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  #1  
Old 06-16-2005, 06:41 AM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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Circuit breaker keeps tripping -- what do I do?

Three times in the past two days I've discovered my refrigerator and microwave oven not running due to a tripped circuit breaker. Twice this has happened during the night when the only thing running would be the refrigerator. Both appliances plug into the same outlet, and as far as I know, nothing else is on that circuit (if it happens again, I'll look to see if anything else is off).

What might be causing this? What can I do to trouble shoot the problem before calling an electrician (which I really can't afford right now)? This is an old house with ancient wiring; the refrigerator is five years old.
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  #2  
Old 06-16-2005, 06:53 AM
don't ask don't ask is offline
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It should be a faulty electrical device tripping the circuit breaker. Do you know what is on each circuit?
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  #3  
Old 06-16-2005, 07:04 AM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Is it possible that you have a ceiling fan, dehumidifier or other appliance that you use at night or early in the morning (hair dryer, curling iron, etc.) that could trip the breaker before you walk into the kitchen and notice the fridge/microwave out?
What you should do is turn off the breaker that keeps tripping and find all the outlets and possible lights that are on that circuit. Test the outlets with a radio or some suitable device. Check all your light swithces too. Also, check the garage outlets and the bathroom outlets, as some older homes had strange ways of being circuited (some homes have the bathroom, garage and some Kitchen outlets on the same circuit).
Once you have located and identified all the devices (outlets, switches) on that circuit, check back here and me and the rest of the gang will try to determine what's wrong.
Also, let us know what the breaker is rated (15, or 20 amps), it will be marked on the handle.
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  #4  
Old 06-16-2005, 08:21 AM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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It's possible that it may also be the fridge, how old is it? Something could be wrong with it, that's causing it to draw a lot of amps at once (most likely when the compressor spins up). Something that you could do to test it out is to turn off EVERYTHING else in the house (just to be sure) and open the fridge and freezer door until the compressor kicks on close door, wait for it to turn off and try again. If it doesn't pop after a couple of cycles you might try turning other appliances back on and trying it again.

Upon re-reading the post, you mention that it is an ancient house. You may want to check the wiring for a fault to ground. Also there is the possibility that it's a bad circuit breaker, which if you are comfortable working inside the breaker box, can be replaced with a screwdriver and a few minutes.
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  #5  
Old 06-16-2005, 08:31 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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I'd also check the fridge heat exchange coils. If they are blocked with dust bunnies, the fridge will work a lot harder (or fail). It is counterintuitive that the breaker is tripping at night (when one would expect the house temperature to be lower), but it might be happening during the defrost cycle if your fridge is a frost-free model (as a 5-year-old machine would frequently be).
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  #6  
Old 06-16-2005, 09:13 AM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P
It's possible that it may also be the fridge, how old is it?
From the OP
Quote:
Originally Posted by laina_f
... the refrigerator is five years old.
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  #7  
Old 06-16-2005, 09:25 AM
Stuffy Stuffy is offline
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Without further information, I'm leaning towards Uncommon Sense's idea. I've have the same thing happen at my home and it was caused by a combination of using the iron and a radiator-style space heater on the same circuit simultaeneously. I'm betting he has 15 Amp fuses or the button reset type.
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  #8  
Old 06-16-2005, 09:29 AM
Pjen Pjen is offline
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Potential bad news for you. I had this problem in a very old house. Two electricians checked all the available oulets to find a ground leak with no luck. Years later when replacing the floor we found that the pump for the water from the spring was linked into the ring main under the floor and this had a loose wire, and the neutral was sporadically going to ground. Together with the fact that the pump switched on irregularly according to demand, it was virtually impossible to solve this problem without a visual inspection of the whole electrical system.

Good Luck.
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  #9  
Old 06-16-2005, 11:14 AM
August West August West is offline
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I am going with tomndebb on this one until I hear any evidence to the contrary.

Clean off the coils on the back of your fridge and see if that helps.
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  #10  
Old 06-16-2005, 11:32 AM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by August West
I am going with tomndebb on this one until I hear any evidence to the contrary.

Clean off the coils on the back of your fridge and see if that helps.
Hey, another guy from the Big W chiming in <Waves to August West, and Joey P>.


