Why Does The Circuit Breaker Keep Shutting Off?

If one of your circuit breakers keeps tripping, shutting off an entire electrical circuit in your home, it means that you're overloading the circuit. Although it is very inconvenient, it is actually a blessing in disguise, because an overloaded circuit would possibly cause a fire if the breaker didn't shut off the flow of power to the circuit.

A circuit becomes overloaded when you attempt to power too many devices on the circuit. This can result from adding many smaller devices such as cellphones or tablets, or a single larger component such as an air conditioner or hair dryer, both major offenders in circuit overloads.

This leaves you with two choices. You can either plug some of the devices into outlets powered by a different circuit, which may be inconvenient or upgrade a 15 amp circuit to a higher capacity 20 amp circuit. If the circuit breaker is stamped with the number "15", you can upgrade it to a 20 amp line.

What you would need to upgrade the circuit 

20 amp circuit breaker

Buy a breaker from the same manufacturer as the breaker box for a sure fit. Breakers are not universal fits.

3 wire sheath of 12 gauge wire

The sheath of wire will be marked "12-2", meaning that it includes both a neutral and a ground wire along with the "hot" wire. You'll need enough wire to cover the distance from the breaker box to the planned location of the new outlet, plus several additional feet for running the wire through walls and ceilings, and for connection purposes.

Wire cutter/stripper tool

Utility knife or hole saw



Roll of electrical tape

Disconnecting the outlet

With the circuit breaker off (very important if you don't want to get electrocuted), remove the cover plate from the outlet, then loosen the two screws that hold the outlet in place inside the gang box in the wall.

Pull the outlet from the gang box and disconnect the three wires from the screw terminals on the top and sides of the outlet, then remove the outlet.

Disconnecting the old 15 amp breaker

You'll need to turn off the main breakers to the home to access the breaker box safely. They will be located either at the top of the breaker box or some other location, possibly outside the home.

When this is done, remove the cover panel from the breaker box. Pull the breaker from its slot in the breaker box by prying it from the outer edge (where the black wire is connected).

When it is out, disconnect the black wire from the screw terminal, and the accompanying white and green wires from the white grounding bars inside the breaker box.

Running the 12 gauge wire to the outlet

Use the wire stripper to remove 3/4" of insulation from the ends of each of the three wires in the sheath by inserting each wire into the slot in the blades marked "12". This will provide a clean stripping with no nicks in the wires.

Twist the ends of each of the three wires with the ends of the corresponding wires of the sheath that was just disconnected, then wrap a few layers of electrical tape around each set of connected wires to secure them.

Back at the outlet location, you will grasp the wires that were disconnected from the outlet and begin to pull the connected 12 gauge wire sheath from the breaker box to the outlet.

When the taped wire ends appear at the outlet location, pull them through until the wire ends are extending 6 inches beyond the wall. You can then remove the tape and separate the wires.

Connecting the outlet

Loop the black wire around the top brass terminal screw and tighten the screw securely, then connect the white wire to the top silver terminal and the green wire to the single green terminal in the same manner.

Push the outlet into the gang box, tighten the two screws, and replace the cover plate.

Back to the breaker box

Use the wire cutter to cut the sheath of wire to length, leaving several inches inside the breaker box, then strip the ends as you did previously at the outlet.

You will insert the white and green wires into available screw terminal openings in one of the white grounding bars inside the breaker box, then tighten the screws securely. You will then connect the black wire to the single screw terminal on the 20 amp breaker.

Push the breaker into the slot vacated by the old 15 amp breaker, inside edge first, until it clicks into place. Replace the breaker box cover.

You can then turn on the main breaker, then the 20 amp breaker, and give it a try. You will now have extra capacity and won't need to run down to the breaker box anymore every time the air conditioner compressor kicks on or your daughter turns on her blow dryer. 

For more information on repairing electrical work in your home, check out a website like http://www.jfelectricalcontractors.com.