Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my circuit breaker keep tripping?

A circuit breaker is designed to trip under specific circumstances. If the circuit carries more electricity than it is supposed to carry, the circuit breaker activates and interrupts the flow of electricity by physically preventing the current from reaching the wall socket. There are many reasons why your circuit breakers trip, including faulty residential electric wiring. There are miles of wires in the home, connecting your outlets to the breaker box, so how can you find out if faulty wiring is the problem? How can you tell if it's not a faulty appliance causing the problem, or too many appliances running at once?

The answer to the general question is simple enough. Turn off and unplug all the appliances in the area the tripped circuit breaker has affected. Go to the breaker box, find the circuit breaker (or other model) and try to reset it by turning it back on. If the power stays on in that area of the home, you have a problem with the items plugged into the wall sockets rather than the wiring. If the circuit trips again right away, chances are good your wiring is to blame.

What is a circuit breaker?

Bus plugs come in three basic configurations. A fusible switch uses fuses to prevent power overloads. The circuit breaker bus plug is similar in that it offers protection from overloads by stopping the flow of electricity--literally breaking the circuit as the name implies. Circuit breakers are found in most modern buildings, while fusible switch bus plugs may be in use for older homes, offices and historic landmarks.

Circuit breaker bus plugs close the circuit by "tripping". The circuit breaker switches off, and must be turned back on again to restore power. Unlike fusible switches, there are no fuses to replace after an electrical overload. This makes circuit breaker bus plugs more advantageous because no replacement purchases are needed. That doesn't mean a circuit breaker can't be damaged in some cases. Depending on the electrical fault, you may need to replace a circuit breaker bus plug. In some instances there may be partial power available to a home or office, in others you may have no electricity at all until the circuit breaker is replaced.

What is a fusible switch?

The fusible switch is a type of bus plug typically found in older homes or apartments. When electricity passes through the system, there is always a danger of overload. With no protection from overloads, your appliances would be destroyed and there is great potential for fires as a result. The fusible switch contains a fuse to protect the home. In the fusible switch bus plug, the fuses are designed with an element which is destroyed in the event of a power overload. When the fuse is intact, the circuit is complete and energy can pass through.

When the fuse element is melted, the circuit is broken and electricity does not flow. This keeps the overload from reaching your appliances. Once the element is melted, that fuse must be replaced. This type of bus plug is replaced in newer buildings by the more efficient circuit breaker system, which requires no replacement of burnt-out fuses.

How many circuit breakers can I add to my breaker box?

Are you considering putting in additional circuit breakers? There are two things you need to know before installing additional breakers, mini circuit breakers or other types. The first is how much physical space is left in your breaker box to accommodate the new breakers. As you look down the breaker box, you may notice there are some metal "punch-out panels" which can be removed to create additional space for your new circuit breakers. If there are no more of these spaces left, you have a full circuit breaker panel and more breakers cannot be installed. Instead, you will need to put in a sub panel to accommodate the additional circuit breakers.

The second thing you need to do before adding circuit breakers is to check your electrical panel to see how many breakers or other brands it is rated to handle. Do not exceed the maximum capacity of your breaker box even if you have room to install more circuit breakers.

What is a low voltage circuit breaker?

If you are still learning about electric wiring, residential power supplies and how your breakers fit into the picture, it's easy to misinterpret the purpose of low voltage circuit breakers. In this case, "low voltage" simply means a circuit breaker rated to handle a load of 600 volts or less. Since most homes use mains rated between 100-400 volts, they only require low voltage circuit breakers.

High voltage circuit breakers are made for heavy-duty use rather than in-home applications. Your low voltage circuit breakers are designed to trip based on heat measurements; the heat from a normal load is lower than a high current. When the heat goes above the limit the circuit breaker is calibrated for, the breaker trips and cuts the power. You can reset the circuit breaker, but if the high load continues, the breaker will trip once more.

Can I use a different brand for replacement circuit breakers?

