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Why Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping With Nothing Plugged In

James Elder
Last Updated on
by James Elder

Circuit breakers are an essential component of power networks. When there’s an excess of electrical power, be it from an overload, electrical fault, or a power surge, circuit breakers  trip and shut down the electrical flow to avoid electrical fires and other hazards.

They’re literally lifesavers.

When they do trip, resolving the circuit “shutdown” is simple: unplug a couple of devices, restart the breaker, and everything returns to normal!

Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

However, a circuit breaker can shut down power at random times, too, even when nothing is plugged in, leaving many homeowners puzzled.

There are several reasons why this can happen: overload, faulty wiring, short circuit, ground fault, aging circuit, or electrical noise.

Let’s explore each of these reasons so it’s easier for you to pinpoint and resolve your issue.

The Purpose of a Circuit Breaker

A circuit breaker is a safety device that protects the electrical system and the people using it from harm caused by spikes in the normal flow of electrical voltage.

Its primary purpose is to automatically interrupt the flow of electricity if the current exceeds a pre-defined safe level. Without it, the electrical overflow may overheat the wires, leading to electrical fires or other hazards.

What Does a Circuit Breaker Look Like?

A circuit breaker is a tiny rectangular box made of metal or plastic installed on an electrical panel. The front of the circuit breaker has a toggle switch that flips the breaker on or off.

Some circuit breakers have additional features, such as a test button or a trip indicator, to help diagnose any issues with the electrical system. Overall, the appearance of a circuit breaker varies depending on its manufacturer, but its basic design and function remain the same.

How Does a Circuit Breaker Flip or ”Break”?

A circuit breaker consists of a switch, a trip mechanism, and a sensor.

The sensor detects excessive currents and transmits a signal to the trip mechanism. The trip mechanism then rapidly “trips” the switch, breaking the electricity and stopping the current flow from damaging your electrical system or plug-in devices.

How to Tell When a Circuit Breaker Has Tripped?

When a circuit breaker trips, the power coming from that circuit is immediately cut off, and plugged-in appliances and devices lose power.

There should be two rows of circuit breakers in the electrical panel, with labels showing which circuits each breaker regulates.

Every breaker has an on/off switch, and on a tripped breaker, the switch will stand in the middle, neither on nor off.

To restart, turn off the break, then switch it back on. When doing this, stand to the side of the panel and move your face away in case there’s an arc discharge.

7 Reasons Why Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping With Nothing Plugged In

Diagnosing a bad circuit breaker

Occasional circuit breaker failures are not a cause for concern. We’ve all been guilty of overloading the outlets with more devices than they can manage.

However, if a circuit breaker in your house continues to trip even when no power is drawn, it could indicate something more serious.

Here are the most probable reasons your circuit breaker keeps tripping with nothing plugged in.

1. A Circuit May Be Overloaded From Forgotten Devices

A circuit may be overloaded from devices you forgot are on, even if you think that nothing is plugged in. This will happen if those devices carry too much load. So, before jumping to more serious problems, double-check that everything is unplugged from the circuit and you haven’t forgotten a device in the garage or outside.

2. A Problem With the Wiring in the Home

If the breaker trips right after being reset, even when nothing is plugged in, the culprit may be a wiring issue, such as a frayed wire in an appliance or device, a weak point at a receptacle, or something more complex, like frayed insulation in your walls. Wiring issues are dangerous, as they ignite electrical fires. So, it’s crucial to have a licensed electrician examine your electrical system to spot and resolve any wiring issues.

3. Your Electrical System Has Suffered a Short Circuit

In an electrical circuit, a short circuit occurs when the usual route of the electrical current is accidentally cut off, causing it to travel through a shortened pathway.

Several factors may lead to a short circuit, including: 

  • Rodents or other vermin chewing on the cables
  • Contact with water or other substances.
  • Outlets, switches, tools, or gadgets that are outdated or damaged
  • Contact between nails or screws and wiring

It’s essential to contact a professional electrician to prevent short circuits. They will check if all wiring is properly installed and grounded  to avoid short circuits in the future.

4. Your Electrical System Has Suffered a Ground Fault

A ground fault happens when the hot wire contacts the ground wire or the metal conduit, increasing electrical power, which can trigger the circuit breaker.

Ground faults may be caused by faulty wiring or damaged electrical devices. Inspect the electrical devices for possible damage to prevent ground faults, then repair or replace them.

5. Your Circuit Breaker Is Near the End of Its Lifetime

Circuit breakers have a limited lifespan. They may become more sensitive and trip more frequently as they age, even when nothing is plugged in.

A circuit breaker typically lasts 30 years or more. So if your electrical system is older, it’s time to replace it with an updated model.

6. Your Electrical System Has Suffered a Power Surge

A power surge is a sudden electrical current increase that damages or disrupts electrical devices and appliances.

Common causes of power surges include lightning strikes, power outages, faulty wiring, and electric overload.

While power surges are not always harmful, they’ll undoubtedly flip the circuit breaker even if you haven’t plugged in anything. However, some electrical spikes are very powerful and may damage your appliances and electrical wiring and potentially cause a fire.

That’s why it’s crucial to protect your devices from power surges by using whole-house surge protectors , unplugging electronics during storms, and ensuring that wiring is up to code.

7. Your Electrical System Is Disturbed by an Electrical Noise

Electrical noise, also known as electromagnetic interference (EMI), is a type of electrical disturbance that interferes with the regular operation of electrical circuits.

Electrical noise is caused by:

  • External sources: nearby power lines, electrical equipment, radio or TV broadcasts, and lightning strikes.
  • Internal sources: faulty wiring, loose connections, and defective electrical components.

Electrical noise manifests in various ways, including voltage spikes, fluctuations, distortions in the electrical signal, errors or malfunctions in electronic devices, interference with the transmission of data or signals over electrical lines, and the circuit breakers tripping.

If you are experiencing frequent circuit breaker trips due to electrical noise, it may be necessary to have an electrician evaluate your electrical system to identify and correct the underlying issue.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there could be various reasons why a circuit breaker keeps tripping even when nothing is plugged in.

We identified seven possible reasons: overload, faulty wiring, short circuit, ground fault, aging circuit, or electrical noise.

If you are not a professional, we do not recommend attempting to resolve any of the above-mentioned causes alone. Electrical work is risky and should only be performed by a trained professional.

Although this is not a do-it-yourself project, you can do routine upkeep and inspections on your electrical system. This contributes to the prevention of similar problems in the future.


James Elder
James Elder
James Elder has been fiddling with gadgets and using tools from a young age. His father was an excellent craftsman and James enjoyed spending time with his dad and learning all he could about working with wood, drywall, electronics, and various household projects. James has worked professionally for many years and his passion is to share knowledge that is especially useful to aspiring handy men & women to get more done around their homes.
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