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gdweaver 02-27-2010 06:54 PM

AFCI breaker constantly trips
Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about electrical or wiring. We just moved into a new house (new construction) and the fuse for our master bedroom blows on almost a daily basis. It's a hassle as the fuse box is in the garage, down 3 flights of stairs (and back up). The stupid contractor who built our house (18 months ago) put way too many lights in the master suite. There are 6 recessed lights in the bedroom (on a dimmer) - 14 (!) above the dual sinks in the ensuite bathroom - another 5 others in the bathroom - 2 in the hallway - and a fixture in the walk-in closet with 3 bulbs in it. The fuse box is a "Square D" and it looks like it has 15v going to the master breaker. Is there anything I can do to remedy the constant tripping? I don't want to pull bulbs out as that would look weird, but it's becoming a huge drag. We are very careful to try to not have them on all at once, but sometimes the breaker trips even when we are turning lights off! Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Jupe Blue 02-27-2010 07:00 PM

First of all, is the breaker an AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter)? If it is, the problem may be more than a simple overload situation.

Second, figure out the total load on the circuit. You can add up the wattage of each light bulb on the circuit plus other loads and divide by 120. That will give you total amperage on the circuit. If it is greater than 15 amps then the circuit is improperly sized for the load. The easiest fix would be to put in lower wattage lamps in each light bring the overall load down to less the 15 amps.

Or you could have a second circuit brought to the area and split the loads over two circuits.

gdweaver 02-27-2010 07:05 PM

based on a quick image search of what an AFCI is, yes it is. (it has a test button next to the switch). How does that change things?

Leah Frances 02-27-2010 07:06 PM

Regardless of whether it's an AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) you have a problem. Your breaker should not blow from with all the lights on.

You have a problem. Start by unplugging everything on the circuit and see if the lights alone still trip your breaker.

This isn't a problem you should be living with, it could be BIG problem that could be hazardous. We're here to help.

Also, take a look at your builder's contract and see what kind of warranty you have, you might be able to get them to hire an electrician to come fix it for you.

joed 02-27-2010 07:12 PM

How many watts does the lights add up to? The real watts not the CFL equivalent watts if you have CFLs. If you don't have CFLs, using some of them could reduce the load on the circuit.

gdweaver 02-27-2010 07:16 PM

Thanks to you both for quick replies. So I added up all the lights and it comes out to about 11 after the math. We have a TV and cable box plugged in the room - an alarm clock and at night a "soothing noise machine". So it sounds like the circut isn't necessarily overloaded. Next steps?

vsheetz 02-27-2010 08:34 PM

What is your new home warranty? The builder should be dealing with this issue.

Jim Port 02-27-2010 09:29 PM

Are you in Canada? The only place I have heard ensuite was a Canadien home.

IIRC the CEC has a limit for number of openings per circuit.

gdweaver 02-27-2010 09:34 PM

Not in Canada - Seattle WA (close I guess).
I don't know of any new home warranty. The house was built by a private builder (built two houses on a previously empty lot) and we bought it through a real estate agent. Should I contact the agent we bought the house from? From what I understand the builder lost money on the project, but I guess if I'm protected by a warranty, he has to make it right, correct? Thanks.

Five Arrows 02-27-2010 10:05 PM

Don't burn your house down

Originally Posted by gdweaver (Post 406992)
Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about electrical or wiring. We just moved into a new house (new construction) and the fuse for our master bedroom blows on almost a daily basis.

Call an electrician. The breaker is there to stop you from melting the wires in your house and setting the thing on fire. Trips daily = WARNING DANGER WILL ROBINSON

Man up and get this fixed before you kill your family

Jupe Blue 02-27-2010 10:35 PM


Originally Posted by gdweaver (Post 406996)
based on a quick image search of what an AFCI is, yes it is. (it has a test button next to the switch). How does that change things?

An AFCI breaker does two things. It protects against overloading the wires and is designed to trip when it detects arcing (sparking) within a circuit. It's possible that there is a loose splice somewhere within the circuit. You did note that sometime the breaker trips when you turn off the lights. You could start checking all splices in that area first.

You might want to get an electrician in to do this troubleshooting as they could make an educated guess on where to start.

Scuba_Dave 02-27-2010 11:15 PM


Originally Posted by gdweaver (Post 406996)
based on a quick image search of what an AFCI is, yes it is. (it has a test button next to the switch). How does that change things?

When you reset the breaker do you have to push the AFCI reset button ?
That indicates an arc fault issue

Or do you have to turn the breaker back on ?
That indicates an overloaded circuit
- this is not a danger as long as the wire is sized to the breaker

But - if it kicks off when you are turning off lights it sounds more like an arc fault issue

11 lights - what wattage bulbs ?
Even if they were 100w bulbs thats only 1100w & should not trip the breaker

But you mentioned 6 in bedroom, 14 above dual sinks, 5 others in the bathroom, 2 in hallway, 1 in closet (3 bulbs)
That's 30 bulbs & if they are all 100w that would be 3,000w & will trip a 20a breaker

Determine which lights are off when this breaker is off - ENTIRE house !!
Make SURE there isn't something else on this circuit
Check EACH bulb & determine TOTAL wattage that is on this circuit

Using CFL bulbs will greatly reduce the wattage used
This would solve the problem if the breaker itself is tripping due to an overload
It will not fix the problem if it is due to a loose wire & arcing

gdweaver 02-28-2010 02:03 AM

No, I never have to push the AFCI reset button, I just flip the breaker switch to reset it. All the bulbs are 60 or 65 watts, but they are not CFL's. My wife hates the light that CFL's put out, especially in the bedroom.

I appreciate everyone's insight and advise and I guess I'll call an electrician...I was just hoping there was an easy fix or something that I was missing.

joed 02-28-2010 08:20 AM

30 bulbs time 60 watts is 1800 watts. Too many . You need to switch to lower wattage or split the circuit up.
By code that circuit should never have been allowed to be setup that way.

kbsparky 02-28-2010 08:43 AM

IS there an electrician's sticker on the panel box? Oftentimes, an electrician will "sign" his work by putting a promotional sticker on the panel box cover.

Call him first.

Reducing your wattage will lessen the chances of a circuit overload. That TV can easily put your load at or above the maximum, with most of your lights lit.

As for the CFL's -- you can get different color output bulbs for your fixtures.

Most cfl's have 2700K to 3000K color rendition output. This is a feeble attempt by the manufacturers to mimic an incandescent light bulb.

Look for a cfl bulb that has an output of 3500K to 4100K. Personally, I prefer the 3500's. But in some cases the 4000-4100 bulbs (cool white) can appear superior depending on the surrounding colors.

Another alternative is some of the newer LED bulbs. These have come a long way in recent months, and have a nice bright light output. The good ones are a bit pricey, however. I expect the cost of these to drop significantly in the coming months and years.

Now for the AFCI breaker tripping when switching the lights off. If you have a "cheap" quality wall switch, it is possible a brief, but pronounced arc occurs within the switch that the breaker interprets as dangerous, and cuts power to the circuit. Try having the electrician replace any of the problem switches with a new one -- or better yet -- with a heavy-duty model.

Another thing to do here is swap that breaker with a different one in the panel, and see if the problem persists, or moves to the other circuit along with the breaker. If that occurs, you might have to replace the offending breaker.

Edit to add: You are probably out of warranty, since the house was built over a year ago.

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