Why Does My Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping?

May 20, 2020

Your home’s circuit breaker is essentially a big electrical switch. Its purpose is to interrupt the flow of electricity if a fault is detected. If one of the circuits trips once in a while, this is usually not a cause for concern. However, if the same circuit or the whole breaker keeps tripping, there could be a serious problem. Here are some of the top reasons why your circuit breaker may keep tripping.

Short Circuit

A short circuit is the result of a hot wire coming into contact with a neutral wire. It’s a dangerous situation because a large amount of current will flow through the circuit. This usually creates more heat than the wiring can handle. The result is that the breaker trips. The heat could ignite a fire within the circuit, and the tripping breaker protects your house from an electrical fire. A loose connection, faulty wire, or pest damage can cause a short circuit. If a short circuit is the cause of your tripping breaker, you will notice a burning smell coming out of the affected outlet. You may also notice burn marks on or near the outlet.

Overloaded Circuit

An overloaded circuit is one of the most common reasons why a circuit breaker keeps tripping. It results from a circuit that demands more electricity than is available. For example, if a circuit can deliver 15 amps, but the new television needs 20 amps, it will constantly trip the circuit breaker. The television’s wiring will also be destroyed. It is a good idea to have a licensed electrician upgrade your circuit breaker. In the meantime, you might be able to unplug other items connected to the circuit.

Ground Fault Surges

A ground fault surge is similar to a short circuit. It happens when a live wire touches a ground wire or the metal circuit box. This results in too much electricity entering the circuit. The breaker trips in order to stop the flow of electricity. The tripping of the breaker prevents overheating and fire in the circuit. Outlets affected by ground fault surges will develop a brown or black discoloration.

Old Wiring

If your Seattle home is more than a few decades old, its wiring may not be up to the current electrical standards. The wires may have a lower capacity. As a result, they get too hot when your appliances and electronics demand electricity. The excessive heat trips the circuit breaker. If the wiring in your older home has never been updated, especially in high-demand rooms, it is wise to contact an electrician for an inspection. High-demand areas include the living room where your home theater and television are located and your kitchen, with large refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, microwaves, and small appliances are. A new, large heat pump or air conditioner may demand more power than even a dedicated circuit can provide.

Undersized Breaker Panel

Older homes offer expert craftsmanship and many beautiful features rarely included in new homes, but they may also include dilapidated circuit breaker panels. If the breaker panel to your home has never been updated, it could be the reason for tripping. This can happen in homes that are only 40 to 50 years old. Today’s homes include multiple televisions, high-capacity central air conditioning systems, multiple small appliances, large kitchen appliances, computers, and more. The breaker might not be able to handle the demands of all of those systems. You may need to upgrade to 200 amps or more if your breaker box is old.

Arc Fault

An arc fault happens when arcing, which is also called sparking, happens after two wires connect with each other. Arcing can cause a fire within the wall. A loose screw terminal connection in a switch or an outlet can cause this. Ordinary circuit breakers will not prevent this from happening, but the breaker might trip if the wires remain in contact. An electrician can detect this problem. Installing an arc-fault circuit interrupter outlet or an entire arc-fault circuit breaker could prevent this problem. The breaker senses potential arcing problems and will shut down the flow of electricity before a short circuit or ground fault occurs.

Faulty Appliance

If one of your home’s appliances is faulty, it could be causing the breaker to trip. Within an appliance, wiring or connections can develop a problem. Degraded insulation, a loose connection, or a control board problem could cause the appliance to demand too much electricity or not use the electricity it receives. You could check the appliance itself for signs of heat or wiring damage. You could also try plugging the appliance in question to an outlet on a different circuit. Be sure to disconnect anything else served by that circuit. If the same appliance causes two or more circuits to trip, it could be a fault within the product instead of your wiring or circuit breaker. You may need to have the appliance serviced.

An Old Appliance

Perhaps you pulled out your grandma’s old space heater or electric skillet. An old appliance may have damaged wiring or a capacity that is not in alignment with the electricity your home’s wiring can provide. Some of the appliances known for causing repeated tripped breakers are window unit air conditioners, electric space heaters, and old, large vacuum cleaners. All appliances have a lifespan, and it is better to use a new appliance that has passed through safety certifications than to reuse an appliance that is many decades old.


A recent storm that passed through your location could cause your breaker to trip. A lightning strike may have damaged a nearby transformer, the wiring to your home, or your home itself. Even if your house did not sustain a lightning strike, a lightning bolt hitting the Earth close to your home could have put enough electricity into your wiring to trip one or two circuits. It is more likely for a storm to take out your whole circuit breaker box in one swoop. This type of damage requires professional repair.

Pests and Wildlife

Pests or wildlife could be the cause of your tripping circuit breaker. A mouse, squirrel or rat may chew on the wiring leading into your home. Inside your home, ants, termites or cockroaches could damage wiring or insulation, causing the circuit to overheat. Debris from a mouse’s or bird’s nest could result in overheated wiring. You may need to look at the outdoor transformer for the presence of an animal nest or dead animal. If you notice other signs of a pest problem in your home, such as droppings or nesting material, you may need both electrical repairs and pest control or wildlife removal services.

At Brennan Electric, we have licensed electricians who can determine why your circuit breaker keeps tripping. Count on us to provide you with whole-house generators, electrical surge protection systems, electrical panel updates, wiring, and outlet installations and repairs. To learn more about why your Seattle-area home’s circuit breaker keeps tripping, call us at Brennan Electric today. We have offices in Seattle and Lynnwood.

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