Problem with circuit breaker that keeps tripping

31 Replies

I have a double 20-amp circuit breaker where one of the breakers keeps tripping (halfway between the on and off position).  The breaker that's tripping controls 4 outlets on a kitchen island.  One of these outlets is a GFCI that has a Keurig coffee maker plugged into it.  The other 3 outlets are regular outlets that have nothing plugged into them. 

The breaker just started tripping about 3 weeks ago, and has tripped about once a week since then (different days/times).  Each time it tripped, the Keurig coffee maker was plugged in, but not in use.  So obviously it's not drawing a big load.

The house is newer (about 13 years old) and there are no other electrical issues.

I'm normally able to fix most of my own electrical issues, but this problem is baffling me.  I have a couple ideas, but wanted to see if any of the experts out there have an idea of what might be going on???

I am not an expert but just had the same problem,yes in my kitchen,yes with gfi,that kept tripping like yours It turned out to be a loose wire on one of the outlets in the series.Check each of the outlets and you should find the culprit

Hi @Kyle J.

How old is the wiring? Could be a loose connection, could also be a faulty GFCI. What brand is the GFCI and how old is it? If you trip the GFCI (not the breaker), do the other outlets lose power like they should?

If it a faulty GFCI, consider replacing it with a normal outlet and install a GFCI breaker. The cost increase ($10-$15) is worth it in reliability. 

If its an older electrical panel, it could be the breaker, although modern breakers go bad on rare occasions as well.

It sounds like you have a ground in the line. Is this outlet in series with others? The insulation on the wire may be worn away or damaged which would require replacement.

The wiring and outlets are original to the house (about 13 years old). The GFCI is a Legrand Pass & Seymour 20-amp outlet. 

It could just be a bad breaker....or bad gfci. Unlike fuses the little strip of metal inside a breaker can eventually lose its "spring".....it ends up tripping at lower loads than it's supposed to. Just popping out the old breaker and popping in a new one may be all that's needed. I'd check the outlet connections first, then check if the gfci is going bad (they have a little circuit inside that eventually fails), then replace the breaker. 

You guys are all kinda thinking along the same lines as I was originally.  My three initial guesses as to what the problem might/could be were:

1)  The GFCI outlet went bad.  I've actually had this happen before but the symptoms were different. In previous cases when a GFCI went bad, it didn't trip the circuit breaker (like I'm experiencing in this case) and the GFCI wouldn't reset (not a problem in this current case). 

2)  A loose wire behind one of the outlets.  I've also had this happen before.  But in this case, the outlets haven't been opened, are hardly even used, and the outlet seems to trip at random times when the outlets aren't even in use or being touched.  Then when the breaker is reset everything is fine for about another week until it trips again. 

3)  The circuit breaker is (or is going) bad.  I know this can happen, but I've never actually had it be the cause of one of my own electrical problems and from what I understand it's actually fairly rare.  But I know it can happen.

What do you guys think is the best starting point?  I was kind of leaning towards starting with replacing the GFCI outlet since that is the first outlet in the series of the 4 outlets.

Or is there another possible solution that I might be overlooking?

Originally posted by @Kyle J. :

The wiring and outlets are original to the house (about 13 years old). The GFCI is a Legrand Pass & Seymour 20-amp outlet. 

My vote is a bad GFCI. If you replace it, replace it with a Leviton Pro unit. I've seen only one go bad out of the hundreds I've put it. Avoid the "TR" design. In my area, "tamper resistant" outlets are not required over counter tops like kitchens or bathrooms. Tamper resistant sounds nice, but it's not, its a pain the ***. There's little plastic doors that have to be pressed in by the plug at the exact same time, and pressed very hard.  

Originally posted by @Loren Thomas :
Originally posted by @Kyle J.:

The wiring and outlets are original to the house (about 13 years old). The GFCI is a Legrand Pass & Seymour 20-amp outlet. 

My vote is a bad GFCI. If you replace it, replace it with a Leviton Pro unit. I've seen only one go bad out of the hundreds I've put it. Avoid the "TR" design. In my area, "tamper resistant" outlets are not required over counter tops like kitchens or bathrooms. Tamper resistant sounds nice, but it's not, its a pain the ***. There's little plastic doors that have to be pressed in by the plug at the exact same time, and pressed very hard.  

I'll start with replacing the GFCI and see if that fixes the problem.  Thanks for the tip on the type to use.  (The one currently in there is a tamper resistant one and, you're right - those little plastic doors are annoying.)

I think you should start at the source and work towards the end.

Switch the breaker that is tripping with one in the box that's the same size and see if the problem moves. (No cost to do this, just some time)

If the  problem persists, get one of the outlet testers that plugs into an outlet and indicates problems with the outlet. This may show a dropped ground or whatever. I am thinking if the GFCI was bad it would trip itself, not the circuit box breaker.

Are you sure that the circuit only feeds the kitchen outlets and not something else? ie, attic vent fan, outside outlet, porch light, etc?

Does the breaker ever trip with the Keurig not plugged in? What about if it's plugged into a different outlet somewhere else in the house?

If a wire is shorted, it will trip the breaker immediately and repeatedly. So if it's not a bad breaker it would appear you have an intermittent high load.

More then likely it is the breaker based on the info that you have provided. Normally I start with the gfi, then the breaker, and then the wiring. I normally have a gfi in the garage so it's a 5 minute test.  trying to track down a wire concern is very time consuming and frustrating  so I opt for the breaker.

Originally posted by @John Teachout :

I think you should start at the source and work towards the end.

Switch the breaker that is tripping with one in the box that's the same size and see if the problem moves. (No cost to do this, just some time)

If the  problem persists, get one of the outlet testers that plugs into an outlet and indicates problems with the outlet. This may show a dropped ground or whatever. I am thinking if the GFCI was bad it would trip itself, not the circuit box breaker.

