What causes the electrical circuit breaker to continue to trip and interrupt the electrical power to outlets, lights, appliances, etc. ?
Continual tripping of an electrical circuit breaker means a problem, and must be corrected to eliminate the possibility of future much more serious problems.
The electrical power into your home, is normally distributed within a circuit panel, that encloses electrical circuit breakers. These circuit breakers are designed to accommodate, as well as protect a number of electrical circuits that run through your home, and power outlets, lights, appliances as well as any other fixture that requires electrical power to function. Each electrical circuit is connected to this electrical contact or breaker, that is engineered to control the amount of electrical current flowing through each circuit.
A very elementary understanding of the electrical service that enters your home is to picture the electric power as a flow of water. The amount ( amps ) of water or electricity, supplied is measured by the term amps. The pressure ( volts ) of the water or electricity is measured by the term volts. So if you have a 100 amp service, this merely indicates the amount of electrical power that is actually flowing into your home from the source, which is the electrical lines in the street. If you can picture this as a flow of water, this is the amount of water or electricity that is supplied. In most instances, a residential electrical service, is reduced to 120 volts of current, for distribution within the home. The actual electrical service into the primary electrical panel in the home is introduced in most normal situations at 240volts, which is then split by 50% within the actual panel.
However, some appliances such as the oven, stove and dryer, could require 240 volts of electrical service to function, and the electrical panel will be set up to supply this amount of voltage to certain circuits that feed these appliances. Commercial and industrial electrical services can be supplied at much higher voltage.
Each electrical apparatus within the home requires a certain amount of wattage to function. The wattage is a measure of the amount of electricity required to make the outlet, the light bulb, the hair dyer, the electric heating apparatus, or any other electrical item to properly function. Therefore your electrician, when supplying your home with the proper size electrical circuits, will determine how many, and what type of electrical apparatus will be fed by each circuit. This will determine the amount of amps each circuit will require to properly service the electrical items, on each circuit.
In the past, the panel boards were controlled by fuses, that would literally burn out if the circuit was over loaded. What does this mean overloaded ?
A circuit that is electrically engineered, will carry a limited amount of electrical current to different electrical items within the home. This current as noted, is measured in what are called amps. A circuit can be rated at different amperes, and the fuse would limit the amps supplied by each circuit.
In almost all cases, today’s electrical distribution is controlled by circuit breakers that act as fuses, however, can be reset if tripped therefore not requiring total replacement. The old days of replacing fuses has been modernized, by the simple mechanism of flipping the breaker, to re-establish the connections.
So what causes a electrical circuit breaker to trip?
1.) In most cases, the cause of a breaker tripping, is an overload of the actual circuit. A circuit, as we have already established is designed to carry a certain amount of electrical current, so many amps at a certain voltage. If this amount of current is exceeded, the breaker, that is designed to protect the entire assembly of the circuit, will flip and stop the electrical current from flowing. This is basically a switch that turns off. Why flip the switch to off, because a circuit that is carrying to much electrical current is a danger to the integrity of the entire electrical system.
2.) The flow of current through an electrical circuit is again, like water through a hose. If too much water is forced through a limited diameter hose, the pressure will build up, until the hose bursts. The electrical circuit is the same, and the limitation of the bursting, is the responsibility of the circuit breaker. The electrical circuit will not literally burst, it will become extremely hot and could cause either a fire or a shorting of the circuit.
3.) Why would the limits of a circuit be exceeded due to the amount of current that is flowing?
There are a number of reasons that this could occur.
a.) There are simply too many electrical consuming appliances, or other electrical elements on one circuit. For example, if you have a coffee pot, a toaster, as well as another heating element on the same circuit, the total electrical requirements may exceed the limitations of this particular circuit and the circuit breaker will flip. Heating elements draw the most current, therefore, a number of them on the same circuit will draw too much current. This situation will commonly occur in a bathroom when someone is using a hair dryer. A hair dryer draws a lot of electrical current therefore using up the capacity of that particular circuit when the hair dryer is turned on. Therefore, if you have, for example, another type of heating element, such as a electric space heater plugged into the same circuit, you will probably trip the breaker.
b.) There is a short in one of the fixtures, or other types of electrical elements connected to that circuit. A short is called a short, due to the shorting out of the flow of electricity through the wires of the circuit. Electricity is meant to flow through the wires in a circuit, flowing back to the source. If this flow is interrupted, by wires touching incorrectly, a bad appliance, a break in a wire, or a nail or screw penetration, into the wiring system, a short could occur. A short will draw too much current, and therefore will cause the circuit breaker to trip, and stop the flow of electricity protecting the circuit.
c.) Water has entered into the circuit. Water is a conductor, therefore, if excessive moisture enters the electrical system, a short could occur. The electricity could find its way from the electrical contained wires, outlets, appliances, tools, etc. and could find a path to flow through the water, therefore shoring out the circuit. If this were to occur, then a short would cause the circuit breaker to trip and stop the flow of current through the system.
d.) Abrasion or fatigue has caused a failure in the actual wires, or electrical apparatus, causing a short within the electrical circuit. If a wire is subjected to a constant and repeated bending motion, or a rubbing motion, it could be compromised and the insulation surrounding the actual conductors within the wire, exposed. If this occurs, there could be a short that causes the electric current to flow to ground, causing the circuit breaker to trip.
e.) Age or brittleness of the wires or other electrical contacts within an outlet, light fixture or other electrical apparatus. Any issue that would cause a wire to become brittle and crack, or an electrical contact within an appliance to break off, could cause a short. This short would cause the circuit breaker to trip and stop the flow of electricity through the entire circuit.
f.) Mechanical failures within the appliances or other electrical apparatus that the electrical circuit is supplying electricity to. For example, if the electricity is feeding an electric motor, and the motor bearing fails, the spinning of the motor may become compromised and may require more and more electrical energy to function. As the increase in electrical demand increases, the appliance or other apparatus will heat up. This heating up is a clear indication of a problem, and will eventually trip the circuit breaker. Any excessive draw of electricity due to friction, damaged bearings, or other failures within the electrical appliance or apparatus, could cause an excessive draw of electricity and cause the circuit breaker to trip.
There are many different reasons for an electrical circuit breaker to activate and shut down the electricity flowing in the circuit. If the issue is constant, or if the breaker will not reset, this identifies a major electrical problem that must be evaluated by a licensed electrician.
The most important understanding of the function of an electrical circuit breaker, is that it is protecting your electrical system!
This protection must be maintained to provide safety for the entire home. Electricity is a safe and efficient utility, if all aspects of the system are properly installed and maintained.
Failure to properly address issues could result in substantial safety hazards.
If in doubt, call that licensed electrician NOW!