DIY: Popping Circuit Breakers

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In my house, I’ve found out that I can’t run certain things together, such as my laser printer and a vacuum cleaner or carpet cleaner in the family room.  In the kitchen, it’s the dishwasher on the “dry” portion of the cycle and the microwave.  Each time, the breaker in the basement “pops” and nothing works.  It’s frustrating, but sometimes, that’s what you get in a house that was built for a different type of family.

So, what does it mean when you keep flipping circuit breakers?  It can mean a few different things.  The first one, and probably most common, is the circuit is underrated for the “load” you are putting on it.  In the case of my kitchen, a dishwasher has an operating load of around 13.5 amps, whether it’s portable or built-in.  What that means is the amps that it takes to run the machine is around 13.5 amps.  So, the breaker that the dishwasher is on should be greater than 13.5 amps, which would mean at least 15, as that is the next higher breaker amount.  A quick check in my breaker box shows my dishwasher is on a 10 amp breaker.  Fantastic!  Looking at the microwave, it should, according to the little book that came with it, be on its very own 20 amp circuit.  No wonder everything keeps shutting off!

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The second reason that a breaker might be tripping is it’s shorting out.  This can happen when the black “hot” wire is touching the neutral white wire, or another hot wire.  Either way, this can be dangerous.  If you’ve ruled out the above, and everything on the circuit adds up to under what the breaker can handle, look at the outlets and switches on the circuit for any browning around them, or a burnt smell.  Turn off the circuit if you find one, pop the plate off and see if wires are touching where they shouldn’t.  Look on all your appliances plugged in to the circuit for frayed wires,  where a pet might have been chewing on them or you’ve rubbed them with furniture.  Unplug anything with damaged wires and see if you can replace the wires.

Once you get to the bottom of your circuit breaker issue, you need to determine what you can do to fix it.  If you just have too many things plugged into the circuit, move something to a different one is the easiest fix.  With me, I’ll be moving my microwave to a heavier circuit.  But with my dishwasher, it needs a beefier circuit on its own.  My best option there, due to local laws, is to hire an electrician to replace the breaker with something bigger.  Hopefully, the wiring can support it, or I might have to have that run replaced with heavier wire.  When I talk to electricians, I will ask them if I can get a discount if I assist them, especially with pulling the wire.  Sometimes, they will give you a discount because that means their assistant can be out doing another job, killing two birds with one stone.  The electrician I worked with last time was happy that I knew to do all the things I’ve listed here as it saved him time and me money on finding the root cause of the issue.

All in all, it’s good to know how the wiring of your house works, how it runs through your house, and what to do when it start to malfunction.  In many areas, the electrical and plumbing portion of your home is ruled by laws, and you can’t fix it yourself, but you can work to diagnose it.  The more you do on your own, the less you typically have to pay for.

Have y’all had issues with your wiring and circuits?  What have you done to resolve them?

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