Breaker Tripping - Need help. Reupdated

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  #1  
Old 06-29-07, 01:51 PM
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Breaker Tripping - Need help. Reupdated

Long story short in bullet form:

-Fixtures and outlets in my basement weren't working
-I found the breaker had tripped, so I reset it
-Sometimes minutes, sometimes hours, sometimes days later it would trip again. Even with everything unplugged, and all lights turned off, the breaker would still trip
-I would reset it again.
-This proceeded for a few weeks

-I opened the box up and found that there were 2 wires in my problem breaker. 1 controlled the outlets, 1 the fixtures. I split them up, leaving the fixtures in place and moving the outlets to a new breaker.
-A few hours later, the breaker tripped again, shutting off power to the fixtures.
-I flipped the wires, connecting the outlets to the problem breaker and moving the fixtures to a different breaker that hadn't been any trouble
-Over a full week later, the new breaker (the one with the fixtures) tripped. No lights were on (to the best of my knowledge).
-I reset the breaker, and it has not tripped again. All lights are working fine.


Here are my conclusions, which are probably way off:
1. There is not a short, as the breaker trips only after remaining on for long periods of time
2. There is no problem with the outlets, as they by themselves have never caused the breaker to trip
3. There is a problem with the fixtures, as whatever breaker they are plugged into is the only one that trips
4. The problem is not an overload issue, as it seems to cause a trip whether or not anything is turned on
5. The problem is not too many or too high wattage lights, as again, the problem does not depend on power running to the lights.

Any ideas? Thanks!
 
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  #2  
Old 06-29-07, 02:31 PM
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Just to cross out some easy stuff:
These are standard breakers, not AFCI or GFCI?
These are a fairly modern common brand breakers?
There is no visible (or smell) heat damage in the breaker panel?
The lights circuit has caused two different breakers to trip in independent tests? (ruling out the possibility of a single bad breaker)
What is the amperage of the circuit breaker and what is the calculated wattage of the light fixtures?

My first guess is that there is something you don't know about on the lights circuit that is causing an overload. Perhaps a sump pump, ventilation fan, pipe heat tapes, etc.

My second guess is that the amperage on the circuit is close to, but not exceeding the limit putting the breaker on the edge of a trip. Do you have access to an amp clamp meter?

> There is not a short, as the breaker trips only after remaining
> on for long periods of time

True. Unless the short is in some time-delayed appliance on the circuit that kicks on at a random time and pops the breaker.

> There is no problem with the outlets, as they by themselves have
> never caused the breaker to trip

Seems true.

> The problem is not an overload issue

It could be -- breaker tripping is time sensitive depending on the amount of the overload. For example, a 20A breaker may trip in 0.1 seconds with a 100A overload; 5 seconds with a 40A overload; 20 minutes with a 5A overload; and 5 hours with a 1A overload.
 
  #3  
Old 07-02-07, 07:36 AM
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Thanks for the help! Here are the answers to the questions you had:

These are standard breakers, not AFCI or GFCI?
They are standard as far as i can tell.

These are a fairly modern common brand breakers?
Not sure which brands are common, but all the breakers in the box are exactly the same as far as brand/looks go.

There is no visible (or smell) heat damage in the breaker panel?
I do not see or smell any damage. When I was moving the wires around, I misconnected the screw, and whne the breaker was turned on, there was some arc-ing, but that was fixed and no longer occurs.

The lights circuit has caused two different breakers to trip in independent tests?
Correct.

What is the amperage of the circuit breaker and what is the calculated wattage of the light fixtures?
The amperage is 12 amp.
The lighting fixtures attached are:
4 tract lights (each containing 1 11w fluorescent bulb rated as equilivent to a 60w incandescent)
2 2 light ceiling fan fixtures

I think thats it

Thanks!
 
  #4  
Old 07-05-07, 12:01 PM
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Thanks for the help so far.
I think I may have found the culprit, but Im really not sure.
In the basement, there is a battery operated smoke detector covering the space that a wired detector was intented to occupy. The wires were sort of jammed up behind the battery detector, and when I pulled it off, and separated the wires, I haven't had another trip.

