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Does your circuit breaker keep tripping with nothing plugged in? You’re not alone. While the whole incident may sound nasty and mildly annoying, the solution is often simple. Determine the root cause of the problem and fix it. Easy, right?
Well, it’s not always that easy because there are so many reasons why your breaker could be tripping. It could be a sign of overload, short circuit, or ground fault. You can try resetting it by cycling the breaker – turn it completely off (it should click) and then turn it back on.
However, if it keeps tripping without any load, you may want to dig a little deeper to identify the problem and that’s probably why you’re here.
In this post, I will take you through the steps needed to fix a tripping breaker and answer some of the questions you might have about a tripping circuit breaker. I will also help you diagnose the problem with your breaker, so you know where to check whenever it trips.
So let’s get started!
Why is a breaker tripping with nothing plugged in?
If your circuit breaker is tripping without anything plugged in, it’s probably due to something actually being plugged in (that you don’t know about), a damaged wire (causing a short circuit), or a ground fault.
Circuit breakers trip when they exceed the maximum amperage they’re designed to hold. That’s what we call overloading. The switch will move to the “OFF” position and show a red area to alert you that it has tripped. If you unplug everything, but it still trips, here are the possible reasons:
Something could actually be plugged in
If you don’t know the exact area your tripping breaker covers, the chances are that there is a connection causing the tripping that you may not have spotted. Search inside and outside the house to see whether there is any device you have not turned off that could be using the same breaker.
A damaged wire (short circuit)
If you’ve ruled out other devices, the next culprit could be a faulty input wire. If this is the case, remember to thank your breaker for tripping, as this problem is often dangerous. However, annoying it can be, the breaker trips to keep you safe from fire and other electrical hazards. Consider calling an electrician to follow the source of the leakage and fix it immediately.
A ground fault happens when an active or hot wire makes contact with the ground wire, a grounded area of an appliance, or the grounded portion of the junction box. The ground wires are usually bare copper or aluminum (unlike green ground wires in an appliance), hot wires black, and neutral wires white. When the hot and ground wire come into contact, or if the black wire contacts the neutral wire, large amounts of currents flow through the circuit breaker, leading to a trip.
Your circuit breaker could be the culprit
What if your breaker is the problem? Like any other item, circuit breakers also experience wear and tear. If it is more than ten years old, your breaker could be dealing with old age, especially if trips frequently. Consider replacing it to solve the problem.
How to fix a breaker that trips with nothing plugged in:
Step 1: Turn off the Light Switches
Start by turning all the lights off and unplugging all the connected devices and appliances in all the rooms that have lost power. Recheck to make sure nothing is connected. The reason why this step is so crucial is to eliminate the chances of overloading. I know you must have tried turning on your breaker before with all those appliances off a million times. Just do one last check to rule out overloading.
You might have plugged in a device in or outside the garage and forgotten all about it. An excellent way to rule out overloading is using an electronic circuit breaker finder to help you find the areas connected to the problematic breaker.
Step 2: Identify the Tripped Circuit Breaker
Go to your circuit breaker box, open it and locate the tripping circuit breaker. Circuit boxes are usually positioned in an open area away from elements and obstructions. Most boxes are enclosed in a small metal plate with a simple lock.
Your circuit breaker will ultimately produce a humming sound when overloaded before tripping. To get it back on. Although the circuit is open and safe, the breaker is not in the “OFF” position until you cycle the breaker. It’s a built-in safety feature to prevent the power from accidentally being turned back on while the circuit is being repaired.
Step 3: Test Your Circuit Breaker
I know you’ve already tried this step a couple of times before researching it, but it is critical to learn your breaker’s behavior when all appliances and lights are off for proper diagnosis.
Turn the lights back on but keep the appliances disconnected and test your circuit breaker.
Now, observe and check two things:
1. If the lights return, but the breaker trips after a few seconds.
2. The lights flicker “ON” and “OFF” as the breaker trips immediately.
Depending on your observation, you could be dealing with a wiring problem, circuit damage, or overloading (yes, you got that right). If the lights turned on but went off after some time, your circuit breaker could be experiencing an overload. Consider going through your checklist to make sure nothing is overloading the breaker.
If the breaker trips immediately, you turn it “ON,” you could have a faulty wire or damaged breaker. You might want to call an expert to inspect the wiring and fix the problem immediately.
Step 4: Switch Off Your Appliances and Lights Again
If you’re dealing with an overload, start by turning everything off and checking what could be on and probably causing the trip. Most overloaded breakers don’t turn off immediately. Instead, they try hard to power all the switches and outlets until they’re too heated and overwhelmed.
