5 appliances that can trip a circuit breaker

Each circuit is labeled to show the room it corresponds to on Angie's List member Garret R.'s circuit breaker panel.

Each circuit is labeled to show the room it corresponds to on Angie's List member Garret R.'s circuit breaker panel.

A circuit breaker is designed to break circuits so that electrical shorts, faults or excessive power draw on a system doesn't cause fires or put homeowners at risk.

Originally developed in the 1920s as an alternative to fuses, circuit breakers are now found in millions of homes across the United States. Unlike fuses, which must be replaced once blown, breakers can be manually or automatically reset after each use. In modern homes, these breakers are attached to a central electrical panel, often found near the furnace or water heater.

Each breaker is assigned a specific circuit in the home, most often differentiated by room. Springs or compressed air in the breakers allow them to snap open, instantly cutting power when a fault is detected. They can then be reset for another use.

Your living room, for example, may have a single breaker that controls every outlet, while the kitchen may have two or three: one for outlets, and another for large appliances. This means that if a breaker "trips," all of its outlets will stop working until it's reset.

While any appliance can trip a breaker, some appliances are more fault-prone than others. Here are five of the most common.

1. Fans

In the dead heat of summer, running multiple fans on the same circuit can quickly trip your breaker. While a single fan may not use a significant amount of power, several fans running in concert — and running all day — can draw too much power and cause a breaker to trip.

2. Hair dryers

Hair dryers, curling irons and flat irons are common culprits. To generate significant heat in a short period, these items draw a significant amount of power from circuits. Some bathrooms are equipped with ground fault interrupters (GFIs), which break the circuit at that specific outlet and can be manually reset. But you probably won't find GFIs in bedrooms or other rooms in your home.

3.  Irons

Just like hair dryers, clothes irons also produce heat very quickly. They're often used in rooms like bedrooms or living rooms, where the outlets aren't rated for the same kind of power usage as those in a kitchen. Using an iron on maximum setting for a long period can cause a breaker to trip.

4. Extension cords

Alone, an extension cord doesn't pose a risk to circuit breakers. But more than one is often used to increase the number of available outlets in a room, or fill the gap where an outlet should exist but was never installed. While in limited numbers, interior extension cords don't pose a problem, it's easy to overload circuits by plugging in too many devices. Unless some of the devices or cords are removed, the breaker will continue to trip.

5. Older model refrigerators

Refrigerators have improved in power use significantly in the last 20 years. But because many of these appliances last more than a decade, older models are still being used in some homes. These power-hungry fridges can easily start drawing too much power if a home's temperature rises significantly during a heat wave or if an air conditioner breaks down, causing a trip.

If replacing an appliance or limiting use doesn't solve circuit breaker problems, you may have a short circuit or ground fault that needs to be addressed. In both of these cases, hiring a professional electrician is recommended, since tracking down the short can be both time consuming and dangerous. When it comes to consistent circuit tripping, you're always better to err on the side of safe — not sorry.


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