If you need replacement circuit breakers, it may be tempting to save money by swapping your old make and model with a set of other brands. It can be tricky to order replacement circuit breakers that aren't the exact make and model of the ones previously used in your system. When placing an order, it's best to speak directly to a customer service rep to learn what types of circuit breakers may be compatible with your breaker box.

You may be able to locate less expensive replacement circuit breakers to use, but if they don't match the configuration of your old circuit breakers they may be incompatible. How many poles do you need? How many volts and amps? Know the specs of your old circuit breakers and have them ready when ordering the replacement circuit breakers.

What is an AFCI circuit breaker?

AFCI stands for "Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter".  Circuit breakers designed for AFCI are constructed to detect dangerous low-level arc faults and cut the power when those faults exist. Standard circuit breakers are made to detect overloads and short circuits, but they may not be equipped to break the circuit when an arc fault is detected. AFCI breakers are made to "fill the gap" in safety by detecting all four major potential electrical hazards including ground faults and arc faults.

Circuit breakers made to detect arc faults can prevent damage from pre-existing wiring problems and from new damage the wiring system which can happen during remodeling. If you are drilling near a wall socket or breaker box and accidentally damage the wiring, the AFCI circuit breakers trip at the first indication of an arc fault. This can save you from a house fire later on due to a condition you might not even realize exists.

What should I do if the area near my breaker panel is flooded?

If there is flood damage in the area where your breaker box is installed, it is very important to use caution if you must access your Westinghouse circuit breakers or the mains. The best policy is to call a qualified electrician, but if there is a safety issue that requires you to switch off your mains immediately, use the following precautions.

  • Do not stand in water while accessing your Westinghouse circuit breakers.
  • Access your breaker panel during daylight hours for maximum safety.
  • If you need a light source, use a battery-powered light, no gas-powered light sources or candles.
  • If you are blocked from accessing the panel by standing water, use a wooden pole to try to switch off your mains. Do not use a wooden pole with a metal attachment or fitting.
In most cases it's best to let an electrician handle these issues, but safety may demand you shut off the power immediately. Always remember that the presence of water near your Westinghouse circuit breakers seriously increases the danger of electrocution. Use extreme caution if you must access your breaker panel.

How do I reset my circuit breakers?

When a circuit breaker "trips", it interrupts the flow of electricity to prevent an electrical hazard. There are two types of circuit breakers in your breaker box--the mains, which regulate the electricity to the entire building, and the individual circuit breakers for specific areas of the home such as the kitchen, living room and bedrooms. If your circuit breakers trip for a specific area of the home, power will remain on for the rest of the house. If your mains trip, all power is cut off until you can reset your circuit breaker.

Resetting the circuit breaker for the "single area" trip is simple; go to the breaker box and look for the circuit breakers labeled for the part of the building without power. You will see the switch for this breaker or set of breakers is in the "off" position, or positioned in the exact opposite of all the other circuit breaker switches. Turn the circuit breaker back to the "on" position and you should have power restored. The procedure for resetting the mains is the same, but you will need a flashlight. Do not attempt to reset the mains in the dark without seeing the electrical panel--always use a light so you can see exactly where your hand is going in and around the breaker box.

What should I know about circuit breaker locking systems?

If you are considering installing a padlock system on your circuit breakers, there are several safety issues to consider. A padlock system can be handy for securing the circuit breaker system in any area easily accessible to others. Circuit breakers can be locked in either the "on" or "off" position. If you lock a circuit breaker in the "on" position, this does not prevent the breaker from tripping if there is an overload. This is an important safety feature which can prevent electrical fires and other mishaps, but if you are not available to unlock the breaker once it has tripped, power will remain out until you can reset that circuit breaker.

This has the potential to be a serious problem in cases where people require an uninterrupted power supply for assisted living equipment such as respirators or other health care gear. If you need to lock a circuit breaker system, make sure the keys are available to reset the power in your absence. When installing the lock system itself, use only a UL-rated padlock designed for use with the circuit breakers. Anything short of this can void the warranty of your locking system and the circuit breakers.