Circuit breaker keeps tripping

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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 04:58:38 -0800, trader_4 wrote:

Nice idea! Thanks!
That saves me the 30-mile round trip to the hardware store. (Am in the boonies.)
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On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at 1:04:57 AM UTC-6, E. Robinson wrote:

Does it actually *reset* and then trip? When they go bad they don't reset or *catch*...showing you its needs replacing. Have any of the outlets been worked-on to be suspect?
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 04:44:00 -0800, bob_villain wrote:

Haven't anyone in the house to see if the lights go on momentarily, and I can snap a video if you like (will need to find a place to upload it).
When I reset it, it doesn't stay. It's as if a spring-like force is forcing it to the trip point.
There are three positions, but it won't stay in the off position, and it will easily stay in the trip midway position, but it won't stay in the on position.
I tried it a dozen or more times, and all goes right to the trip position. Once I saw a spark, not big, but blue. Stopped at that point.
Clearly a short somewhere.
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with that breaker. A spark or flash does not mean much. If there is a bad overload, repeated resetting of the breaker could cause it to go bad.
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 13:16:39 -0500, Ralph Mowery wrote:

It stays fine in the off position. Sorry if I wasn't clear.
Here it is in the off position (top right, 4th down, 15 amp).
http://i65.tinypic.com/i5692c.jpg
Here it trips the instant I try to set it to on.
http://i66.tinypic.com/2ec2kol.jpg
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:41:38 -0000 (UTC), "E. Robinson"

Temporarily it has this:
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Take the wire off the breaker. See if it will reset. If not, get a new breaker. If it resets, take a meter and see how many ohms it shows to the neutral wire for that breaker. Then see how many ohms to ground. If any ohms to ground you have a major problem to look at, should not be any, or way up in the mega ohms atleast. If any below several thousand (really should be up in the megaohms same as to ground) on the neutral to the wire you took off the breaker then something is still connected or there is a short in the wiring.
If very high ohms to neutral and ground, then swap that wire with another breaker wire of the same rating and see if the other breaker trips. If not, replace the breaker that is tripping.
This is assuming you do not have a ground fault breaker. If so it could be water on an outside outlet that may not show up on the ohm meter.
If you had a meter that has a clamp on ampmeter, you could look at it and see if it goes way up when you turn the breaker on, but many do not have a meter like that.
If you don't have a multimeter, get one as they are less than $ 20 for one that is good enough to use around the house.
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 10:40:53 -0500, Ralph Mowery wrote:

Another great debugging idea. Will try.
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On 1/20/2016 12:04 AM, E. Robinson wrote:

"It /was/ tripped" suggests you discovered it tripped; as opposed to it tripping while you were DOING SOMETHING.

Does "immediately" mean "within a few seconds"? Or, does it mean "it never actually SETS"? You are REsetting it before attempting to SET it (i.e., turn it fully OFF, then ON)?

Are you positive that there are no other hidden loads? Doorbell? AC powered smoke detector? Wall clock? etc.

How many lights does it control? How many outlets? Are there other outlets or lights in those rooms that are NOT on the same circuit?

I asume you want to know how *you* should debug this, not I?
What level of experience with electricity do you have? And, your personal "Comfort Factor"? How deep is your wallet? I.e., are you asking out of curiosity? Or, out of *need* (ABSOLUTELY can't afford to hire someone)?
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 10:36:12 -0700, Don Y wrote:

Yep. Woke up in the morning. Some kitchen and adjacent living room lights wouldn't go on. All I can tell at the moment are the lights (three ceiling lights, each with switches).
I presume there are some outlets on it too, but I haven't checked yet.
Nothing is plugged into any of the nearby outlets.

It has three positions. 1. I found it in the trip (middle, sort of) position. 2. It easily stays in the off position. 3. It won't get into the on position - immediate swings to trip.

Nope. It's a section of the kitchen next to the dining room. I will dig up my outlet tester plug, and check a few of the nearby outlets, but all the lights are ceiling lights and all are currently switched (and the switches are all off).

At least four built-in lights. All switched. Dunno how many (if any) outlets yet. Will need to test around with a spare desk lamp. Can't find my damn Fluke DMM. WHere did I put that thing? (Haven't used it in a couple of years.)

