Circuit Breaker Troubleshooting

Circuit breaker troubleshooting should help you figure out why your house went dark and you back into the light.

Potential Problems
One of these five problems may cause a circuit breaker to trip.

  • Arc-Fault. Arc-fault causes a spark on the circuit or the lights or appliances on the circuit.
  • Ground-Fault. A ground-fault leaks power off the intended circuit.
  • Overheated Breaker. An overheated breaker is the result of poor contact or connection.
  • Overload. An overload results from usage that begins to overheat a circuit?'s wires.
  • Short Circuit. A short circuit occurs when high current is caused by a fault on a circuit.

Test It
If you push the test button on a circuit, it should trip the breaker. If it doesn?''t, the breaker is defective and should be replaced.

Tried and True Tricks
Make sure the electrical device is turned on. If it is and it does not work, the apparatus should be replaced.

If more than once circuit isn?'t working, verify that the main and submain breakers are receiving voltage. Check the clothes dryer and electric range to see if they heat properly. If either of these appliances does not heat properly, call the power company for assistance.
Track blinking, brightening, dimming or flickering lights. Which lights and receptacles are affected? Check connections or replace the breaker.

In case of shock, use a tester to see which items are hot. One at a time, turn off circuits to see which is causing the problem. Unplug items to see if the hotness decreases.

Troubleshooting Tactics
You may think that resetting a circuit breaker is as easy as flipping the switch from off to on. That?'s partially true. When a circuit breaker trips, you still need to grab a voltmeter and check the breaker. This simple test can prevent current and future problems.

If you can reset a breaker and it does not trip again, an overload or arc-fault may be the culprit. More than likely, this is a singular event that doesn?'t need further investigation. If the breaker re-trips within five seconds after being reset, a short circuit or ground-fault may be the cause. If the period between trips is a longer time interval, an overload, overheated breaker, or arc-fault is probably the cause.

An arc-fault may require a replacement breaker. Install a standard breaker by connecting the solid white wire into the neutral or ground bar on the panel. If the standard breaker does not trip, then either an arc-fault or ground-fault is causing the problem. Troubleshoot by adding a GFCI receptacle that contains a white section spanning from the neutral bar to the line neutral on the receptacle. Add this after the standard breaker. It the GFCI holds, an arc-fault is the reason it?'s been tripping. If it doesn?'t hold, a ground-fault is the problem.
Troubleshooting circuit breakers can save time and money. In severe cases, contact a professional electrician to assistance.

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