Why Does One of My Circuit Breakers Keep Popping?

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A tripped circuit breaker can leave you in the dark.
A tripped circuit breaker can leave you in the dark. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

A popped circuit breaker can be alarming and inconvenient, especially if it occurs at night. However, the purpose of a circuit breaker is to keep you and your family safe. As electricity enters your home it passes through the circuit breaker, which regulates the amount of power sent to certain outlets. Since those outlets can only hold so much electrical current before overheating and causing fires, the circuit breaker shuts off, or "pops," before a hazardous situation can develop. There are a number of factors that can pop circuit breakers.

Circuit Overload

The most common cause of circuit breaker popping is circuit overload. Electrical circuits in your home are designed to carry a limited amount of current, and when you try to draw power beyond that limit the circuit will trip. A simple solution is to redistribute power to different circuits by plugging high-usage items into different outlets. Heating and cooling devices, such as window air conditioners or hairdryers, tend to draw lots of current.

Loose Connection

Another cause of frequent circuit pops is a loose connection on an outlet or on the circuit breaker itself. When the power is off, check the outlets the circuit supplies to see if any of the wiring is loose and tighten as needed. If it is not your outlet, then it is possible you have a loose connection coming from your circuit breaker. The electrical service panel on your circuit breaker is a common culprit of loose connections.

Short Circuit

A short circuit is a less common, but more dangerous, cause of circuit breaker pops. A short circuit is caused by a break in the wiring in your home that results in a hot wire coming into contact with another hot wire or a neutral wire. Short circuits are not always obvious. Telltale signs of a short circuit are damaged power cords, smoke or burning smells emanating from the affected outlet, or brown or black discoloration on the outlet.

Ground Fault

A ground fault is actually a type of short circuit. Ground faults occur when a hot wire comes into contact with a bare copper wire, or even the metal case surrounding your circuit breaker. The metal box around the circuit breaker is attached to a ground wire. This safety feature prevents you from getting electrocuted should your hot wire touch the box. Ground faults are not very common and often require professional repair.

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