Yes. I want ideas to debug. I think I have enough to start. 1. Check the outlets for power. 2. Check the breaker in my hands that it switches. 3. Switch the breaker with another breaker. 4. Pull the affected switches and outlets & disconnect black lead (Some are 3-way so I'll be expecting a red lead maybe.)

Same as anyone else I would think.
I've wire-nutted replacement outlets a half dozen times. I've replaced a circuit breaker (220V for AC) only once. I put in a 3-way ceiling light once (put a box in the attic and dropped the wires down from between the wall to get to the switch).
For tools I have the basic yellow plug 3-light outlet tester. I have a red neon-light probe dumb tester. I can't find my Fluke DMM (but it's overkill usually).

I can "afford" to waste my money on an electrician, but, I don't really have the money to spare. Plus, I'm only lacking in my debugging skills. Once I know what the problem is, I don't think the "fix" will be difficult.
It's figuring out a strategy for finding the problem that I am asking help with - and - I think you boys gave me a pretty good start because I wasn't sure which way to go first since the stuff is all "hidden" in the walls.
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On 1/20/2016 11:23 AM, E. Robinson wrote:

Hmmm... I think modern homes tend to keep the kitchen circuits separate from other rooms. Kitchen is the big pig when it comes to electricity usage.

I'm not trying to be a stickler but want to make sure of your use of the word "immediately". Does the switch make *any* attempt to stay in the ON position? A short/overload on the circuit will cause the breaker to "trip" *AS* you are trying to turn it on! I.e., it will never really get into the ON position before you feel it going limp under your fingers.
If, instead, it tries to catch but trips a second or two later, that's a slightly different story.

And, it's NOT a GFCI circuit? And, it's a 120V line?
Is the breaker a single breaker? Or, a "dual" (though NOT 220V)?

I'm not really interested in the actual numbers. Rather, just wanting to make sure you've not overlooked an outlet or a switch someplace that *should* be part of the same branch circuit. E.g., we have two switches to control the overhead lights in the kitchen -- both in the same Jbox (one does the lights over the sink, the other does the rest). It would be highly unlikely that encountering a similar setup would have those switches on different circuits.

