Do you have a circuit breaker that constantly trips, seemingly without reason? Sensitive arc fault circuit breakers present a common problem that most homeowners can solve without calling in the pros. Arc fault circuit breakers are prone to “nuisance tripping,” often due to underlying electrical currents that leak and cause the breaker to flip. Luckily, you likely will be able fix this issue without an electrician in just a few simple steps. Otherwise, the issue may require a professional touch. Here’s how to fix a sensitive arc fault circuit breaker.
Understand Your Arc Fault Circuit Breakers
An arc fault circuit interrupter, or AFCI, automatically breaks the circuit when it detects an electric arc. The goal is to prevent electrical fires by breaking the circuit when a potentially dangerous arc occurs. Unlike a typical circuit breaker, an arc breaker responds to more than just short circuits and overloads. Arc breakers protect against all arcing conditions, but selectively. Normal arcs should not cause a trip.
Nuisance tripping describes an arc fault breaker that mistakenly classifies harmless arcs (such as normal switch operation) as dangerous ones (such as a faulty lamp cord). Sometimes nuisance tripping happens because of a cord or wiring problem. Other times, the breaker is simply faulty and requires replacement.
Unplug Possible Sources of Current Leaks
Fixing your circuit breaker problem could be as easy as unplugging the sources of the leaking electrical current. Arc fault circuit breakers are very sensitive, so it doesn’t take much to trip them. A fluorescent light, surge protector, or anything with an LED display could be leaking enough current to constantly trip your arc fault circuit. Start by unplugging or turning off these sources of current to see if that solves your problem.
Fix Old or Damaged Wires
Other common causes of nuisance tripping are old, damaged, or deteriorated wires and cords. Inspect your appliance cords for signs of wear and tear. Frequent culprits are wires that bend and push against the wall from furniture. Repair damaged cords and wires or replace the electrical item altogether to reduce the likelihood of them leaking electrical current and tripping your arc fault circuit breaker.
Replace the Arc Fault Breaker
The source of nuisance tripping might be the circuit breaker itself, not a source of leaking electricity. Unfortunately, there is no way an electrician can test an arc fault circuit breaker accurately. Common practice is to replace the component to see if it solves the problem. If the old one was defective, replacing it should eliminate frequent tripping. You will need to call an electrician to replace your breaker for you. It is dangerous to do this electrical job yourself. If the problem persists, an electrician will have to evaluate further.
Schedule a Professional Evaluation
If replacing the arc fault breaker doesn’t do the trick, an electrician will have to evaluate each switch, receptacle, and light box for the source of the problem. Something such as a kinked wire or two of the wrong wires touching each other could be causing your electrical problem. Professional installation of your boxes to begin with can help prevent nuisance tripping from day one. Otherwise, a full inspection of your components may be necessary to pinpoint and remedy the exact cause of nuisance tripping.