How Does a Circuit Breaker Work? Outlet Overloads & Breaker Trips Explained

It’s Friday night. You and your family just cleaned up dinner and are downstairs watching TV. Soft lighting sets the movie mood while the ceiling fan blows a cool breeze. The dryer spins a soothing tumbling and fills the room with the sweet smell of fabric softener. The dishwasher swooshes and swirls. 

You head to the kitchen to make popcorn— but next thing you know, it’s lights out. All appliances shut down and you’re sitting in the dark. 

“Ahh, a tripped breaker,” you grumble and trudge into the garage. You swing open your electrical panel and lo-and-behold— you’re right! The downstairs breaker is tripped into the off position. 

You start making note of all the appliances operating off that single breaker: the TV, the lights, the ceiling fan, the dryer, the fridge, the toaster oven, the microwave, the dishwasher. Geez. It’s no wonder it tripped!

It may be a pain to fumble with the electrical panel, but your tripped circuit breaker just prevented thousands of dollars of damage.

Let’s look at what caused the breaker to trip and how exactly your circuit panel works:

Getting to Know Your Breakers & Electrical Panel

Your breakers are all housed inside of a protective box called your electrical panel. Once you open up the metal door, you’ll probably see numbers labeled on each circuit breaker, many even a written description on masking tape beneath reading “Living Room” and the other areas of the home that each breaker powers. Each circuit breaker connects to certain outlets, powering all the appliances and electrical devices in a set outlet grid. 

How Many Outlets Can be Placed on One Breaker?

Each breaker can be attached to any number of outlets you choose, but each circuit is only designed to withstand a certain amperage of power. 

In our narrative in the intro, the family had their kitchen, living room, and laundry room all on one circuit breaker. While this is certainly possible, it’s clear that the breaker had too much voltage to handle! The breaker became overwhelmed by all those high-voltage appliances (the fridge, dishwasher, dryer, etc.) running at once and exceeding its amperage rating.

How a Circuit Breaker Works

When you’re running more electricity to a breaker than it was rated to handle, the excessive current causes the wires inside your breaker and outlets to become very warm. These hot wires can easily become a fire hazard or transfer that damaging heat to your gadgets and fry them.

This is why circuit breakers were designed with a safety mechanism to avoid sparks flying from overloaded outlets and prevent electrical fires. 

When a circuit breaker is forced to contain more voltage and amperage than it was designed to support, an arm inside of the breaker “trips” or moves to turn off the breaker. This immediately shuts off all the power in that zone and keeps you safe from harm.

Curious to see a breaker tripping in action? Check out this video by Warped Perception, which does an excellent job depicting what happens inside of a breaker when it becomes overloaded:

GFCI & Your Breakers

Have you ever noticed that some of your outlets have two buttons on them to reset the outlets and a third hole for your plug? These are called GFCI outlets and they’re designed to automatically trip an outlet when moisture or water is detected nearby— cutting current instantaneously. 

When this happens, all you need to do is press the red “Reset” button to reset the outlet. But because it’s not always easy to access GFCI outlets, some folks choose to have a GFCI service panel installed to add GFCI protection to their entire circuit instead of simply relying on GFCI outlets. For instance, your kitchen outlets are probably GFCI outlets, and if your outlet powering your refrigerator trips, it would be a pain to move your heavy fridge to reset it manually. That’s where whole-house GFCI control comes in handy.

Other Reasons a Breaker May Trip

So far, we’ve learned that excessive current and moisture can trigger a breaker to trip, but there are a few other reasons a breaker might shut off, including short circuits, ground faults, or damaged wires. Troubleshoot the cause of your tripped breaker here.

If You Have a Fuse Box

If you live in an older home or apartment, you may have a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker. 

A fuse is a thin wire enclosed in a casing that connects into the circuit. Just like a circuit breaker, the fuse protects the wires from overheating and starting an electrical fire. Each fuse is rated for a maximum amperage, and when the circuit heats beyond that point, it burns up, opening the circuit and cutting off power.

Newer homes use circuit breakers instead of fuses because once you blow a fuse, you have to replace it. This process can be expensive and time consuming. With a circuit breaker, you don’t have to replace anything; you just flip the switch.

Are Your Breakers Tripping Often?

If your circuit breaker is continually tripping, that means your wires are consistently getting too hot or you need a new electrical panel. Fortunately, this might be something you can fix yourself by reconfiguring your electrical panel breakers and outlets. 

Our free Electric Toolkit which will show you how to check your outlets and troubleshoot the trip. Download it today.

Explore our Electrical Panel and Breaker Services for assistance upgrading or repairing your circuit situation or call at 239-307-0716.

homeowners electrical guide

What to Do When Your Circuit Breaker Trips

We’ve all been there. Someone in your family is using the microwave, the mixer, the dishwasher’s running— suddenly when you go to blend a smoothie amongst the kitchen hustle, your power goes out.

