Am I Overloading a Circuit?

I have a 15 amp breaker that started to trip. There is no pattern. It may trip after an hour or may trip after 1/2 hour, but it does not trip as soon as I reset it.


The circuit that's on that breaker are 2 outlets in the kitchen unused, the living room, and the front foyer. The outlet that I mainly use is the foyer outlet.

On that outlet I have connected 2 extension cords that have 5 outlets each making it total 10. The cords have the mini circuit breaker with the red lite. Between both of them, they power my TV, cablebox, DVD player, surround sound system, computer, fax, telephone, and other computer items.

Am I overloading that circuit or is the breaker going bad? This hook up to that outlet has been like this for 5 years. I'm testing to see if the breaker trips by unplugging one of the 5 plug extension cords which power my living room electronics and just leave my computer electronics connected. Any other ideas?

By Frank from PA

December 25, 20090 found this helpful

It doesn't sound like you're overloading it. But if it's an old breaker, you may have to put in a new one. Are you sure that there's only those on the circuit? There may be an appliance on it that you don't realize is? The thing about it tripping after a while, is it sounds like something is going on and pulling a lot of juice as it does. Refrigerators and such use a compressor, and when it kicks on, it pulls a lot at that time. If not, then it may be an old breaker. I've had this happen a few times and it can drive you nuts. The thing is, after it's starting to trip, the problem keeps happening. It wears out the breaker and it just gets easier to trip.

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December 25, 20090 found this helpful

Circuit breakers for residential use usually incorporate a bi-metallic thermal element to activate the tripping mechanism. As current passes through the breaker, the element heats up. At a pre-determined point, it trips the circuit breaker stopping the flow of electricity. The timeline required for the breaker to trip is a function of time and current draw. The greater the current, the sooner it will trip. Circuit breakers for residential applications are typically rated to support a continuous current draw of 80% of their labeled capacity. If you are drawing less than 12 amperes it should not trip.

If you are drawing a sustained load of slightly over 12 amperes it will eventually trip, typically in less than 2 hours. The thermal element inside the circuit breaker also has a cyclic life and will wear out. The more times it trips the shorter the service life of the breaker. This is usually evidenced by nuisance tripping.

Please remember that a circuit breaker is a safety device and that by tripping, it may be trying to warn you of a pending electrical problem. Things to check would include:

What is the amperage draw at the circuit breaker (a qualified electrician can check this for you).

Are there any loose connections or hot spots in the electrical wiring downstream of the circuit breaker (a qualified electrician can check this for you)

Lastly, do not install a circuit breaker of larger capacity without first confirming that your house wiring will safely support it (a qualified electrician can check this for you).

PJ (Mule/donkey gal's hubby)

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