With the breaker TRIPPED (i.e., OFF), verify there is NO power at any of the outlets or light fixtures. If there is power, then either you've picked the wrong outlet *or* there may be a short to the other hot leg that is now feeding through (because the breaker on the first hot leg has tripped -- before the breaker on that other hot leg).
[This is highly unlikely. But, stresses the fact that you are now operating in an unusual situation so your assumptions always need to be suspect --- especially if your safety is at risk. If the circuit IS off, then it doesn't hurt to verify! :> ]
*Smell* each outlet/fixture. And look for any signs of burning or melting (metal can melt/"pit" when a short draws an arc to that point).
I have a little fixture I made (trivial) that lets me hook my DMM to a NEMA *plug*. So, I can just plug the thing into outlets and check for voltage -- without having to poke probes into the receptacle and *hope* I touch the mating blades inside. For light fixtures, I use a screw-in adapter: <
http://ak.buy.com/PI/0/500/228885907.jpg
into which I plug this other DMM adapter. Again, it makes it easier than trying to poke around with bare probe tips and possibly shorting out the socket and drawing an arc, etc. (imagine being startled by same and slipping off a ladder!)
[if you want to be pedantic, you'd now remove the breaker]
In what follows, recall that neutral and ground are essentially the same point, electrically. But, a short on neutral will appear differently than a short on ground -- if you are just looking at neutral and hot (instead of ground and hot).
Having identified all of the outlets and fixtures that are on the circuit and knowing there is NO potential anywhere, you can now flip the DMM to the ohms scale and SURVEY the resistance between hot and neutral at each receptacle (no need to check both receptacles in a duplex outlet) and light fixture. Move to the most sensitive scale as you are looking for something in the 10 ohm or less range (for a short).
Keep in mind that wire has resistance. E.g., 100 ft of #12AWG (for a 20A circuit) is ~0.16 ohms; #14AWG is ~0.25 ohms. Any "short" (which may be a dead short -- 0 ohms -- or a partial short (a few ohms) will appear to be LESS of a short the farther away you measure (because you will be ADDING the resistance of the wire between your measurement point and the actual location of the short TO the resistance of the actual short!)
A C B --------------------------------------------+----------------- X --------------------------------------------+-----------------
Short (at C) would appear as "X" ohms. When measured at B, it would appear as X plus twice the resistance of the wire from B to C (cuz you have to travel DOWN one wire and then back UP the other... twice the distance!)
OTOH, when measured at A, the same reasoning shows how the measurement will be higher -- more wire involved!
[You need a reasonably good meter (fluke will be fine) AND a solid connection to the conductors -- like the plug I described]
By noting what the *exact* readings are at each point, you have a better chance of sorting out where it MIGHT be. (if the short is IN a Jbox, then you'll probably see damn close to 0.000 ohms, there!)
Having verified that there is a short (low ohm connection when none is expected), you now have to isolate it. The above can help narrow it down to a range of "devices" (outlets/switches/fixtures). But, you'll eventually need to open up some Jboxes to see for sure.
Eyes can spot burnt areas and loose wires pretty easily! Note that most devices have bare screw heads on each side. So, if the device has shifted position, it can bump into something that it shouldn't -- like the receptacle immediately adjacent, or the metal Jbox, etc.
Some common sense will help you decide how the wire was *probably* strung. I.e., if two Jboxes are close by, then the wire probably goes from one to the other -- before heading across the room to some other Jbox. But, there are no guarantees :>
Once you have isolated a section of wire (which might be the entire circuit, if you are unlucky), you can save yourself some trouble by approaching the problem of breaking it into smaller segments logically.
I.e., instead of isolating the receptacle at outlet #1 and retesting the balance of the circuit; then moving on to isolate outlet #2, and #3, and #4, etc. you can go to the outlet in the "middle" (take a guess) of the circuit and break the circuit at that point. Now, you have half of the circuit going off to the "left" and the other half going off to the "right".
If the left half shows a short -- but the right doesn't -- then you now know the short is in the *left* half of the circuit. Likewise, if the right shows a short but not the left, then you know it's in the right half. So, you only have to check HALF of the outlets.
Given the left/right half, you can now break *it* somewhere near the middle to eliminate half of *those*. Etc. A bit of thought will show that this will, on average, reduce the number of "breaks" that you have to make to isolate the short.
You may encounter two issues that will complicate things.
First, some folks use "back stab" devices. These are a labor saver in that you simply strip the wire and then jam it into a hole in the back of the device (switch/receptacle). It magically makes connection.
But, it's a ratchet sort of action -- tugging on the wire won't remove it! You need to operate a "catch" that releases the "ratchet" (usually by slipping a cabinet tip screwdriver into a little slot/hole).
[These things should be outlawed! :< ]
The other has to do with how the circuit is "daisy chained" on to the next device (Jbox) in the circuit. Receptacles tend to have a pair of screw terminals on each side -- two for the hot and two for the neutral. These are bonded together electrically with a metal bridge (it is fairly obvious).
The natural inclination is to connect the "incoming" wires to one set of terminals (one hot and one neutral) and the "outgoing" wires to the other set. This effectively ties the incoming to the outgoing AT the receptacle.
Instead, you might find the incoming tied directly to the outgoing with a wire nut. Then, a short "pigtail" connects the wire nut to the receptacle. In this way, the receptacle is not required for the circuit to continue on to the next device!
As such, removing the wire from the receptacle will just isolate the receptacle from the circuit. It will *not* "break" the circuit at that point!

OK. So, you're probably comfortable working *in* the panel.

See my comments re: measuring wire resistance...
The problem with the "simple" testers is they don't show you anything other than "working properly" or "working WRONGLY (in a bigtime way)".

Understood. I just get nervous suggesting folks go poking around in a load/meter center or Jboxes. Note that you are operating in an "abnormal" situation; so, what you can EXPECT is no longer something that you can safely ASSUME.