Switch off all appliances connected to the breaker at once to prevent an electrical power surge when you reset it. You might need to start turning on the devices one by one several times to find the culprit.
Step 5: Check the Input Wires
Your input wires also experience wear and tear and could be the main reason your breaker keeps tripping. When busted, these wires can have current leakage resulting in a short circuit and ultimate breaker trip.
Any faulty wiring can lead to frequent breaker tripping and, if ignored, can lead to electrical shock when powering certain appliances. If you have never dealt with electrical wires, it’s wiser to hire a professional to take care of it.
Step 6: Reset the Circuit Breaker
Once you’ve identified the faulty wire and fixed it, it’s time to reset the breaker and solve the problem entirely. To reset your breaker, simply turn it to “OFF” and then “ON” again.
Step 7: Replace Your Circuit Breaker
If all troubleshooting methods fail, your last resort is to change the circuit breaker itself. The procedure is quite simple, but working with the panel is dangerous as the hot bus bars are always full of energy. I highly recommend hiring an expert to replace the breaker for you, but if you can do it, make sure you have a flashlight with you before turning the main power supply switch off.
Once off, follow the next few steps:
These are general steps for common circuit breakers, but each brand and model may be different/ Make sure to follow the directions in your manual for the proper steps. If you’ve lost your manual, try searching the brand, model #, and “manual PDF” online.
- Use your screwdriver and carefully remove the breaker panel cover plate. Next, find the breaker that needs replacement and turn it off by flipping it to the “OFF” position.
- Extend the wire connected to the breaker slowly out of the panel while trying not to touch other wires.
- Grasp the edge of the old breaker and pivot it towards the outer side of the panel. The breaker should snap free from the panel.
- Disconnect the wires in the black circuit by unscrewing the terminal and gripping the wire.
- Attach the black circuit wire to your new circuit breaker by inserting the bare end of the wire under the screw terminal on the breaker. It’s usually labeled LOAD.
- Insert the breaker by hooking the back of the new breaker into the holder clip at the back and push the breaker forward into the rightful place. Make sure the breaker aligns with the bus bar as you insert it.
- Neatly fold the excess wire and tuck it into the panel. Again, be careful not to touch other wires or metal parts.
- Replace the panel cover and its screws. Then, flip the toggle lever to the “OFF” position before turning the main breaker on to prevent sudden high power demand on electrical services.
- Flip the main switch level to the “ON” position, and you’re all set.
What to Do If a Breaker Won’t Reset
If your breaker doesn’t reset, I highly suggest you contact your electrician to check the problem. There could be a ground fault, short circuit, circuit overload, or simply a faulty breaker that needs replacement. A professional will inspect the problem and come up with a permanent solution.
What are the Warning Signs that You’re Dealing with a Damaged Breaker?
Like any other item in your home, circuit breakers get damaged. Fortunately, there are many warning signs that your breaker is faulty, primarily if it hasn’t been serviced in the last ten years. Replace your breaker if you notice:
- A burning smell coming from the electrical box
- Your breaker won’t stay reset
- Breaker keeps tripping frequently
- Scratch marks or signs of wear and tear on the breaker
- Breaker older than ten years
Can You Replace Your Breaker Yourself?
While many would prefer to fix their breakers as a DIY project, I do not recommend doing it yourself if it’s your first time handling electric wires. If you live in a rental home, your landlord may prohibit replacing the breaker yourself to improve the security of your neighbors.
Replacing a breaker is pretty easy but quite dangerous if you don’t know where ‘not to touch’. Again, not all breakers are the same, and you might encounter some complexities when trying to replace a unique breaker.
You also need to make sure that the wire and circuit breaker are sized correctly. For example, is the circuit single or double pole? Is it 120V or 240V? Does the amperage match the circuit size?
That’s why it is best to hire an electrician to do the job.
You see, you don’t need to be an electrician to understand your circuit breaker! By now, you should be able to pinpoint the exact problem with your circuit breaker and any breaker around you, as they pretty much use the same concept.
Don’t stay in the dark or miss your favorite show waiting for an electrician to check your breaker. I’m confident that this post has covered every challenge you may have when dealing with a tripping breaker. First, check why the breaker is tripping and follow the steps I have shared to fix the problem.
If you feel this information has helped you somehow, why not check some of our related posts here below? We believe there is a solution to every problem, and that’s why we’re here!