Home Electrical Question

So I have a basement with 2 circuits. The main circuit feeds several light fixtures, typically about 800 watts, and a couple of outlets. I never have a problem with it.

In preparation for finishing out the front area, I divided the circuit so adding lamps, TVs, etc… wouldn’t overload the circuit. The only other low-load circuit I had available was the one that feeds my washing machine. 1 outlet, that’s all. I tapped into that circuit, and now it feeds 4 outlets. No problems for a year or more now. The only thing plugged into that circuit now is the washer, a freezer, and whatever occasional drill or tool I need. My air compressor is there as well, but only used occasionally, and doesn’t cause a problem. If I am running my shopvac or a big fan and the compressor kicks on, it usually trips the breaker. I just turn off something and turn the breaker back on.

One more thing, which is why we’re here. My alarm system transformer is on this circuit. It powers the system and charges the backup battery. For the last week or so, I keep getting low battery alerts on my alarm. Sure enough, the breaker is tripped. Flip it on, and all is well.

Here’s the thing: A) nothing else is pulling power besides the freezer when this happens. B) the breaker isn’t “tripped” really. It’s not in that middle position where you look and go “a-ha - it’s breaker #3”. I fully shut off and then on the breaker, and power comes back.

So what’s the deal? Bad battery in the alarm pulling too much? 1970 vintage breaker on its last legs? The Bell Witch? I’m fine with putting in a new breaker; my hardware store still has them, but they’re about 30 bucks or more now. Come to think of it, so’s the battery.

The fact that nothing has been amiss for close to 2 years suggests to me that my wiring is not suspect, but beyond that I got nuthin. Help!

Is it a GFCI breaker/outlet? You could be getting a nuisance trip because of something the GFI is sensing.

GFCI breakers often don’t work well with motors. You can end up with a lot of nuisance trips. I would have expected it to have a lot more trouble before now though, and not have had it run for two years without problems.

It could be the breaker going bad. It could also be something in the freezer (capacitor on the motor going south, the motor/compressor itself starting to go and drawing more current, etc) or the alarm circuit drawing more current. Hard to tell what it is without doing some measurements. You might want to invest in a clamp on ammeter to measure the current when various things are running. That might give you an idea of exactly where it is getting overloaded or if it is tripping even when it’s not overloaded.

The NEC doesn’t require washing machines or large freezers to be on their own separate dedicated circuits, but people usually put them on dedicated circuits as good practice. It helps prevent problems like these from occurring.

if you could add circuits to the basement you would be much better off.

GFCI devices, breakers or receptacles, can be tripped by large motors. a freezer should be on a nonGFCI circuit breaker and/or not after a GFCI receptacle.

for circuits that have receptacles that you might plug things in and out of they should be a GFCI circuit, this done by using a GFCI receptacle as the first receptacle in that string or a GFCI breaker. things with motors can trip a GFCI circuit so you would want the freezer and washer before the GFCI receptacle if that is the protective device.

You’re definitely overloading the circuit. How many amps is the breaker rated at?
Your washing machine, freezer, compressor, shopvac, power tools and fan will all draw alot of amperage which peaks at their startup which can easily surpass a 15 or 20 amp breaker’s limit.
Breakers will also wear out quite quickly from tripping them repetitively.
Your freezer and washing machine should be on their own separate circuits, maybe your compressor as well. Believe me, you don’t want to unknowingly trip the breaker for your freezer.
You could also run a couple of split-plug circuits to your workshop to avoid blowing breakers while running multiple power tools.

I won’t quote it here because of copyright, but the NEC actually does require a seperate circuit for the laundry area. It’s not addressed whether you can have other outlets or other stuff plugged into it- in my house it’s just a single duplex receptacle with the washing machine and dryer plugged in and nothing else, but running the circuit to different rooms is a definate no.

See, that’s just it. Nothing is pulling power except the freezer and the alarm transformer. Sure, piling everything together will trip it, but this is happening with about 6 amps pulling on a 20 amp breaker.

No GFCI, btw. I no understand!

If you are certain that it’s 6 amps on the breaker, then the breaker is bad.

Have you actually measured the current or are you guessing?

I seen many a breaker that is tripped without the handle being in the middle position. The fact that you have to turn the breaker off then back on means that it is tripped.

The question is why? If you can get an amp prob do so and take a reading at the breaker. Leave the probe on the line for a while and keep checking back. Breakers can trip below rated amperage, if it happens often and the draw is really low then it is time to change out the breaker. Consider buying a new breaker $30.00 is not much, a freezer without power over a long time can be expensive.

What brand of breaker and panel do you have?

Heck, try swapping the breaker for another. On the panels I have, this is a simple matter of cutting the main power, unscrewing some wires, pulling two breakers, swapping them, rewiring and repowering.

For 2008 and 2011, the NEC requires that 20 ampere branch circuit be provided for the laundry room (with respect to a dwelling unit) and that the circuit shall have no other outlets. (Section 210.12 (C) (2), 210.52 (F)).

I presume this rule has been around for quite a while, FWIW.

Good to know. Looks like some un-wiring is in store for this weekend.

Electric motors will momentarily draw a peak amperage on startup, fridges and freezers are known for this, especially as they age.
FTR breakers are meant as a safety device not a power switch, they will wear out and become weaker with use. If a breaker is continually tripping you must determine why and take measures to repair it.
In your case, it’s possible the 20-amp breaker is a little weak, and may trip at only 17 or 18 amps. I don’t know the exact specs but if your alarm system is drawing 2-3A and maybe you’re running a fan at 3-4A. Then, say the compressor for your freezer kicks on and peaks at 10A before running at 6A, it may trip the breaker.

can you add circuits?

the freezer, washer should each be on a separate circuit, neither needs to be GFCI protected and are better not protected.

it would be good to have heavy power tools (GFCI protected) on a separate circuit and even the other leg from the tv and alarm.

if you don’t have enough breaker positions then use the two you have for a small subpanel.

Another way of doing it is to put a subpanel near where you’re working. 8/3 romex isn’t that hard to work with and will give you four 20 amp circuits at your subpanel while only requiring two spaces in your main panel. 6/3 is a beast to work with (I ran some out to my garage) but will give 6 circuits, or is a better choice for 4 with long runs and heavy loads, or if you plan on having a heavy duty shop. Small subpanels are ridiculously cheap, just remove any tie between the grounds and neutrals at the subpanel. Some load centers are convertable and thus have a connector that needs to be removed for subpanel use.

New breaker solved the problem. Dual 20 amp, 60 bucks.:mad: