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Why Does My Outlet Keep Tripping?!

Some common reasons, and resolutions, for electrical hiccups in your home.

September 23, 2019
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ While human beings did exist for centuries without the convenience of modern amenities, for those of us who are used to them, it can be pretty frustrating when our appliances, utilities or electronics don’t work exactly as promised or expected, even temporarily.

Which is why it’s a bit of a pain when you plug something in only to find the outlet doesn’t work, or worse, it shuts something off mid-usage. But knowing what to do about it can help. Understanding what causes these electrical trips can make a difference in how you address them, and also how you might go about preventing them in the future.

​​​​​​​ Here are a few of the most common causes of trips around the house.

1. Overloaded Circuit.

This one is probably the most straightforward cause, and it is also the most common. Electrical circuits are made to safely handle a set amount of power, and if it attempts to draw more than that – whether because of too many simultaneously running devices, or perhaps a large or defective appliance pulling beyond its limits – the circuit will trip.

While resetting the circuit is a good start to fixing this issue (after you unplug all connected appliances and devices – safety first), to ensure that this doesn’t keep happening it’s a good idea to test things by plugging the appliances back in one at a time, and adjust placement of these devices as necessary to avoid overloading the same circuit again.

​​​​​​​ Additionally, it doesn’t hurt to look for warning signs of a high load before the trip occurs. Do the lights dim unexpectedly, or do you hear a buzzing at the outlet, or is it warm to the touch? These are all signs that something is amiss.

2. Short Circuit.

Yes, for fans of ‘80s films Short Circuit is the title of an adorable movie. But it’s a dangerous thing when it comes to electricity in the home. The result of a loose connection or some bad wiring, a short circuit happens when a hot wire comes in contact with a neutral one and too much electrical current starts flowing in a place it shouldn’t be. The result? Overheating, which will damage your plug or device, or worse, could start a fire.

​​​​​​​ If a trip happens repeatedly after you have reset the circuit, this is a pretty good indicator there is a wiring or connection issue that should be checked. Take a look at the power cords of the appliances and make sure there isn’t any visible damage. You might have to do the same with light fixtures to check them one at a time. If the wiring or connection issue is not found on any of these devices that can be simply removed, it’s time to call an electrician to check on the situation inside the walls.

3. Nuisance Tripping

In the case of those first two causes, while a hassle or inconvenience, those trips are a good thing – they mean the electrical devices in your home are protecting you and your house from danger by stopping all electrical current when there is a risk. However, not all trips are because your equipment is doing its job.

In the case of nuisance tripping, that means a circuit breaker trip has occurred for no reason intended by design. While it’s hard to know at first that this is what is happening, the title of nuisance certainly applies. But one way to handle this is by making sure your home has the right electrical wiring devices for reducing the risk of nuisance tripping.

​​​​​​​ In kitchens and laundry rooms specifically, homes are required by electrical code to have both ground-fault and arc-fault protection. (The former protects against fatal electrocution, the latter against electrical fires.) However, there are different options for how this protection can be in place. One method is a dual-function circuit breaker, and another is a combination of an arc fault circuit interrupter at the breaker and a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet in the room itself. Not only is the latter option more convenient because you can reset trips in the room using the button located on the actual outlet, but it also is the option that helps isolate nuisance tripping, as the AFCI component is what is much more likely to trip without cause. If you are remodeling or building a new home, check your state’s requirements before proceeding, and if AFCI protection is necessary, opt for the solution that helps prevent unwanted tripping hassles down the road.

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