Could the wires have been causing shorts when activity upstairs led them to touch?
 
  #5  
Old 07-05-07, 12:08 PM
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That could be your problem or you could have a clamp on one of the fixture cable too tight.
 
  #6  
Old 07-05-07, 12:15 PM
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Yes, that could be the problem. Were/are the wires isolated from each other and sufficiently capped? They should be capped with individual wire nuts.
 
  #7  
Old 07-05-07, 04:51 PM
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And they should be in a box with a cover that is accessible.
 
  #8  
Old 07-09-07, 06:01 AM
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Now Im truly stumped. I pulled the wires out, capped them, and made sure there were no loose ends touching.

No trips since that happened, which was the last time I posted.

Then this morning, after using the lights last night, the breaker tripped.

No lights were on. No one was in the room. No one was moving in the upstairs really.

What in the world is causing this? It reset easily enough this morning, too.
 
  #9  
Old 07-09-07, 06:06 AM
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Have you tried replacing the breaker or swapping with another of the same size?

Have you checked each and every junction box on the circuit?
 
  #10  
Old 07-09-07, 08:02 AM
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Any chance you've got rodents chewing on the wires?
 
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Old 07-09-07, 09:12 AM
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Answers to the questions:

1) I have not replaced the breaker that is tripping, because it was not tripping until I switched the wire onto it. It was holding just fine when a different set of lights was in it, but has started tripping only now that the current fixtures are on it.

2) I have not checked the junction boxes on the circuit. Unfortunately, I dont have a lot of experience with this. How would I go about finding and checking (what am I looking for) with the junction boxes?

3) There is a chance that rodents are chewing on the wires. I live in a very, very natural and wooded area and there are a number of possible pests. I know for a fact that my lawn has many moles in it. I also know for a fact that deer come into and around my property to eat my plants. There is a woodpecker that has pecked a hole in my house and is now living there despite my best efforts. There was a dead mouse in my garage 2 months ago, and recently I noticed a hole in my birdseed bag that looked like someone other than a bird had been snacking on it. I also have lots of bugs around the perimeter of the house.
Do any of these sound like warning signs? Should I start spraying/putting out more poison?
 
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Old 07-09-07, 12:02 PM
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> How would I go about finding and checking (what am I looking for)
> with the junction boxes?

Problems with the junctions boxes could include wires that are stripped too far back with bare metal exposed at wirenuts which is touching ground wires or metal boxes; could be a cable clamp that was put on too tight which has crushed the wires; could be a loose switch that is making contact with bare grounds; etc.

> Do any of these sound like warning signs?

Sure, it sounds like you've got some rodents nearby; but I wouldn't count on it as the problem unless you can identify that there have been rodents in the walls or ceiling where this circuit is located. Look droppings around openings in the wall or ceiling cavities. If you have a drop ceiling, look for droppings up there. Listen for scratching noises. Inspect the cables where you can looking for places where insulation may have been chewed off.

> Should I start spraying/putting out more poison?

I generally prefer to trap rodents as poison can kill many other types of animals than the target pests. Cats, dogs and other wildlife may eat the poisoned mice, poison can runoff into streams, etc.
 
  #13  
Old 07-09-07, 07:41 PM
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This could be a loose connection at one the outlet boxes that these fixtures are connected to.

Virtually all residential circuit breakers have two independent methods which allow them to automatically switch off or trip. One method is short circuiting (overload) and the other is excessive heat. When you have a loose connection, you have "arcing" at that connection. This arcing creates heat and causes the "bimetallic strip" in the breaker to trip. This is designed to protect the insulation on the wire, too much could cause it to melt and create a short which could spark and cause a fire.

This could explain why it sometimes takes longer for the circuit to open than it does at other times. The more the connection arcs the more heat you have generated causing the breaker to open sooner. Less arcing, less heat, breaker holds longer.

Take down all your fixtures and remake all connections with new wire nuts dont change the way any of these are connected (this wil cause more headaches) ,just tighten the connections and install new wire nuts.
 
  #14  
Old 07-09-07, 07:53 PM
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Have you tried measuring the actual amperage on the circuit with an amprobe tester?
 
