Why your Arc Fault Breakers Keep Tripping

The electrical code in Mass changed now requires that when remodeling or changing electrical outlets in a home we now need to install what are called “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter” circuit breakers in the electrical panel or circuits we are touching. How can you tell if this is what you have? First, check the circuit breaker that’s tripping. Does it have a “TEST” button and the letters AFCI displayed on it? These breakers are specifically designed to protect your circuits from electrical “arcing”.

Note: If you have a normal circuit breaker (not AFCI), you either have an overloaded circuit, an electrical short, or a worn-out breaker.

AFCI breakers are beneficial to homeowners because unlike traditional breakers they would not trip if on a standard non GFI outlet, if there was an electrical arc the breaks may not trip. Thus, helping with electrical fires. Conventional circuit breaker only responds to overloads and short circuits, so they do not protect against arching.

But with this added benefit we do find that some people have trouble with them tripping. Especially when using their vacuum (as well as Flat Screen TV, computers power drills, and treadmills).

Why can AFCI breakers trip when you run the vacuum? Well it depends on how often the breaker trips:

  • If your vacuum occasionally trips the breaker, the breaker is most likely just “nuisance tripping” (vacuums are notorious for causing AFCI nuisance trips, due to an electrical arc.
  • If your vacuum always trips the breaker, the circuit most likely has a electrical arcing problem.

Arcing happens when electricity jumps a gap between two conductors, usually two exposed pieces of wire. Unlike in normal breakers AFCI breakers are designed to trip in fractions of a second at the first sign of arcing to prevent electrical fires.

Nuisance tripping occurs because vacuums produce a small amount of sparking (basically small electrical arcs) as they run. The main reason for tripping an arc fault breaker is when the plug of an appliance is pulled from an outlet while the power is still on. It is always best to turn an appliance off before unplugging it.

Notifying the electrician that this is happening is the best idea, if the breaker is always tripping when you use the vacuum or similar appliance then there might be another issue for the electrician to look into. , The electrician can determine if there is an issue and the breaker needs to be replaced.

Although these tripping issues can be annoying the NFPA(national fire protection agency) study’s say introduction of arc fault breakers have drastically reduced residential electrical fires. So some tripping is a small price to pay for the increase in safety and reduction in potential fire risk.

It is important to us that everyone works together to create the best possible experience. If you have questions about your home improvement project please let us know. https://www.almarbuilding.com (781-826-2577) and watch our videos at http://www.youtube.com/almarbuilding.com

Almar Building & Remodeling Co (Hanover Ma). As a third generation family owned and operated company for 60 years Almar Building has all the benefits of a small company with the options of a larger company. From Additions, Kitchens, Bathroom, Basement Renovations, Siding, Windows, to Doors Almar services the entire South Shore of Massachusetts including: Hanover, Hingham, Pembroke, Norwell, Scituate, Cohasset, Duxbury, Hanson, Abington, Rockland, Holbrook, Braintree, Weymouth, Milton, and many more towns. 

Craig Guido

With 20 years of remodeling experience both in the field and working in collaboration with homeowners to develop remodeling projects designed to fit your lifestyle.