Fix It?

A tripped circuit breaker interrupts the electrical current from the electrical panel to a specific area of your home. It often happens when you draw too much power from a single circuit. But what does that mean — isn't power just power? Not exactly. 

Current, voltage, and resistance need to be kept in constant check to keep electricity flowing safely and uninterrupted to your outlets and switches. Don’t worry if this sounds confusing — we’ll help you understand the basics of residential electricity and how to fix a tripped breaker.

What Is a Circuit Breaker?

A circuit breaker is part of your residential electrical system. It’s a fail-safe to prevent damage, fire, and injury by interrupting the power to a specific area when it senses a power overload. 

Your energy company’s power distribution grid delivers power in a constant flow. The electrical panel or load center runs the current through the circuit breakers and into your home. When an overload or fault occurs in an area of your home, the circuit breaker shuts off the power to that area. 

When you look at your electrical panel, you can see small rectangular boxes stacked in one or two columns. Those are circuit breakers. The handle or switch of a tripped circuit breaker will look out of position compared to the other breakers.

What Causes a Circuit Breaker to Trip?

There are two main reasons a circuit breaker trips — an overloaded circuit or a circuit fault. 

Overloaded circuit

An overloaded circuit is the most common cause of a tripped breaker. It occurs when you draw too much power from one circuit. For example, you take out dinner to defrost in the microwave while running the dishwasher and air conditioner. When you push start on the microwave, the power to the kitchen shuts off. 

What happened? You overloaded the circuit — the current followed the proper path, but it used more power than the circuit rating, so the internal mechanism of the breaker interrupted the power to ensure your safety and prevent a fire. 

Short circuit fault

Faults occur when the current flows along the wrong pathway. In the case of a short circuit fault, the current strays from its intended path. Short circuit faults result from melted and damaged wires, breakers, or appliances — or excess water. Locals in the Martinez area know the Alhambra Watershed can experience localized flooding that results in short circuits and power outages.

Ground fault

A ground fault is a type of short circuit fault. It happens when a live wire comes in contact with the ground, a ground wire, or grounded equipment. Faulty and damaged electrical components can cause a ground fault.

Open-circuit fault

An open-circuit fault occurs when the connection breaks apart. The electrical wire or breaker that usually connects two circuit nodes is severed. Downed trees and faulty components can cause an open-circuit fault.

How To Fix a Tripped Circuit Breaker

Generally, a tripped circuit breaker is a quick and simple fix. Follow these steps to restore power. 

  1. Turn off any light switches and unplug any lamps, chargers, and small appliances in the affected area. You can leave large appliances like your fridge and stove plugged in. 

  2. Locate your electrical panel. You may need a flashlight. 

  3. Identify the tripped breaker. If your panel is properly labeled, this should be an easy task. If not, look for the breaker with the handle or switch in the off position or between on and off. New breakers have toggle or LED indicators. 

  4. If there is no obvious difference, gently tap each handle. The tripped handle will have a little give or wiggle. 

  5. Push the handle to the off position to reset the breaker.

  6. Flip the handle back to the on position to restore power. It should come back on within seconds.

  7. One by one, turn on your light switches and appliances. Leave a couple of minutes between each to ensure the breaker remains on.

How To Prevent Circuit Breakers From Tripping

Tripped breakers can be disruptive and often happen at inopportune moments. These tips can help prevent your breakers from tripping.

Distribute electrical loads evenly

Take a calculated approach to your power draw by distributing the electrical loads evenly. Avoid plugging high-draw appliances like heaters, hair dryers, and air conditioners into the same circuit. Use power bars as recommended by the manufacturer — even though it has multiple ports, it's still plugged into one receptacle. 

Use appliances wisely

You can prevent tripped breakers by not running multiple appliances on the same circuit at the same time. Whenever the opportunity arises, look for ENERGY STAR appliances to reduce the power drain. They use less energy than older models, leading to fewer tripped circuit breakers. 

Upgrade your electrical system

Another way to prevent tripped circuit breakers is to upgrade your electrical system. By installing arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) circuit breakers, ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacles, and additional circuit breakers to your load panel, you can better distribute your electrical load and protect against faults and overloads. To find a certified electrician in Martinez, CA, contact Service Champions — our whole-home solutions experts are standing by.

When Your Circuit Panel Needs Professional Repair 

A tripped breaker can be a sign of a bigger issue. If you run into any of the following problems, it's time to call an electrical expert to take a closer look and provide repairs. 

Your circuit breaker keeps tripping

A circuit breaker that frequently trips or flips off as soon as you reset signals your breaker is damaged or a fault has occurred along the pathway.  

You notice a burning smell

A burning smell often signals a short circuit. Look for signs of scorch around the breaker or receptacles. It can also occur in the wall, especially if rodents are an issue in your home. 

Your electrical panel is old

Electrical panels and their components have a life span of about 25 to 30 years. An old electrical panel will experience worn-down components that increase the chance of shock, fire, and electrocution.

Call the Pros at Service Champions

In many cases, fixing a tripped breaker yourself is as simple as flipping a switch. Other times, it's not always easy to tell the cause of repeat tripped breakers. Professional service gives you peace of mind and ensures your circuit breakers and electrical panel are safely restored to proper working condition.

We have knowledgeable electricians who can help troubleshoot your electrical system issues and provide actionable solutions. Contact us today to schedule an inspection, routine maintenance, or service.

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