For a new homeowner, resetting a circuit breaker might seem tricky, but it’s usually something you can do yourself with relative ease. But not all circuit trips are caused by overloads— and sometimes you’ll have to troubleshoot to find the cause.

Let’s look at some of the dos and don’ts for inspecting the box and help you get your power back on.

Troubleshooting the Trip

There are a number of reasons you could have tripped your circuit, and you’ll want to make sure you investigate the cause to prevent it from happening again and ensure there are no future concerns.

If you live in an older home with a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker, read this article. Newer homes usually don’t run on a fuse, because once blown, it’s costly and more troublesome to replace than resetting a breaker.

For those with a circuit breaker, it could have tripped because of:

  • A general overload. This is the most common reason a circuit trips. You have too many electrical items running at one time, and once the current goes beyond its rated limit, your RCD (AKA the safety switch) detects the imbalance and breaks the circuit.
  • A short circuit. When a live wire touches another neutral wire, it sends a current somewhere the electricity shouldn’t be channeled to. This could be the result of loose wires, faulty insulation or a number of reasons. Your circuit will trip to halt unwanted heat build-up and possible fire.
  • A ground fault. Instead of a stray wire touching another wire like in a short circuit, a ground fault occurs when a wire touches the ground. When this happens, the current increases so quickly that it trips the breaker.
  • Moisture or a damaged wire or appliance. If a wire or unit is damaged or moisture is trapped with the circuit breaker, it could cause current leakage and trip.

How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

You can open up your breaker box and do some inspecting to see if the problem is obvious. The good news is, it’s usually pretty easy to reset a breaker!

  • Look for a flipped breaker. A switch might be down, in the opposite direction of all the others.
  • Check the power cords. Is any plastic insulation melted? Are any wires touching? If so, proceed with caution and contact an electrician.
  • Turn off your power. If there’s no problems with the cords, unplug any appliances associated with that breaker (hopefully they’re labeled so you know which part of the house it controls!). Then come back to the box.
  • Reset the breaker. For most breakers, this just means flipping the affected switch back to ON. If it immediately trips again, you might have a short.
  • Check your appliances one at a time. Maybe the hairdryer is the problem. See if it was an overload. If not, try step six.
  • Look for damaged outlets, a faulty switch or appliance. If all else fails, the problem might not be the box. Check for damage in your home. If there’s no obvious sign of fault, the problem might be occurring from within your walls and you might need to consult an electrician.

Does Your Circuit Breaker Trip Often? Get an Inspection.

Many of the above scenarios could be one-time situations, however, if your breaker is frequently tripping, you should have a professional come in to inspect it.

When wires overheat, the only thing stopping a fire from occurring is your trusted circuit breaker. Tripping means it’s protecting you, but from what? If the breaker were to fail, your possessions and family could be at risk.

Our expert electricians at SWFL Electric are trained to check for problems and troubleshoot what’s causing these trips. Contact us to schedule an inspection.

If you’re a new handyman, you will probably love our Electric Toolkit, which will show you how to check your outlets, ground your home and more. Download it today!

homeowners electrical guide

8 Reasons it’s Probably Time to Install a New Electrical Panel

Most of us only think about our electrical panel when we need to reset a circuit breaker. Other than that, you probably forget it even exists. 

But like everything, electrical panels have a lifespan— and eventually, need to be replaced. Age isn’t the only reason a panel may need an update; in fact, there are a handful of factors besides wear-and-tear that would merit a fresh install. 

Here are eight reasons it’s probably time you replaced your electrical panel:

1. You’re having issues with your circuit breaker.

This is where many home or business owners start: with obvious electrical problems.

Do any of these scenarios apply to you?

  • You’re resetting circuit breakers all the time. If you find yourself in the dark every time you pick up your hairdryer, it’s a sign that your electrical panel is not sufficient for your needs.
  • Your breakers won’t stay reset. You overloaded the circuit, tripped the breaker, and now you have to reset it. But if you flip the switch and the power still doesn’t come back on, that’s a sign that your electrical panel is faulty. (Check out these tips for troubleshooting the trip).
  • You actually have fuses, not breakers. Fuses perform the same function as breakers, they’re just older and less convenient. But heading down to the hardware store every time you blow a fuse is a pain. Plus, in an emergency situation, like a hurricane or other severe weather event, it’s often not an option— leaving you without electricity when you need it most.

2. Your current panel is more than 20 years old.

Older electrical panels were not designed to serve our growing technological needs and like everything, have a lifespan. Not only might your aged panel be unable to power your wide range of high-wattage TVs, computers, etc., but panels installed before 2000 likely don’t meet updated safety standards.

If your home is 25 years or older, be sure to check the age of your electrical panel. Any box older than 20 years should be replaced. Remember, it’s good to check on your panel at least once a year to catch any problems, regardless of how old it is.

3. You’re adjusting your electrical needs.

Anytime you add or replace electronic devices, it’s important to reassess your wattage requirements. Overloads can cause frequent breaker trips, and even damage or ruin your electronics.

