Go Back

Overloaded Circuit Breaker – Signs, Causes & How to Prevent It

Apex Pros - Overloaded Circuit Breaker – Signs, Causes & How to Prevent It

On-demand electricity is a modern amenity we often take for granted until it stops working. Tripped breakers caused by overloaded circuits are disruptive to everyday life. But frequent tripped breakers aren’t the only sign you have an overloaded circuit. Let's discuss circuit breakers and what you can do if you have an overloaded circuit.

Signs of an Overloaded Circuit Breaker

The signs of an electrical overload can be subtle. The lights might flicker when you turn on appliances or they may be dimmer or have an inconsistent brightness level. You’ll notice your appliances stop running efficiently, either slower or faster than normal. 

Buzzing or warm switches and receptacles can be an alarming sign that you have an overloaded circuit. This heat or buzzing may also be accompanied by a burning smell like melting plastic or rubber. 

The most obvious overloaded circuit symptom is a frequently tripping circuit breaker. 

All of these signs can also signal faulty or damaged wiring, outlets, circuit breakers, or your service panel. Before tearing apart the whole system, let’s learn how to troubleshoot an overloaded circuit breaker first. 

Causes of Overloaded Circuits

There is only one cause of an overloaded circuit — too much power draw. However, there are many ways you can draw too much power from a single circuit breaker. 

Each circuit breaker in your service panel offers a fixed amount of power. How much depends on the breaker. A standard 120-volt (V) single pole breaker is likely 15 or 20 amps (A). Volts and amps refer to the power offering. Watts (W) refers to how much power a device or appliance will take.

At 120 V and 15 amps, the most power draw the circuit can handle is 1800 watts. That may seem like a lot, but when you factor in how many receptacles, lights, and switches are drawing from it at any one time, it's not that much. To put that into perspective, the average hair dryer draws 1,500 W, and a wall AC unit draws about 900 W per hour. 

Extension cords and power bars increase the likelihood of an overloaded circuit, depending on what you plug in. If you use a power bar to plug in a lamp and two phone chargers, it's not likely to overload the circuit. Many energy-efficient phone chargers use 5 W, similar to a lamp running a 5 W LED bulb.

If your circuit breaker keeps tripping, the overload could be the result of a faulty breaker. The purpose of the breaker is to help control the electrical current. If the breaker is overloading and tripping, it’s likely a faulty breaker. 

Dangers of Overloaded Circuits

Overloaded circuits are a serious safety concern. Electrical fires are the third leading cause of residential fires in the U.S. and kill nearly 500 people every year. Many of those fires are caused by faulty electrical distribution systems. 

Regularly overloading your circuit breaker(s) can shorten the lifespan of the electrical components in your system. It can lead to melted or damaged circuits, wiring, and receptacles. Damaged components increase the chance of fire and personal injury.

Other overloaded circuit hazards include equipment damage and power disruptions. Equipment damage can lead to melting wires, short circuits, and shocks causing personal injury and electrocution. 

Power disruptions can also lead to injury, especially if someone in your home has mobility issues or relies on power-operated medical equipment for their health.

How To Prevent Overloaded Circuits

Preventing circuit overloads should be top of mind for the safety of your home and family — consider it part of your regular electrical system maintenance. Overload prevention can even help prolong the life of your electrical components. 

Start by reviewing your service panel. Make note of the amps of each circuit breaker to get an idea of how much power your system offers. The minimum service panel requirement is 100 amps, but a 200-amp panel meets the basic needs of most homes. 

Next, assess your power draw per room, including your light bulbs. Remember that power bars don't increase the amount of draw available, they only increase the number of receptacles. A heavy reliance on power bars or extension cords suggests you need more receptacles.

Finally, examine all your major appliances. Each one should have its own receptacle with nothing else plugged in. Also, avoid using extension cords or power bars for any major appliances. 

You may discover you need more receptacles. After all, can you risk another tripped breaker during a Buckeyes game? The experts at Apex Plumbing, Heating, and Air Pros can inspect your system, make recommendations based on your needs, and take care of any repairs or installations, so you can focus on the big picture — enjoying life.

DIY Solutions for Overloaded Circuits

If you've discovered you have one or more overloaded circuits, it's time to talk about solutions. There are a few things you can do to help limit circuit overload. 

Re-distribute appliances and devices

Anywhere you have multiple appliances plugged into one receptacle, you have an opportunity for redistribution. Check your service panel if you don't know which receptacles are connected — they are usually labeled. All the kitchen receptacles should be on one circuit, hallways and entryways are often clumped together, and each bedroom is usually on its own circuit.

Change to LED bulbs 

LED bulbs use considerably less power than incandescent bulbs. They also tend to last longer, which offsets their higher upfront cost and can save you money in the long run. 

Switch to ENERGY STAR appliances

Consider replacing your current appliances with energy-efficient ENERGY STAR models. You may even qualify for special offers or rebates.

When To Call a Professional

If you're uncomfortable troubleshooting your home’s electrical system yourself, contact the experts at Apex Plumbing, Heating, and Air Pros. Our licensed electricians can troubleshoot your problem, inspect your system, and make recommendations based on your needs. We work with you to find the best solution, repairs, or upgrades. 

Apex Knows Circuit Breakers!

We offer a free, no-obligation estimate before starting any work. We also have a 5-star satisfaction guarantee — if you’re not happy with the service, we make it right. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.