Breaker flips - Advice needed!

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  #1  
Old 06-16-07, 12:21 PM
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Breaker flips - Advice needed!

Hey all,

I have zero skills in home repair, so keep that in mind when reading the following

A few days ago I came home to my house and the lights in one area wouldn't turn on. The appliances that were plugged in were dead too. I checked the circuit breaker, and the breaker for that area had flipped to the off position.
I tried to flip it back to on, but it wouldn't stick. It flipped instantly, no delay.

I unplugged everything in the area, and flipped the circuit on again. This time it stayed on, and i was able to turn the lights on.

I went through the area, plugging each individual thing back into the original plugs to see what would flip the breaker. When I plugged my alarm clock and heater back into one of the outlets, the breaker flipped to off. I thought I had found the problem.
I tested each item individually at this point, and the breaker never flipped. I then tried both again, and of course (with my luck), no flip.
I was stumped.

I unplugged everything and just left it on. Its since been about 4 days, and the breaker has flipped off about 3 or 4 times. Nothing is plugged in. No lights are turned on.

The only thing I did right before the flips started occurring was replace some of the incandescent lights with the fluorescent counterparts. Could this have anything to do with the problem? Even if the lights are off?

Anyway, Im getting pretty nervous about it now and have left the circuit off. I dont think its any one appliance, and I dont think its any one outlet. Could it be the breaker? Could there be a wiring problem?

Should I get an electrician? And if so, any estimates on how much this is going to cost me? Thanks!
 
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  #2  
Old 06-16-07, 12:36 PM
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Is this a bedroom circuit with an AFCI breaker? Does the breaker have a test button on it?
 
  #3  
Old 06-16-07, 01:02 PM
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Not a bedroom circuit. Its in the finished basement area of the house.
I don't know what you mean by a test button. It looks like all the other circuits in the box, and I think its a "15" (if that makes any sense)
 
  #4  
Old 06-16-07, 01:55 PM
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I would swap this breaker for another 15 amp one in the box, or install a new breaker. If the problem persists on the same circuit, then you have to find and fix the problem. If it persists on the same breaker then the breaker is bad.
 
  #5  
Old 06-16-07, 02:08 PM
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I agree. Swap two 15A breakers in the panel (or just the wires) and let us know what happens.
 
  #6  
Old 06-18-07, 07:20 AM
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I will try switching the breakers and let you know the results.

I think the thing that is so confusing with this situation is that if I reset the breaker after its been tripped for a while, it stays in the "on" position for a few hours to a few days. Whether or not anything is plugged in or turned on seems to have nothing to do with the tripping.

I read in another topic that fixture wiring (specifically ground wires contacting something they shouldn't) can cause heat to build up and eventual circuit flipping. Should I check that too?

Thanks
 
  #7  
Old 06-18-07, 07:25 AM
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A short circuit somewhere will cause a trip immediately.

Try swapping breakers first.
 
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Old 06-19-07, 07:21 AM
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Ok so I made some headway into discovering my problem, but haven't been able to diagnose anything yet.
I did some things that I want to post to make sure I didn't do anything incorrectly.

So I went home yesterday evening with the intention of swapping the breakers. The breaker had tripped again, by the way. When I opened up the box I saw something I hadn't noticed before---- Breaker 21 (the one in question) had 2 wires connected to it while all the others only had 1.

There was one free 20 amp connection, and I am assuming the original owners were too lazy to swap it for a 15 amp breaker and so doubled up.

Anyway, I flipped #21 off, #23 off (controls 1 closet light I didn't need at the moment), and the 20 amp breaker off.
I moved #23 (the closet) into the 20 amp and left it off until I can replace it with a 15 amp breaker.
I then moved one of the wires from #21 into #23 and flipped both 21 and 23 back on. Heres what I found:
#21 controls the light fixtures. It flipped on and worked
#23 controls the outlets in the same area. It flipped on and worked.

In the morning I checked the breakers again, and as usual, #21 had tripped.

So I guess the conclusion I can now make is that either there is a problem with one of my fixtures or breaker #21. Unfortunately we needed the outlets active during the day because the tv people were coming out, but tonight I will flip the wires from 21 and 23 and see if the outlets die. If so, I will know its the breaker.

Does all of this make sense, and does it sound like Im doing this the correct way?

Thanks!!
 
  #9  
Old 06-19-07, 08:46 AM
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What do you mean by two wires on the breaker? Do you mean they were under the same screw or is there two screws?
 
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Old 06-19-07, 08:53 AM
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2 wires, same screw. Both wires looked identical to each other. I thought this was wrong, as I've never seen this before. Were they supposed to go together?
 
  #11  
Old 06-19-07, 09:06 AM
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Some circuit breakers are designed (and allowed to have) two wires. Others are not. If it's allowed there is nothing wrong with it. If it's not allowed then the solution is to combine the wires with a wire nut and pigtail to the breaker.

However, this has nothing to do with your problem and is completely unrelated.
 
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Old 06-20-07, 07:53 AM
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Update:
Last evening I switched the wiring between breakers #21 (the fixtures) and #23 (the outlets) for my basement area.

Previously #21 (the fixtures) had tripped overnight.

When I switched the two wires, neither has yet to filp. What do you think it means?
 
  #13  
Old 06-20-07, 07:57 AM
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It could mean that the breaker was not making good contact with the buss, which caused heat to build up which caused the breaker to trip.

It could mean that the circuit is close to it's maximum capacity and it was tripping the breaker which was more sensitive than the one currently installed.

It's hard to say what this means.
 
  #14  
Old 06-20-07, 08:05 AM
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I am thinking that the connection issue may be at the heart of the matter, and the the overloading may also be trouble.

When I moved the wires, I had a very difficult time getting the screw to hold the wire in. As it currently is even now, I can simply pull the wire out whether or not the screw is tightened. How do I ensure the screw is locking the wire in?

Also, when I put the breaker box back on this morning, some of the lights went out without the circuit being tripped. I think the incoming wire connection is a bit loose, but don't really understand enough about the circuits to mess with it myself.
 
  #15  
Old 06-20-07, 08:10 AM
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If the screw terminal on the circuit breaker won't tighten properly then the breaker needs to be replaced.

If you don't understand your circuit breaker panel then you should not be in there. You could easily kill yourself. Call an electrician.
 
  #16  
Old 06-20-07, 11:14 AM
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Its not that the screw won't tighten, its that it tightens without securing the wire properly. I can tighten and loosen the screw easily enough, and the circuit is connected, but it doesn't appear to be tightening into the wire.
I can't tell if its a problem with the screw or with the person attempting to fix this with out the proper knowledge. Could it be either?

I think you are right. I understand enough to be very cautious, but I don't know which wires are carrying charge when the main breaker is shut off, and that could potentially lead to disaster.

I have decided to have an electrician come and replace my breaker. I have 2 questions:

1) How much do you think an electrician will charge to simply switch out 2 breakers, assuming I have all the parts necessary?

2) Is it OK to remove one of the 20 amp breakers and switch it for a 15? There isn't some total level of amperage that my circuits have to sum to is there?

Thanks again racraft, you may have prevented a major accident!
 
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