When a breaker trips is it "normal" for it to spark?

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  #1  
Old 06-15-07, 02:28 PM
pdawg17
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When a breaker trips is it "normal" for it to spark?

This morning the breaker that controls the lighting in the front half of our house and front yard lighting tripped...I tried to reset it but it immediately trips...I then replaced the breaker but it continues to trip...the interesting thing is that every other time I try to reset the breaker, a quick blue flash of light emits from behind/near the breaker...I don't remember seeing this before although I haven't had many electrical problems in the past...

Does this flash of light mean anything? And since the breaker controls mainly lighting is there any way for an "average" person to figure out the problem before calling an electrician?

The breaker tripped sometime recent to when my wife hosed down the front yard area...is it possible for breakers to trip because wiring gets wet? She watered about 6 hours ago and it's a warm day here but is it possible it could "dry out" eventually and work again?
 
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  #2  
Old 06-15-07, 03:15 PM
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> I then replaced the breaker but it continues to trip.

It's doing its job. There is a short somewhere in the circuit and it is cutting power to prevent a fire.

> ..the interesting thing is that every other time I try to reset the breaker,
> a quick blue flash of light emits from behind/near the breaker

This is normal. Are you turning the breaker all the way off then back on to reset? If not, this could be the reason it's only reseting every other time.

> is there any way for an "average" person to figure out the problem
> before calling an electrician?

Unplug everything from the circuit and turn off all light switches. Try to reset. If it resets, then something you unplugged or switched off was the problem. If it doesn't reset, then there is a problem with one of the devices or wiring on the circuit. Could be from a number of causes: water (as you suspect), broken wire, melted receptacle, faulty appliance or light fixture.

> The breaker tripped sometime recent to when my wife hosed down the
> front yard area...is it possible for breakers to trip because wiring gets wet?

Possible and likely. Water in a junction box, light fixture or receptacle can short it out. If you have any possible candidates open up the box (with the breaker off of course) and check for signs of water.

> She watered about 6 hours ago and it's a warm day here but is it
> possible it could "dry out" eventually and work again?

Junction boxes are a fairly well contained environment, but can get wet if exposed to direct hose spray; it could take a long time to dry on its own.
 
  #3  
Old 06-15-07, 03:31 PM
pdawg17
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Thanks for the reply...the only things on the outside of the house are two outdoor lights that are on a timer...the wiring runs underground and into the garage to the timer...there are no junction boxes in the area she hosed down...the difficulty with turning off light switches (there is only one receptacle on the circuit) is that they are three-way so it's hard to know which position is the "off" position for each switch...is there a way of figuring that out?

So it's possible water could get in the outdoor light fixture? Is there a way to rule them out other than waiting to see if they dry?
 
  #4  
Old 06-15-07, 04:04 PM
pdawg17
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UPDATE: The watering out front must have been coincidental as I've narrowed it down to a three-way switch in the hallway...either switch trips the breaker...so is the next step to check the wiring at each switch? I'm not great with three-way switches so does the fact that either switch can trip the breaker mean anything? There are two lights that are controlled by the three-way switch btw...
 
  #5  
Old 06-15-07, 06:23 PM
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Well, it's too late for this now (on this circuit), but on other circuits and on this circuit after you find and fix the problem either make notes about how to position the switches so that the lights are on. They will either be both up or both down for on; or they will be one up and one down for on. It's a bit trickier when a four way switch is involved, but you get the idea. Another trick is to wire all the circuits the same, so that one pattern works for all.

As for your issue: The problem is at one of the switches or at either light. I would start at the switches. If the problem is at one of them, the most likely cause is a ground contacting one of the terminals (the breaker trips when the terminal is hot) or a terminal touching the metal box. If the problem is at a light, it is similar.

Open the switches and check the wiring. If that doesn't resolve it, check the lights.
 
  #6  
Old 06-17-07, 05:44 PM
pdawg17
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Well...I just spent a couple hours trying to locate the problem on the three-way switch circuit (on Father's Day I might add) by switching out the two switches but it still trips...the switches control three recessed lights but I have no idea what to check for in the three lights...and I wouldn't expect that to be the problem but I guess it is? Any way to narrow things down further?
 
  #7  
Old 06-17-07, 05:51 PM
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Isolate the lights so they are not part of the circuit. Add them back one at a time until you find the problem.
 
  #8  
Old 06-17-07, 06:58 PM
pdawg17
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I'm still trying to understand three-way switches but I noticed that on one switch the red wire is attached to the top terminal and the other is attached to the bottom terminal...does that matter? It's been like that for years and has worked in the past however...
 
  #9  
Old 06-18-07, 04:23 AM
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Top, bottom, left and right mean nothing when discussing switches, receptacles and other devices. A device can be installed either end up, or even sideways. Further, different manufacturers may put the terminals in different locations.

On a three way switch there are three terminals (plus sometimes a ground). There are two traveler terminals and one common terminal.

The book you bought and read on wiring should explain all of this to you. You should not have started this project until you book. If you didn't read one, do so now.

Electricity can and does kill people and start fires.
 
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