  #15  
Old 07-10-07, 12:31 AM
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gtexan

There are some questions you will need to ask yourself. Have there been any work done of any electrical before your problem started. Can you think of anything that happens only when breaker trips, for example like door slamming, vacuum cleaning, something that turns on when breaker trips, anything peculiar that might come to mind.

Try simulating the circuit to cause breaker to trip. Turn off the whole house except for that particular circuit that trips. You may have missed something.

If you are able to get a hold of an amprobe to test current drawing through circuit, that would be good to check.

If you have done everything you feel you could possibly do with everyone's suggestions and still have not found your problem. I would advise you to have a licensed electrician to take over.

The fact that the breaker is tripping is a fair warning that something in that particular circuit is not right and is saving you from an electrical threat. Everyone who posts are giving good advice, but as you have mentioned earlier, you don't have much experience with electricity and this particular situation may need someone who can locate, correct and look for other potential hazards. I'm not trying to take anything away from you because I apprectiate you desire to solve it yourself.

If you do decide to have an electrician look it over for you, take the time to watch what he does and don't be afraid to ask questions.
 
  #16  
Old 07-10-07, 09:34 AM
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Another flip last night means I am now leaving it off until i can figure out the problem.

There doesnt seem to be much in the way of warning or changes. In fact, I can't think of a single time that I've actually been home and awake that the circuit has tripped. Its never tripped while I am in the area, always at night or while I am away.

I installed 2 new light fixtures in my house. One in my living room and one in my hallway. neither are on the same circuit. I also installed new light bulbs, replacing common incandescents with CFLs. If anything this should lower the load...
I also replaced the smoke detector battery, and when I thought it was the problem, removed all the wires and recapped them. No problem there.

I did hire an electrician to come look at the problem, and his diagnosis was a weak breaker. He replaced the breaker, and the problem continues. Maybe its time to call him out again
 
  #17  
Old 07-10-07, 09:42 AM
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PS:
To the heat causing the breaker to trip--would anything have to be turned on for that to happen?

The thing that confuses me the most is that there is RARELY anything turned on when the breaker trips. Unless Im grossley missing one of the connections, it seems to trip without any actual power being drawn.

If I had an amperage tester, could I tell how much is going through when everything is off? And with that information, could I then determine if I'm correct in assuming everything is off, or find out if something is still in fact on?
 
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Old 07-10-07, 10:35 AM
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> To the heat causing the breaker to trip

The breaker will only trip from overheating if the breaker itself is hot. This can be caused by a faulty adjacent breaker in the box, but this problem is usually pretty obvious once you pull the cover off. There would be arc marks and it would smell like burning plastic.

> If I had an amperage tester

Correct. The electrician should have done this (and perhaps did) -- it's a very basic test.
 
  #19  
Old 07-10-07, 06:40 PM
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Check this link,
http://homerepair.about.com/od/electricalrepair/ss/tripping_2.htm

or this one,
http://homerepair.about.com/od/electricalrepair/qt/short_loose.htm

or this one,
http://en.allexperts.com/q/Electrical-Wiring-Home-1734/short-circuit-4.htm
 
  #20  
Old 07-10-07, 07:11 PM
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Forgot to mention that this can occur even if the lights are not turned on.

"The breaker will only trip from overheating if the breaker itself is hot. This can be caused by a faulty adjacent breaker in the box, but this problem is usually pretty obvious once you pull the cover off. There would be arc marks and it would smell like burning plastic."

This is not always the case. Yes the breaker must get hot, but it does not need to be caused by an adjacent breaker being faulty ( which you have already ruled out by moving the wire for this circuit to a different breaker).The loose connection could be in a junction box, therefore there would be no arcing evident in the panel or near the breaker.

The only reason that I continue to mention this idea of a loose connection and heat causing the trip is that I came across this problem once. After many visits and replacing more than one breaker (also blaming a faulty breaker) I found a loose connection in an outlet box which was heating and finding it's way back to the breaker, many thanks to my Dad (an electrician for the past 41 yrs) on that one.

