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Electrical Overloads & How to Prevent Them

Most of us plug in our appliances and lamps, switch on our lights, and use our electrical system without a second thought. We act as if there is an unlimited tap of electricity at our fingertips--unfortunately, it's a lot more complicated than that.

You see, we (electricians) lay out a home's electrical system based on the expected and by-code electrical demands for each room and the occupancy levels throughout a house. We pull dedicated circuits for large appliance needs (washing machines, ovens, HVAC units, etc.) as well as areas that demand more power than a typical outlet would require. Your kitchen countertop circuit is a good example of an "extra power needed" area. Your countertop requires more power so that you can sufficiently energize countertop appliances such as air fryers, espresso machines, or high power blenders. We may also pull higher power circuits for a workshop the homeowner will be using power tools in.

Not all circuits are alike.

We're talking largely about kitchens today. Have you ever noticed that when you're making your morning toast and smoothie and running the microwave and blender simultaneously, sometimes the breaker will trip? Or, perhaps someone in the family bought a new table saw and got excited, tried it out, and a breaker tripped?

Often when a breaker trips while running an appliance or something with high energy

demands, homeowners believe that there is something seriously wrong with their home.

But, in most cases, there isn’t a ghost in the house destroying your electrical. What is usually going on is what we call an “overload”.

An overload is when a breaker is pushed beyond its ampacity rating, causing it to trip. In simple terms, it can't power everything that's plugged into it.

How can you prevent this issue from happening? My clients have this problem most frequently in the kitchen. They’ll try to use a blender and a toaster at the same time, and the breaker will kick. What you can do to resolve this is what we call “dividing the load.”

It is NEC (National Electrical Code) for there to be two dedicated 20 amp "small appliance" circuits present in a kitchen. This means that, besides your large appliance circuits (refrigerator, oven), it is a code requirement that there be two other dedicated (isn't shared with another room/area) circuits specifically for the kitchen (every room has different code requirements, but we're specifically talking about kitchens today since this is where we most frequently hear customers complaining of tripping issues).

To determine your separate circuits, what you need to do is figure out which outlets/plugs are on separate circuits from each other (remember, you should have two separate dedicated circuits in your kitchen). You can quite easily determine this by plugging in a lamp and turning breakers off until the lamp turns off. Once the light on the lamp is out, plug that lamp into another receptacle inside your kitchen. You will know which outlets are on a shared circuit if the lamp stays off when it's plugged into each. Once you reach a receptacle where, when plugged in and turned on, the lamp is on, you'll know that the receptacle is an isolated/different circuit. All you’ve got to do from that point is plug in one appliance to the first outlet/determined circuit, and plug the other desired appliance into the other circuit, which you determined is separate, and you should be good to go! This same theory works throughout your house.

Bottom line: if you have things that are kicking the breaker when turned on, try "dividing the load" as a first course of action.

Breaker in the kitchen still kicking? You've done all you can. At that point (if your breaker is still tripping, even if you've isolated the circuit and aren't running two "high power demand"

appliances on the same circuit), it's time to have an electrician jump in. At Gloudeman Electric, we can pull you a dedicated circuit to take the stress off a specific circuit so that you can plug in multiple different appliances at once. We also offer load calculations which helps us to determine what can be plugged into the circuit in concern without tripping the breaker.

Overload tripping is a completely normal function of a circuit breaker and typically means that the breaker is functioning properly. A tripping breaker due to an overload protects our home from dangerous hazards.

I hope this blog on electrical overloads and how to prevent them has been helpful to you!

Andrew Gloudeman

Lead Electrician

Gloudeman Electric, LLC

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