Are you sure that the circuit only feeds the kitchen outlets and not something else? ie, attic vent fan, outside outlet, porch light, etc?

Does the breaker ever trip with the Keurig not plugged in? What about if it's plugged into a different outlet somewhere else in the house?

If a wire is shorted, it will trip the breaker immediately and repeatedly. So if it's not a bad breaker it would appear you have an intermittent high load.

I did test all four outlets with one of those plug-in outlet testers and they all showed to be wired correctly (no open grounds or reversed wiring or anything). 

I was initially thinking along the same line as you though about the GFCI going bad -- I thought it would trip instead of the breaker.  (That's what happened a different time when I had a GFCI go bad at another house.  In that case it also wouldn't reset, whereas this one trips and resets just fine when tested.)

I am sure that this circuit only feeds the four outlets I mentioned.  I checked everything else, including exterior outlets because I also initially considered that maybe one of the exterior outlets was getting some condensation in it or something else was going on with it that was causing the breaker to trip.  But I ultimately didn't find anything but these four interior kitchen outlets on this circuit.

The Keurig has always been plugged into the GFCI outlet each time the breaker has tripped, but the Keurig was never "in use" when it tripped.  I think a Keurig that is only plugged in, and not actually in use, draws less than 1 amp.  So I'm not sure how it could cause a 20 amp breaker to trip.  But just to be safe, I did just move the Keurig to a new series of outlets to see if the problem persists or moves.

I also ordered a new GFCI outlet (the Leviton Pro one that Loren mentioned above since I couldn't find them in stock locally), so I am going to try and replace that next.  If that doesn't work then I'll probably move on to replacing the breaker itself.  I'm hesitant to start replacing/changing too many things at once because I won't be able to isolate the source of the problem.

Thanks for all the suggestions.

Originally posted by @Kyle J. :

...

What do you guys think is the best starting point?  I was kind of leaning towards starting with replacing the GFCI outlet since that is the first outlet in the series of the 4 outlets.

Or is there another possible solution that I might be overlooking?

You say this is a tandem breaker. So I would start by opening the breaker panel and swapping the wires on that tandem breaker (with breakers in off position). If the original tripping breaker still trips, then you have a bad breaker. If the previously non-tripping breaker now trips, then it is something down the line from the breaker. 

Doing as I suggested causes you to spend nothing while you are troubleshooting via shot-gun techniques. 

Originally posted by @Kyle J. :
Originally posted by @Loren Thomas:
Originally posted by @Kyle J.:

The wiring and outlets are original to the house (about 13 years old). The GFCI is a Legrand Pass & Seymour 20-amp outlet. 

My vote is a bad GFCI. If you replace it, replace it with a Leviton Pro unit. I've seen only one go bad out of the hundreds I've put it. Avoid the "TR" design. In my area, "tamper resistant" outlets are not required over counter tops like kitchens or bathrooms. Tamper resistant sounds nice, but it's not, its a pain the ***. There's little plastic doors that have to be pressed in by the plug at the exact same time, and pressed very hard.  

I'll start with replacing the GFCI and see if that fixes the problem.  Thanks for the tip on the type to use.  (The one currently in there is a tamper resistant one and, you're right - those little plastic doors are annoying.)

Not exactly s code expert, but I believe that if you have a tamper resistant receptacle and attempt to replace, by code you must replace it with a tamper resistant receptacle. 

Read here:

http://diy.stackexchange.com/questions/2514/should...

I was re-reading the original post and noticed you said this was a double breaker. I'm assuming you mean a piggy back breaker and not a 240v double breaker?

In my experience, the piggyback breakers suffer a higher failure rate since they're so small so that is certainly where I would start. You could even just switch the circuits around on that one breaker to see if the problem moves.

Dumb question time:

The breaker that's tripping - is it a GFCI breaker?

"Stacking" or mixing GFCIs (outlets, breakers) can cause issues.

Personally, I'd call a professional on this one, unless you have / understand / can effectively use the test gear that electrical professionals have / use.

I am not an electrician.....but cheapest thing is a new $5 breaker.  then a $15 gfci.  The gfci should trip before a breaker.... Yes, the gfci units do burn out.  Ever wonder why they are so chubby?  There is a a circuitboard and 'stuff' inside them. I would try that.  There is a 'short' in there somewhere. Could even be the 'coffee pot'.  Leave it unplugged for a week. Sorry Keurig!

process of elimination for the easier cheapest part.  replace the gfci with a temporary plain outlet (if you have a spare).   ifs tripping that often, you will know soon enough.

if it doesn't trip then when the new gfci arrives, replace the temp outlet.

if it keeps tripping go after replacing the breaker.

note: of course....you have no gfci for the time being !

Originally posted by Account Closed:

Could be bad breaker, wires touching (bad wire?).

Doesn't even have to be a bad wire. If the GFCI is mounted inside a grounded metal box, those GFCIs are fat enough that the terminals on the sides can touch that metal box if there is any "play" on the screws attaching the GFCI to the box. 

I'm a bit amazed at how many posts here suggest to just start replacing things without even attempting a simple diagnosis first. The simple diagnostic I posted earlier (and that somebody also posted subsequently) would eliminate things from consideration without having to spend on any parts to do so. Once you have it narrowed down a bit, then certain parts become obvious candidates for replacement. 

Originally posted by @Loren Thomas :

Hi @Kyle J.

If it a faulty GFCI, consider replacing it with a normal outlet and install a GFCI breaker. The cost increase ($10-$15) is worth it in reliability. 

 That cost increase can vary dramatically depending on the brand and model of your load centre / breaker panel.   20amp GFCI breakers can be as much as $75- $80.

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