My suggestion still stands, try replacing all the wire nuts in all junction boxes making sure not to change any connections around and be sure to tighten all the connectons well. Since you have tried most everything else, try removing the fixtures , cap the feeds to them and turn the power on. If it holds you know you have a bad fixture, if it doesnt hold, then you have ruled out the fixtures and know it must be in the branch circuit wiring. Its a long shot but.....
 
  #21  
Old 07-11-07, 07:31 AM
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A long shot observation.

I have no idea what this means, but maybe it will make sense to some of you. It could be a completely random, nonsenical observation, but I figured I'd post it anyways.

So in my bedroom, which is directly above the problem area (but on a separate breaker), I have a ceiling fan fixture with a light on it. There are no switches on the unit, and it is controlled only by a remote control.

I sleep with the light turned off, and the fan turned on.

Two of the nights when the breaker in the problem area has tripped, the light upstairs has come on and the fan has stopped spinning. This also happens if you turn off the light switch at the wall, wait 5 seconds, and then turn it back on. I dont think there was a power surge, however, because none of my clocks were blinking.

I have no idea if these things are related, but maybe this will make sense to someone
 
  #22  
Old 07-11-07, 08:20 AM
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Gtexan, this is the way the remote receiver is designed. It defaults (when power is restored) to light-on / fan-off. That's a common default for Hunter remotes, but uncommon for many other brands. With such a fan, it seems important to also have a wall switch so that you can turn off the power when you go on vacation (so the light doesn't come on and stay on while you're gone). The directions for these units tell you to turn off the power (via the wall switch) any time that you won't be using the fan for an extended period of time.

Do you have a Hunter fan (or at least a Hunter remote)?
 
  #23  
Old 07-11-07, 11:00 AM
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Could be a power surge, could be a brown out, could be any number of things.
 
  #24  
Old 07-11-07, 11:01 AM
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I do in fact have a hunter fan/remote.

Why would the default activate some evenings, but not others?

We turn the fan on at night and then in the middle of the night, the fan is off and the light is on. Could this be a faulty battery?
 
  #25  
Old 07-11-07, 11:52 AM
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You might have had a brief power outage. Many things such as clocks can ride through a brief power outage without resetting. But everything reacts differently. Some things require a longer power outage than others to reset.

I don't see any way a faulty battery could be responsible.

In my opinion, what you are seeing is most likely working as designed.
 
  #26  
Old 07-11-07, 12:20 PM
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I'd love to put a recording ammeter on that branch circuit to see if the current spikes just before the breaker trips. That's probably out of the question for Gtexan.

Maybe a powerline analyzer with recording feature? Probably still not a reasonable suggestion.
 
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Old 07-11-07, 01:29 PM
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You are more than welcome to come and do any testing you'd like! It would be greatly appreciated.

These recording ammeters. Where can you purchase them? How much do they cost?
I have minor familiarity with electrical recording devices, but mainly in science related endeavors (I am an electrophysiologist. I do things you require, only on neurons, not branch circuits!)


As for the power outtages:
I really don't think I have been having brief power outtages. My alarm clock is incredibly sensitive and has zero battery backup. The slightest power loss causes it to blink.

However, lets for just a moment assume that I am infact having some sort of power loss, whatever the reason may be. This is causing my fan to lose power, and upon startup, the remote tells the fan to turn on the light and off the fan.

Is there any possible way this could be related to my tripping breaker? When the breaker trips, can that cause brief power loss to other breakers, or is the power loss to other breakers resulting in breaker tripping?
 
  #28  
Old 07-11-07, 01:48 PM
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A power brownout is not likely tro trip your breaker, but a power surge just might.
 
  #29  
Old 07-11-07, 04:01 PM
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Gtexan,

Good job! You're starting to think a little outside the box. However long shot you think it may be, it just may be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Have any work been done to that fan recently? If so, was it then after work on the fan did problems start to happen?

It may be a good idea to take down the fan and have a look at the circuitry of the wiring in the box. Also see if any work has been done to the switch controlling the fan.

