Weird electrical breaker occurrence

A year or so ago, the breaker for the outlet in my bathroom tripped, and resetting it wouldn’t work – it would immediately go back to neutral or open. I tried multiple times for a few days to reset it and it never worked. Since we didn’t use that outlet much, we didn’t get around to fixing it. Today, I finally resolved to try and fix it. Just for the hell of it, I tried to reset the breaker. It reset fine. I plugged something in. It worked fine, and still appears to be working.

What could have caused that? I’m no electrician, but I thought that when a breaker wouldn’t reset, even after a while, then that meant there was a bad connection or component somewhere.

IANAE, but it occurs to me that breakers can fail. I’ve had it happen.

Sure, but how could it spontaneously fix itself?

When I was redoing a bathroom, I found out that the outlet in the bathroom was on a different breaker than the switch right next to it. And that there was something else downline from the outlet on the same breaker. Could yours be like that, and you had something plugged into another outlet that was on the same breaker back then, and now you don’t?

Could I test this without tearing anything up?

Just spitballing, but how good is your wiring? Could there have been a leak or puddle somewhere that was shorting out an old wire, and it dried up after a few days?

That’s possible, but it sounds like the kind of thing I can never know for sure. I live on the first floor of a condo building that’s about 30 years old, but by my non-expert opinion, in good shape.

Probably, but I would rather one of the electricians on this board help you. I got a nice shock because of it when I was testing :slight_smile:

Fire burned up the wires enough that they no longer arc ? Seriously, a breaker that trips more than once, especially without an obvious overload situation is a dangerous situation. At a minimum I would probably pull all the outlets and junctions on that branch and check for signs of arcing/fire, and replace the breaker and outlet both.

Get a lamp, or anything really, make sure it’s on and working with that outlet. Then turn the breaker off and see if any other outlets are on the same circuit by plugging the lamp into those outlets.

But wouldn’t this cause it to not work right now? If they no longer arc, then how is the outlet working right now? Or am I misunderstanding something?

IT’s a GFCI right? It should have a test button that pops the breaker when you push it. In fact, since it had a history of not resetting and now it does it’s important that you DO test it via the button. If pushing the button doesn’t make it trip then you need to have it replaced.

If pushing the button trips the breaker then you can easily determine if any other outlets are also protected by this breaker.

  1. Find a small appliance, lamp or radio that requires a plug to work. Avoid motorized appliances. A small radio works best.

  2. Plug it in to a working outlet and turn it on. Leave it on but unplug it.

  3. Manually trip the bathroom GFCI.

  4. Plug your appliance into outlets that are nearby the bathroom one. Depending on the age of your house, your bathroom one could be protecting other plugs outside or in your kitchen if those plugs are close by.

If you find a plug that doesn’t work, leave your radio plugged into it and then go back to the bathroom GFCI and reset it. If your radio comes on then you found a downstream outlet.

GFCI’s are usually required whenever the outlet can be used to plug in anything that might contact water or the earth. Any plug that is within 10 feet of a water , sewer, outside source should either be a GFCI or a downstream receptacle.

I don’t know your skill level so let me just say that you should have a qualified electrician change any faulty electrical equipment. They might be expensive but they are better than accidental electrocution.

Thanks! Yes, it has a test button and the test button trips the breaker. I’ll try the rest when I have time. There’s only a single outlet in the bathroom, but I’ll check the ones in the adjacent room.

If the bathroom is adjacent to the kitchen, garage, outside your downstream outlet could be in one of those locations. And I keep saying outlet but it could be outlets. The GFCI could protect more than one other outlet.

Probably have far more than one outlet on a breaker, it could be any of them, a fixture such as a light or fan, or not an outlet at all if you have a junction box, etc.
Edit to add, fire is probably the worst case scenario, but it is what you should be worried about because stopping that kind of thing is what the breakers are for in the first place.

GFCI’s will sometimes nuisance trip if downstream wires are damp. It’s possible that the wires have dried out.
Also, some surge-suporessor outlet strips will trip them - was one of them plugged in somewhere and then removed?

The bathroom is adjacent to the master bedroom. It might be weird, but based on my efforts so far, it appears that there’s only a single outlet on this breaker, and that’s all that’s on it – not the lights or anything else.

OP: you are talking about a GFCI outlet and also using the term “breaker”. GFCI outlets fail at a fairly high rate. I’ve replaced a few. Is the “breaker” you are talking about in the “breaker box” in your basement/closet/wherever or are you just talking about the outlet ant its test button?

Probably not the OP’s problem, but…

We had a bathroom breaker mystery a few months ago that even an electrician could not figure out. The breaker would occasionally trip when my wife used the hair dryer. A new hair dryer didn’t fix it, changing bathrooms didn’t fix it (the outlets in both bathrooms apparently are on the same circuit) but she she could plug the hair dryer into the outlet outside the bathroom door and there was no problem.

It happened often enough that we decided to call an electrician, and naturally on the day he came out my wife couldn’t make it happen. He said it was a 15 amp circuit and the hair dryer was drawing about 13, but nothing else on the circuit seemed to be enough to push it over the edge.

My wife finally figured it out when one day the breaker tripped and then later (before resetting it) she went out to the garage for something and the garage lights wouldn’t come on. It turned out the garage was on the same circuit as the bathroom outlets. So why did this start happening all of a sudden, after we’ve been in the house over 20 years?

My wife recently got a new car – a plug-in hybrid.

I’m talking about the breaker box, which has all the breakers for my home, which is in the kitchen.