Pull the fridge away from the wall and suck the coils off with a vacuum cleaner, shop vac, or other utensil that will remove the dust and cobwebs from the back of that thing. When you put the fridge back into place make sure there's a little breathing room for the heat exchange (don't smash it into the wall). Also, double check the plug when you do this, look for signs of heating in the socket and the fridge plug itself.
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  #11  
Old 06-16-2005, 01:38 PM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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I really appreciate the advice. The breaker tripped again this morning. I haven't checked every single outlet and appliance in the house, but it appears that only the refrigerator and microwave oven plug into the circuit that's tripping. I unplugged the microwave oven.

The breaker that's tripping says "50" on it. Most of the other switches are smaller and say "20". One says "30" and one says "40".

I'm going to get someone to help me move the refrigerator out from the wall to check the back. There's a good chance it needs cleaning back there -- I have a bunch of animals and live in the country, so there's lots of hair and dust everywhere. It's also possible that a bag or something fell behind the refrigerator.

Again, thanks. I'll keep you posted.
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  #12  
Old 06-16-2005, 01:51 PM
FilmGeek FilmGeek is offline
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I was always told that the refrigerator should never share an outlet with any other appliance, regardless of the circuit.

Can you plug the microwave into another outlet somewhere?
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  #13  
Old 06-16-2005, 01:58 PM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is offline
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A 50 amp breaker should definitely be able to handle a refrigerator and a microwave if both are in good working order. The very fact that it is 50 amps makes me believe that there is something else real heavy duty on the same breaker (furnace or air conditioner maybe?). If this keeps happening, it might be worth the money to have an electrician take a look-see.
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  #14  
Old 06-16-2005, 02:08 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Bwoop, Bwoop, red flag - red flag!!!

*scratches head*

Um, a 50 amp breaker?
Is that a single pole or a double pole breaker (two handles or one)?
No circuit in your house should have a 50 amp breaker except maybe the electric range. If their is a 50 amp breaker attached to ANY circuit in your house (besides the oven/range) you should have it changed IMMEDIATELY. The branch circuit wiring in your house is only good for 15-20 amps max. If some ID 10 T installed a 50 amp breaker on one of your branch circuits then you need to have it changed out now, especially if it's tripping out.
Now, if someone is reusing one pole of the formerly two pole range oven circuit then there is a serious issue with current draw from somewhere. Not only should this never be done, but you now have some problem within that circuit causing a 50 amp breaker to be tripping, - not good.
Have this looked at immediately!!!

BTW, where-ish do you live??
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  #15  
Old 06-16-2005, 02:14 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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In the meanwhile, plug the fridge into another outlet. Likewise the microwave.
Do not re-use that 50 Amp circuit untill you find out what the H is going on. If the Fridge continues to blow the next circuit you plug it into, stop using it (the fridge).
You really need to have someone look at this pronto.
I would like you to double check the number on the breaker and be certain that it did indeed say '50'.
And yes, the fridge should be on its own circuit.
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  #16  
Old 06-16-2005, 03:10 PM
ouryL ouryL is offline
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Buy a fire extinguisher?
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  #17  
Old 06-16-2005, 03:50 PM
danceswithcats danceswithcats is offline
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A few points. Your fridge may not have exposed condensing coils on the back. Many put them on the bottom. They are accessed by unscrewing or unsnapping the kick plate on the front below the door(s). Clean them with a cardboard tube from paper toweling duct taped to the end of your vacuum to reach in between, or go buy a special cleaning brush from an appliance store or Home Despot.

While it's possible that someone decided to run #6 copper to a 50 amp rated receptacle, it's unlikely. A 50 amp circuit breaker would only trip if the compressor had a locked rotor, assuming it isn't defective. Large breakers do fail on occasion-I had to change a 100 amp panel main which was tripping at only 60% of capacity.

While I agree that refrigerators should be on a dedicated branch, there is nothing in Article 210.52 Dwelling Unit Receptacle Outlets which states it must be by itself.
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  #18  
Old 06-16-2005, 04:03 PM
August West August West is offline
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Heya Uncommon and Joey P, we SE Wisconsites really know our refrigerators I guess.

I agree with all of the above. If you know an electrician ask him to check it out.

Uncommon, where is Milwaukee-ish?
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  #19  
Old 06-16-2005, 05:01 PM
NillyWilly NillyWilly is offline
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I've also had a bad breaker do this exact same thing when all the electrical devices were A-OK on the circuit.

