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.

It should be a faulty electrical device tripping the circuit breaker. Do you know what is on each circuit?

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.

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.

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).

From the OP

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.

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. :cool:

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.

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.

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?

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.

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??

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.

Buy a fire extinguisher? :rolleyes:

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.

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?

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.

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.