Why Does Your Breaker Flip?

A flipped, or sometimes known as “tripped”, breaker is one of the most common electrical problems consumers experience today. Circuit breakers are safety devices intended to keep you and your home safe by interrupting the electrical flow when it exceeds a certain amount. When flooded, the switch will flip, cutting the electricity until an expert can arrive to fix the problem, but how does this work? 

Breaker 2: Electric Boogaloo

The first step to figuring out why your breaker flipped is understanding electricity. Electricity can be divided into three subcategories: 

1. Voltage

2. Current

3. Resistance 

Voltage is the pressure that makes electricity move. Current is the rate at which the charge moves through the conductor, which offers a certain amount of resistance depending on its composition. It’s important to know that these are all interconnected and constant. 

When electricity is delivered from a power plant, it is done so via hot wire at a consistent voltage, usually between 120 and 220 volts in the United States. Resistance, however, varies from building to building, therefore the current is also varying. Different electrical appliances offer different levels of resistance and limit the amount of charge that can flow through a circuit. Too little charge and your appliances don’t work, too much, and you may have a fire on your hands. 

The device’s job is to limit current jumps to a specific range, cutting off the circuit and flipping “off” when the safe level is exceeded.  

Breaking Down Your Breaker

A basic circuit breaker opens and closes circuits and typically consists of a simple switch connected to an electromagnet or bimetallic strip. When the current jumps to unsafe levels, the electromagnet pulls down a level connected to the switch, opening the circuit and interrupting the flow, shutting it off. 

More advanced breakers use different technologies and don’t just protect buildings: they protect people too, limiting the risk of electrical shock when going to manage the flipped switch. 

All wiring runs through a fuse box. Typically, they contain about a dozen circuit breakers leading to various areas of the building, with large appliances being on their own and smaller appliances existing on the same circuit. 

Why Does Your Breaker Flip: Broken Down

As discussed earlier, circuit breakers trip when there is an electrical fault. Overloads are the most common: they occur when too great an electrical demand is exerted. This can happen by having too many large appliances or light fixtures going simultaneously, causing them to overheat. It’s important to know exactly how many amps of current the circuit can carry for this reason. If your circuit breaker is constantly flipping, it may be because your power needs are too much for the particular circuit and reorganization may be necessary. 

Another common problem that can cause flips switching is short-circuiting. This is much more dangerous than an overload and occurs when a live wire comes into contact with a neutral wire or if there’s faulty appliance wiring. If you smell burning or notice discoloration, a short circuit is the most likely culprit, and you should contact a professional immediately. 

Ground fault surges are the last common cause of switch flips and are by far the most dangerous. They occur when live wires touch bare copper wire or the metal outlet box connecting the ground wire to the electric circuit. You will also notice discoloration around the box. Assessing, diagnosing, and solving electric problems of this nature absolutely require professional attention and should not be handled on your own. 

Flipping the Switch

Fixing a flipped breaker can sometimes be quite simple, and in the event of an overload, you can turn the power back on in four simple steps:

  1. Turn off all of the light switches and unplug everything.
  2. Find the circuit breaker box and open the cover.
  3. Locate the tripped breaker. Usually they’re labeled. The tripped breaker will either be labeled “Off” or be somewhere in between “On” or “Off.”
  4. Reset the breaker

In the instance that this does not return power, you may have to reassess the load you’re placing on the circuit. If you see discoloration, smell something off, or otherwise feel as though the problem is not an overload, call a professional immediately. 

Ultimately, breakers flip for your safety and are an important part of household electricity. At Lakeview Electric Inc, we pride ourselves on being one of Northern Nevada’s most reliable full-scale electrical companies, serving residential, industrial, and commercial clients alike for the past 30 years. Your safety matters to us, and we take pride in solving problems: if you are having breaker issues, book a consultation today for a free estimate.

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