Think about what *could* have gone wrong. E.g., if you are frequently abusing a particular outlet, then it has seen more mechanical wear and tear than an outlet that is NEVER used, etc.
What's LIKELY is best to pursue, initially.
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 12:21:41 -0700, Don Y wrote:

It makes no attempt to catch.
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On Wed, 20 Jan 2016 12:21:41 -0700, Don Y wrote:

I have no idea what the circuit is yet, but it has at least three built in switched lights on it.
It's a single breaker (not ganged), but it seems to be in a dual package.
Here it is in the off position (top right, 4th down, 15 amp).
http://i65.tinypic.com/i5692c.jpg
Here it trips the instant I try to set it to on.
http://i66.tinypic.com/2ec2kol.jpg
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On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at 3:11:19 PM UTC-5, E. Robinson wrote:

If it makes no attempt to catch, it sounds like a mechanically bad breaker.
You can trythis to confirm it..... without even removing the panel.......
Turn off the main breaker.
Now try to turn on the bad breaker.
If it still does not catch even with the main off, the breaker is definilty bad.
If it does catch with the main off then turn the main back on.
If it immediatly trips, you may have a bad breaker or you may have a wiring fault.
Now you need to remove the panel to troubleshoot further.
When removing the panel, turn off the main breaker, wear rubber shoes or sneaks and stand on a carpet, and keep BOTH hands on the panel.
What you don't want to do is have one hand on the panel and one hand on the box.
This way, if you slip and the loose panel hits a live wire, you won't be shocked, but it may make a he** of a spark.
M
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On Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at 3:37:26 PM UTC-5, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Ingenious. Simple and workable.
If the breaker is bad, there can still be something else wrong too. Sometimes breakers wear out, sometimes they go bad for a reason.
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On Thu, 21 Jan 2016 05:40:15 -0800, TimR wrote:

That is the kind of a.h.r advice I was looking for!
It worked perfectly!
In fact, your approach worked so perfectly, that it, um, uh, er.... it SOLVED the problem! Huh? What?
The problem is gone? Just like that?
Well, not exactly (it couldn't have solved the problem), but this is what happened!
1. The "bad" breaker was in the off position. 2. Unfortunately, I didn't think to test it today (last tested 2 days ago). 3. I went outside and turned the mains off. 4. I went to the breaker panel, and turned the "bad" breaker on. 5. It stayed in the on position! 6. I flipped it back and forth a few times. 7. It stayed in the on position! 8. I left it in the on position. 9. I went outside, and flipped the mains back on. 10. I had expected the "bad" circuit to trip. 11. Huh? It was still in the on position. 12. I flipped it back and forth a few times. 13. It worked perfectly fine. 14. I went upstairs, and turned each affected light on (one by one). 15. They *all* worked (one multi-bulb light had 1 of 5 bulbs burnt out). 16. Maybe that one bulb caused the circuit to blow? Naaah.
I removed the one bad bulb, but, other than that, nothing (that I know of) has changed between now and two days ago (other than the rain stopped, which has been constant here in California the past few weeks).
I don't understand, but, somehow, that ingenious trick showed not only that the circuit breaker was good, but, that the circuit, somehow, is (at least now) also good.
Makes no sense, I agree. But that's the data. I will let you know if it trips again.
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On 01/21/2016 2:15 PM, E. Robinson wrote: ...

Not at all unusual for a bulb catastrophic failure to pop a circuit on the instantaneous failure if it fails as in 'pop!'.

I hadn't seen the thread but sounds to me like perhaps you didn't actually reset it before trying to turn it back on...most (all?) require a manual "push _fully_ off" to reset after a trip; if you don't they're not reset.
I'm guessing this time your movement did include enough in the "off" direction to do the reset.
Easy enough to test...
--




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On Thu, 21 Jan 2016 14:26:20 -0600, dpb wrote:

It constantly wouldn't set.
I flipped that circuit breaker scores of times from fully off to fully on (I have a lot of experience with circuit breakers, just like anyone here would - even if I've only replaced one in my entire life).
I can only think of three scenarios that make sense because the short was not momentary. It lasted for hours two days ago.
At the time I was actively flipping the breaker, so, it wasn't a *momentary* short (the only thing I could find wrong was one bad bulb in a set of five in a ceiling lamp).
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But his tripped over and over again, not just when the bulb failed (if it even tripped then).

He didn't say he pushed it to Off as part of resetting it, but he did say he pushed it to Off several times and later to On, so functionally, that's the same thing.

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wrote:

If it keeps tripping, it could be in drugs ! <LOL>
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