If you’ve recently swapped out an old application for a new one or purchased a brand new device, be sure to check your updated energy usage. Larger appliances can eat up a huge portion of your allotted wattage, and adding something like a second refrigerator could push you over the threshold. Estimate your electronic usage with’s Energy Saver tool

4. You’re doing a home renovation.

Are you building a new room? Enlarging your kitchen? Adding outlets to your home office? All these new lights, appliances, ports can really add up. Even if you feel like your lifestyle won’t be terribly affected by the fresh addition or renovation, your electrical panel might— and different rooms on different circuits could overload your breakers.

If your panel is newer and has the necessary space for additional breakers, an electrician can help divide things up accordingly. But if it’s an older or smaller panel, a replacement may be in order to handle the extra load. 

5. You’re listing your home for sale.

If you’ve been putting up with an electrical panel that’s just okay, replacing it before you sell is one thing you can do to show off as a “recent upgrade.” This can help put buyers at ease, knowing it’s one less thing they have to worry about. Plus, the last thing you want is a brownout in the middle of an open house!

6. Your insurance requires it.

If you have a particularly old electrical panel, your insurance company may demand that you upgrade or pay an increased rate. Some insurance companies may even refuse to cover your home at all until your panel has been updated to one in accordance with modern safety regulations. This is especially true if you are still running on fuses. 

Given the information insurance companies have about electrical fires and other incidents, they know the safety concerns better than anyone! If your insurance company is concerned about your electrical panel, it’s time for a change.

7. You’re experiencing performance issues.

If you’re noticing flickering or dysfunctioning lights or have appliances that aren’t operating at full power, your electric panel may be the cause— but not always. It could also be faulty devices or outlets, bad wiring, or poor-efficiency (only to be revealed in the form of a high electric bill!). 

Be sure to investigate or bring in a professional to access the issue. Here are a few examples of when it’s best to call an electrician.

8. You’re concerned about your overall safety.

If you open up your electrical panel and smell something burning or see corroded wires, this is not something to neglect! Be sure to also look out for moisture inside the panel or obviously damaged wires. 

Electric issues inside your box can cause fires that destroy entire homes and businesses— and put your loved ones and staff at fatal risk. Should you see something suspicious in your panel, dial-up an electrician right away. 

Time for a New Electrical Panel?

Electrical issues are nothing to be ignored and can be a serious threat to your family or staff.  Get to know your panel by learning more about circuit breakers on our blog. 

Should you suspect it’s time for an upgrade, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to get the job done right— the first time— saving you time and money.

Check out our Electrical Panel Services page and fill out our form to request installation, service, or replacement today. Or, give us a call at (239) 935-5892.

The Do’s and Don’ts of DIY Electrical Projects

When you own a home, there are many times when doing the job yourself can save you some money instead of hiring the project out. That said, it’s important to remember that you don’t want to do a job bigger than you can handle.

When looking at electrical projects, some of the things you can do yourself include the following:

  • Change a light fixture
  • Replace a wall outlet
  • Replace a switch
  • Rewire a lamp
  • Attach an appliance cord

However, even these things need a little bit of knowledge to accomplish, so make sure you do the proper research before starting your project.

There are jobs you absolutely should not attempt, but rather find a professionally trained electrician to do. These are:

  • Rewiring jobs
  • Wiring room additions on your home
  • Wiring breaker boxes

If you are embarking on a DIY Electrical Project, here are some do’s and don’ts you’ll want to consider.

Do: Use Proper Tools

For example, you want to use wire strippers to cut electrical wires. Any other tool might damage the wires, and be a hazard to your fingers. Having a flashlight handy is always a good idea, especially if you are in an area where natural light does not reach.

Don’t: Rush the Job

Make sure you have plenty of time to complete your task. Even when changing a light fixture, you may run into an unforeseen issue. Once replaced, if a light fixture is on a switch, that switch may not work after it is turned back on. Make sure you have researched your project fully to know what you should do if this problem arises.

Do: Test All Switches Before You Start

Make sure you know and label what all switches are for. Test them again with a multimeter after you’ve cut the power to make absolutely sure they have no electricity flowing to them. You do not want to start work and receive any kind of shock!

Don’t: Trust Breaker Box Labels

Even though your breaker box is labeled with rooms, it may be different than what you would consider that room to be. If you did not build your home, or put on your own breaker box labels, you need to test all circuits before you start work. You  may flip a switch for an area labeled as “office” only to find out that the are you think is an office was originally a dining room and was labeled as such. Checking and double checking that power is cut is the first rule of electric work.

Do: Know When You’re In Over Your Head

If you get into any kind of DIY electrical project and run into problems you aren’t prepared for, it is better to call an electrician than to risk making a small project a large problem. Not just for the wellbeing of your electrical system, but for your physical safety as well!

Southwest Florida Electric has a team of experienced electricians who are ready to ensure your home’s electric projects are done properly and carefully. Anytime you need a professional, reach out to our helpful customer service professionals who can provide you with a highly trained electrician for your home project.