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Circuit Breaker Panel Keeps Tripping – Sorting Electrical Faults
Electricity MCBs (Miniature Circuit Breakers) and GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters). A GFCI is more commonly referred to as an RCD (Residual Current Device) in Europe. An MCB is an electro-mechanical device, and like a fuse, it acts as the “weak link in the chain”. It’ll trip to guard cables from overload currents which might damage the cable or even cause a hearth. A GFCI will trip and shut off power if there’s a flow of current from hot(live) to ground(earth). This will occur as an illustration when the connector of the flex of a kettle is left in a pool of water on the sink, when an appliance gets wet, you cut through the flex of a garden power tool, or there is a fault inside equipment eg a cracked electrical element in a hot water tank. A GFCI can normally be identified because it is wider than an MCB in the breaker box and has a small test button on it.
Examples of Faults
Faults which may trip an MCB:
Connecting too many high powered appliances to an electrical circuit. In modern installations, there are usually a lot of outlets and separate circuits for different sections of a house, e.g. upstairs and downstairs. In a kitchen there are usually not less than two circuits. So there may be less chance of an overload as power demand is distributed between circuits. In an older installation however, this will not be the case.
A fault in equipment causing a brief circuit of current from hot to neutral. This could possibly be on account of insulation on a wire becoming compromised not directly. The exposed wire could then make contact with a neutral or ground conductor or terminal.
Breakdown of the windings in a transformer or motor. Wire in these devices is usually coated with a skinny layer of polyurethane varnish or similar so that a number of turns of wire may be tightly packed together. Over time the varnish layer will be compromised. This can be attributable to heating of the windings as the appliance is loaded e.g. when a power tool is used for a long period of time and isn’t allowed to cool properly. Overheating softens and cracks the insulation and as well as, abrasion as a consequence of particles of dust being sucked through a motor, wears away the insulation of the coils. This eventually causes arcing to occur between adjacent turns. Once this starts to happen, the winding can go into meltdown, but hopefully the breaker will trip and save the day before the device catches fire.
Power cord of an electric garden tool is cut through. The metal blades or teeth of the tool short hot and neutral together.
You drill through a wall and hit a power cable. The drill bit shorts out hot and neutral and causes an overload. Alternatively since the recent in the cable touches the drill bit, this might provide a path to ground through the body of the drill. Nowadays many power tools are “doubly insulated”. Which means that although the outer casing could also be metal, sufficient insulating barriers are built into the tool so that the external metal casing cannot become live on account of an internal fault. These tools or appliances are only supplied with hot and neutral via the power cord, and never grounded. Most power tools have a plastic body though for absolute safety in damp environments.
Faults which can trip an RCD:
Someone touches a live conductor. A current in excess of 30 ma flowing to ground through their body should trip the breaker.
The flex of a kettle is left in a pool of water on a sink
The cable of a garden power tool is cut through, If the appliance is grounded, the teeth or blade of the tool would cause a short circuit from hot to ground.
Exposed wiring or terminals inside an appliance touch the metal body of the appliance.
The outer sheath of the element in a kettle, hot water tank or washing machine becomes cracked. This allows water to seep into the powder which insulates the heating wire from the sheath, causing an electrical leak to ground.