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15 amp breaker that controls ceiling lights keeps tripping....cause?

15 amp breaker that controls ceiling lights keeps tripping....cause?

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  #1  
Old 11-09-11, 06:04 PM
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15 amp breaker that controls ceiling lights keeps tripping....cause?

We purchased a home about six weeks ago, built in 1996. Tonight we had our first electrical issue. We have a 15amp breaker that keeps tripping. The breaker controls 3 ceiling lights and two outlets (kitchen florescent, dining room light and living room light and two non-gfci standard wall outlets).


We reset it a few times just having just one light on and every time it would trip again in about 4-6 minutes. A few other times it would automatically trip right after we reset it.

I know its not good to keep resetting, so my question is, is there any way to tell what is bad? Breaker? Loose wire? light fixture? Is this a DIY or call a professional?

We have wired in several fixtures and outlets over the years but do not have any breaker box experience. Any insight would be helpful.

Thanks!
Emmaly
 
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  #2  
Old 11-09-11, 06:13 PM
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Is the breaker a standard breaker, GFCI or ARC-Fault?

Does the breaker trip if you have nothing plugged in and nothing turned on (lights)?

It does sound like you have some kind of short unless it is a GFCI or ARC-Fault.
 
  #3  
Old 11-09-11, 06:20 PM
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standard breaker, yes it trips even if nothing is on or plugged in. The switch seems like it has a lot of resistance when you turn it on. how to you determine where the short is?
 
  #4  
Old 11-09-11, 06:43 PM
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On way is with a volt/ohm meter. If you have one post back otherwise I will describe one way to narrow down the location.

First, turn off the breaker and make sure no one turns it back on. Place some tape on the breaker if you like.

Open up the first outlet / light on the circuit.

Make a diagram of what is connected to what and mark the lines with tape.

Disconnect the lines that come from the breaker and make sure they are not touching anything. Cover ends with tape or wire nuts if you like.

Turn the breaker on and see if it trips.

If not, turn the breaker back off.

Connect the light/outlet/switch and disconnect the wires that lead to the next outlet/light/switch.

Turn the breaker on and see if it trips.

If not, reconnect the wires leading to the next outlet/light and move to the next outlet/light/switch and repeat the above steps.

This will either identify the bad light/outlet/switch or the bad section of wire. If the breaker trips with a light/outlet or switch are connected and nothing connected downstream then you know the problem is in that device. If it trips with nothing connected except the wire then the problem is probably located in that section of wire.

If you have an ohm meter there is a simpler method to check everything but you will still need to open up all the outlet, light and switch boxes to get at the wiring.

You could start by removing all the plates and lights and looking to see if their is any evidence of arching.
 
  #5  
Old 11-09-11, 06:56 PM
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I am going to start with replacing the breaker, sounds like an easier starting point . Its tripping so fast now I can't even get a multimeter on to check at the breaker. I'll let you know how its goes.
 
  #6  
Old 11-09-11, 07:09 PM
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One way to test the breaker is to remove the wire from the breaker and see if it still trips. If it trips with nothing connected, then you have a bad breaker. If it does not trip, then you have a short some where down the line.
 
  #7  
Old 11-09-11, 07:19 PM
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Since you have a multimeter you can do the following tests.

1. Turn off breaker
2. Disconnect the wire from the breaker
3. Set the meter to ohms and check between the black wire and ground/neutral in the breaker box. With everyone off and unplugged you should read infinite. If you get a low resistance reading, you have a short.
4. leave the wire disconnected from the breaker
5. Open up the first box downstream from the breaker box.
6. Document the connections and mark the wires.
7. Disconnect all wires.
8. Check for continuity on between hot and neutral and hot and ground. Both should read open. Of they don't show open, the short is in that section of wiring.
9. Of it reads open, check the continuity on the device.
10. Continue working down the line until you find the short.
 
  #8  
Old 11-09-11, 07:59 PM
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We replaced the breaker and no luck. The first two times we reset it this afternoon the lights worked for about 5 minutes, after that the it tripped within a second or two after being reset. So I really can't check any of the outlets or lights with a meter since the breaker will not stay on for any amount of time.


Is it time to call an electrician?
 
  #9  
Old 11-09-11, 08:04 PM
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You don't want the breaker on when checking the circuit with the multimeter. You want to turn the breaker off and even remove the wire (black) from the breaker. You will then work from device to device checking continuity. You will be looking for a short were you should have all open readings. Look at my previous post.
 
  #10  
Old 11-09-11, 08:44 PM
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thanks, we'll give it a shot in the morning
 
  #11  
Old 11-09-11, 08:55 PM
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The breaker needs time to cool off before being reset.

This will become an easter egg hunt to find your short. Instead of opening the first device I would try for the middle of the circuit before opening any splices. If it trips it is between the panel and the open splice. If not it is past the splice.
 
  #12  
Old 11-10-11, 09:01 AM
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Short Circuit

Congratulations on your new home purchase. Sorry to hear about you electrical issues.

Have you used any nails or screws which could have hit an electrical cable in the floor, walls or ceiling?

If a nail or screw pierces an electrical cable, it can create a short circuit by causing the hot and ground to come in contact with each other. Just something to think about. Hope you solve the problem.
 
  #13  
Old 11-10-11, 09:12 AM
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No nails. we replaced several sheets of drywall (foreclosure and someone was not happy) but were careful putting them in. All the switches, fixtures and outlets looked good inside, no lose wires or signs of damage. However I forgot we had an outside outlet. When I pushed the reset button it would not budge. Its a 20amp GFCI and when I removed the outlet there were burn marks on the backs (and lots of rust in the box). Off to Lowes to buy a new outlet and exterior box. Here is hoping that was the problem....if not it had to be replaced anyway.
 
  #14  
Old 11-10-11, 09:33 AM
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It's on the same circuit? If so, it sure could have been the problem.

Please post back when you have results.
 
  #15  
Old 11-10-11, 09:43 AM
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It sounds like you're on the right track with fixing the exterior outlet. By the way, the latest code requires bubble covers and "WR" (weather resistant) outdoor receptacles if you didn't plan on getting one already.
 
  #16  
Old 11-10-11, 02:02 PM
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Thanks everyone, we officially have a working circuit again! The detailed directions were awesome. I drew a diagram and after checking all the interior switches and outlets and finding nothing (and getting ready to call an electrician) I remember the deck lights were tied into the circuit and the bad outlet was right under the lights outside....of course it was the last one I checked.

It looks like the old cover was never caulked and yesterdays Iowa side-slinging snow/rain got in. I picked up a new GFCI to replace the damaged one and a bubble cover and we are back in business!
 
  #17  
Old 11-10-11, 02:15 PM
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Great!

Thanks for letting us know the outcome.
 
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