It took an electrician to fix as I am a wuss about high amperage electricity.
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  #20  
Old 06-16-2005, 05:39 PM
Kevbo Kevbo is offline
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50A is way overkill for a fridge. The 50A breaker may be feeding a sub-panel. It might also use aluminum wire.

A tripping breaker is often caused by a loose or corroded connection right at the breaker, and can often be "fixed" just by tightening the correct screw.

It's also possible for breakers to become weak over time.

Replacing a breaker or just tightening the screw could be deadly if you don't know what you are doing. If you need instructions on how to do this safely, you are not qualified, and should seek the assistance of at least a good handy-man, who will likely be cheaper than a "real" electrician.


It's also possible for breakers to become weak over time.
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  #21  
Old 06-16-2005, 06:50 PM
spingears spingears is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laina_f
Three times in the past two days I've discovered my refrigerator and microwave oven not running due to a tripped circuit breaker. Twice this has happened during the night when the only thing running would be the refrigerator. This is an old house with ancient wiring; the refrigerator is five years old.
Something else is most likely 'on' the circuit when the refrigerator starts and trips the breaker due to the inrush current.
The refrigerator and the microwave should be on separate circuits.
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  #22  
Old 06-16-2005, 08:50 PM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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Update: My nieghbor helped me pull the fridge out. A couple of paper sacks had fallen behind it; we removed those. The coils are semi-protected by a covering; they were relatively clean, but we vacuumed up a bit. So far the fridge has stayed on. I haven't plugged the microwave oven back in. I'll take the advice to move it to a different outlet.

The wiring, like everything else in this house, was a do-it-yourself job by some previous owner. I had the house inspected before I bought it, and the inspector said, "If there were a code in Mississippi, this would not be up to it."

My neighbor is an electrician, but I try not to take advantage of that (he won't ever take money from me). He didn't seem overly concerned about the situation, but said to let him know if the breaker tripped again.

To answer a few questions:
- The A.C. is on another circuit.
- I don't know if it is a single pole or a double pole breaker. There are no handles, only a switch.
- It's possible the circuit was originally intended for a range and that things got moved around during a remodelling. The house came with a range. I put the refrigerator in the place that seemed the logical place for it to go -- really the only place it could go.
- I live in a rural community outside of Memphis. My house (at least parts of it) is 50-100 years old. It started out as a 1-room cabin and has been added onto in unusual but delightful ways over the years. We got hooked up to city water/sewage just a couple of years ago.

Tonight's the big test. If the circuit trips again, I'll call an electrician.
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  #23  
Old 06-16-2005, 09:49 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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If nothing happens for a few days (with the microwave unplugged), then it may just be from the garbage back there. After that plug the microwave back in (for the purpose of this experiment, I would plug it back into the same outlet that it was in to begin with) if the circuit blows, then the microwave is most likely the culprit. Could be some fault to ground going on inside the microwave itself. You could try then plugging the microwave in somewhere else and see if it blows that breaker in which case it may be time for a new one. Of course as others have mentioned it could be ALOT of other things and it's hard to tell without actually looking at the appliances and wiring in question. But I would like to re-state what others have said. Blowing a 50amp breaker is not good news, especially when the only things (supposedly) on the circuit shouldn't draw anywhere near that amount of juice.
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  #24  
Old 06-17-2005, 02:10 AM
Rhubarb Rhubarb is offline
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Here's another test you can try. Shut off the (dangerously oversized) 50 A breaker. Use a lamp or other small appliance and plug it into every other outlet in the house. I would say in that area, except that your house was "wired" in phases by amatuers, so there's no telling where the circuit runs. Anyway, the lamp will let you know if any other outlets are on the same circuit. If not, I'd start checking some of the other high amp draw appliances like an electric oven, dryer, water heater or air conditioner, to see if they have lost power. I'm guessing that someone used one half of a 240 VAC circuit to power that plug, or they just couldn't find a 20A at Home Depot that day. One way to tell if you have a single pole or two pole breaker is by it's size. Generally a two-pole will be twice the size of a single pole - it will take up two spaces in the breaker panel.

Another thing to check. While the breaker is NOT tripped, check to see if it is significantly warmer than other breakers around it. This would indicate a loose connection or a very high load on the breaker. Also check the outlet the refrigerator is plugged into for signs of warmth and the refrigerator cord itself. These are potential locations for poor connections that could cause a breaker to trip.