Although this is a long shot as well, it is a possibility. If you can, check to see if you may have 2 seperate circuits that are energized. If you have a voltage tic tracer handy (anywhere from 10 to 20 dollars at a big box store)

Turn off the breaker that keeps tripping and check in that junction box and see if you are getting voltage. If you are, see if was connected to the ceiling fan or light. There may be a situation in which 2 different circuits are in the box that are from 2 different phases or hots are connected together through circuitry. Cross phasing will cause the breaker to trip without any heating. Correcting this situation, you would only have to make sure that fan and light are one of those two.

Like I said, it may be a longshot but it could be the culprit. If not, then its back to the drawing board. Hold off on the electrician for a little while, I think you're getting close.
 
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Old 07-11-07, 06:50 PM
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HMMM Never thought of two hots getting crossed in the circuitry, but it seems to me that the breaker should let go on a more regular basis, not as random as we are led to believe. It certainly is a possibilty.
 
  #31  
Old 07-11-07, 07:50 PM
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I was going off the top of my head on a hunch without much thought. I've had similar situations in the past as a result of 2 hots touching. Sometimes throwing ideas out with limited information can spark a solution. I wish I can put my hands on that, I'm dying to know what's causing the problem.
 
  #32  
Old 07-12-07, 03:17 AM
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Thats the same reason I keep coming back here, cant wait to know what the problem is.
 
  #33  
Old 07-12-07, 08:31 AM
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Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to check on things last night. I ended up working kind of late and was unable to make any progress.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I've tried to logic out some of my problems. One of the reasons suggested to me for why breakers trip is an increase in heat, right?

Well last night I attempted to see if the fan problem and breaker problem were connected, and so turned the breaker back on. This time it flipped instantly. No delay whatsoever, just like a short circuit.

I went upstairs to turn on my fan so I could check if the power surge affected it, and then returned back to my breaker box. I tried to reset it again, expecting it to trip instantly, and this time it stuck. In fact it still hasn't tripped back off yet.

If heat was the reason the breaker was tripping, doesnt it seem strange that it trips instantaneously sometimes, but then a few seconds later its fine?

I also remembered one more thing that might be of interest. Again, my lack of experience is the only reason this didn't seem important or unimportant at the time, and it may be very important/not at all important once I tell you.

The wiring in my bedroom has not been altered since I've moved in. The light fixture with the fan has remained the same. I did, however, remove the light switch cover while painting the room. When I went to turn on the switch after that, i received a brief shock. Could this indicate a problem with the switch wiring?
 
  #34  
Old 10-29-07, 11:44 AM
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Well, I thought I would give you guys an update as to how this problem had been progressing. A lot you were interested to find out what was going on, so Ill fill you in.

After the last post, I hired a professional electrician to come out and fix m problem. They did a lot of looking, testing, and basically, couldnt find out what was wrong. I got a large bill and a big "I have no idea". Great. They it was most likely a wiring issue, and without tearing up basically the entire house and all the walls looking for a problem, they couldnt help me.

I was pretty pissed off at this point, and decided to really spend some time on my own. I went up into the attic and checked my wiring and then throughout the whole house checking as much as I could.

Finally I found that the owners before us had left a small 5in or so diameter circle of drywall missing where they had run their old dryer outlet duct. I placed some rat traps in this hole over the next few days and caught 2 mice. The breaker flipping has stopped. I have loaded my house will traps, and placed them everywhere I can think of. Once I haven't caught any mice in a few more weeks, I am going to patch everything up and leave some poison in there.

So basically, i think the problem was rodents. Is there any long term problems that could occur from what is potentially chewed wiring? Do I need to do anything else for safety sake? Thanks!
 
  #35  
Old 10-29-07, 11:54 AM
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Sounds like you have a huge problem. The rodents have chewed your cables in the wall and you need to start replacing them(the cables not the rodents). You could have a fire waiting start inside the walls.
 
  #36  
Old 10-29-07, 05:59 PM
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You could replace the rodents if you want to, but you really should train them to replace wiring first. You need someone to do it , seems to me that the ones who caused this problem should fix it.
On a more serious note; you must have this wiring checked and or replaced. It is a VERY serious safety hazard. Glad you founf the problem though.
 
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