Cautionary note: Breakers are sized to protect your wiring, not your appliances. An oversized breaker will not trip when the current carrying capacity of the wiring is exceeded. This is one way that houses burn down. You should get this resolved VERY SOON.
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  #25  
Old 06-17-2005, 06:49 AM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by August West
Uncommon, where is Milwaukee-ish?
Greenfield, but I work in Mequon.
I work with a lot of people that live in and around Saukville.
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  #26  
Old 06-17-2005, 09:06 AM
Kevbo Kevbo is offline
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Another frequently overlooked load, and sizeable at that, is an electric water heater.
They make no noise, are hardwired in, and are located in a closet, garage, or other "out of sight, out of mind" location.

Since they turn on whenever the water in the tank cools, they can be the source of seemingly "random" events.
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  #27  
Old 06-17-2005, 12:24 PM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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Welcome to my life

I was going to call an electrician this morning, but when I got up, ALL the power in the house was off. That about gave me a heart attack, but I eventually determined that it was off because the power company was working in the area. I just now got power back and am waiting to see if the fridge goes off again. I'll check to see if the water heater is on the same circuit (didn't think of that one -- thanks).
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  #28  
Old 06-17-2005, 01:05 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevbo
Another frequently overlooked load, and sizeable at that, is an electric water heater.
They make no noise, are hardwired in, and are located in a closet, garage, or other "out of sight, out of mind" location.

Since they turn on whenever the water in the tank cools, they can be the source of seemingly "random" events.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that a water heater makes NO noise, but they do make some. Granted you won't hear it if you're 100 feet away, but if you're next to it it will make hissing like sound. At least my electric water heater did. If you want to test that I would first check to see if it's labeled in the breaker box, if it is then it's probably got it's own branch and not an issue. But either way, turn it off at the breaker if you can otherwise turn the thermostat all the way down. Now go and turn the hot water on somewhere and run it until it's cold, then go and turn the heater back on (either by turning thre breaker back on, or turning the thermostat back to where it was orginally, most likely 120 degrees F) it should start hissing. While heating go open up the fridge to let the cold air out so the compressor kicks on. If you blow the breaker, then we have something to work with.
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  #29  
Old 06-17-2005, 03:09 PM
Irvm Irvm is offline
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I am an electrician, and there's no way a 50 amp breaker should feed a line which supplies a fridge, and no way a fridge should be drawing
over 50 amps to trip the breaker.

PLEASE get someone who knows what they are doing to look at this
and rectify the problem NOW. You can take chances with your own life if you want, but please get the kids (if any) out of the house till that's done.
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  #30  
Old 06-17-2005, 03:10 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laina_f
I was going to call an electrician this morning, but when I got up, ALL the power in the house was off. That about gave me a heart attack, but I eventually determined that it was off because the power company was working in the area. I just now got power back and am waiting to see if the fridge goes off again. I'll check to see if the water heater is on the same circuit (didn't think of that one -- thanks).
First, check to make sure the water heater is electric. It may be gas. If it's gas you'll see the vent pipe on top and the gas line with a shut-off vavle running into the exchange chamber.
If it's electric it won't be vented and it should have some sort of flexible conduit (hopefully) running to it from a junction box. It may even have an on off switch nearby.
Even if it is electric, it may be on it's own circuit. See if it's labeled in the panel as such. You may be able to follow the wiring back to the panel too.
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  #31  
Old 06-17-2005, 03:13 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irvm
I am an electrician, and there's no way a 50 amp breaker should feed a line which supplies a fridge, and no way a fridge should be drawing
over 50 amps to trip the breaker.

PLEASE get someone who knows what they are doing to look at this
and rectify the problem NOW. You can take chances with your own life if you want, but please get the kids (if any) out of the house till that's done.
Thanks.
I'm a sparky too. You'll note a similar sense of urgency in post #14.
I hope the OP heeds the advice.
Get your neighbor over there pronto.
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  #32  
Old 06-19-2005, 05:28 PM
ioioio ioioio is offline
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Update: In the 2 days since the power came back on following the neighborhood-wide power outage due to utility company work, the refrigerator has not tripped the circuit breaker. I still plan to have someone out to look at it soon.
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