Troubleshooting electrical circuits can be helpful when you are getting overloads on one circuit. It may be that you have to move a high wattage item like a 'space heater' or 'kitchen appliance to another circuit. This can eliminate the breakers tripping when multiple items are turned on at the same time.

For some related topics, see the articles 'Troubleshooting Electrical Wiring', 'Fixing Electrical Outlets', 'Installing Light Switches', 'Reparing Three Way Switches' and 'Basic House Wiring'. Follow these links for more information.

Tracing the wiring for a circuit can be challenging for an amateur. The wires run through walls and ceilings and don't always follow a logical path. Most of the time tracing the wiring is not necessary. Knowing which circuit supplies an outlet or light fixture is all that is needed most of the time.

Do you have a desire to know exactly what each breaker does in your basic house wiring. It may be a little confusing when you try to determine which outlets and lights are on which circuits. The labeling in the panel will give you an idea, but usually lacks specific information. A simple way to check is to shut a breaker off. Go around with voltage tester and see what is off.

Most of the time you can find the right breaker by trial and error. Does that bother you? You can take the time and check all your electrical devices by shutting off the circuits one at a time. Write down which items belong to which circuits.

Checking for Overloads

Too Much Load

Each circuit is designed for a certain load, or amount of electricity it will use. It is possible to exceed that load by using extra plug in devices. You can buy a plug strip for less than ten dollars. Now a normal duplex has six places to plug things in. Want to 'double down', yes you could even plug another plug strip into it. You get the picture, when you start exceeding the limits of the circuit breaker it will trip.

I use an electric heater in my office downstairs. My wife irons in the next room. Guess what? Too much load, the breaker trips as soon as the heater tries to start when the iron is on. Two high wattage items, recipe for an overload. Installing a new circuit breaker is not needed when you are overloading the circuit.

Do you experience the same thing? Does the breaker trip when a certain device is used? You probably have too much load on that circuit. Try moving things around and see if it solves the problem. Overloads are not the fault of the circuit breaker. Remove the overload and the problem is solved. No need to install a new circuit breaker.

Electrical Shorts

Shorts would be another culprit. Dead shorts are not that common, but they do happen. Old or frayed wiring can get crossed at the wrong spot. When you have a short the breaker will not stay on. As soon as you turn it on it will trip. No funny combination of devices, just 'Click' as soon as you turn it on. Again, for this problem, installing a new circuit breaker is not the answer.

Check all the wiring for the things you have plugged in. Do you see any obvious problems? Fix or remove any device with bad wires. Don't see anything obvious? Use the process of elimination. Remove one item and see if the breaker holds. No? Try another item. When you find the culprit you need to fix it or get rid of it.

WARNING!! Make Sure the Power is OFF Before Working With Electricity!!! WARNING!!!

Tracing a Circuit

Box With No Power

Why would you ever need to trace a circuit? It could be that you are just meticulous and you want to know to which circuit every electrical item in your house belongs. A more likely reason is that you are not getting power to one or more of the outlets or lights in your home. Imagine that a circuit is like a series of nodes that emanate from your electrical panel. At each node there are connections. Depending on how the joints in the box are made up, one loose wire in a box can cause the boxes that follow to lose power. So installing a new circuit breaker is not the solution when you have a loose wire.

When you do not have power to an electrical box, the logical thing to do would be to check the box the precedes it and see if you have a loose connection. You probably don't have access to Superman with his X-Ray Vision. Therefore, you cannot see exactly how the wires are running through the walls and ceilings. One thing you can be sure of is that the electrician that wired your house was the 'low bidder'. He would always take the shortest path possible.

Power on One Side of Connection

So how do you trace a circuit? First turn off the breaker that feeds the problem spot. Now take a non contact voltage tester and identify which boxes are on that circuit. Imagine the path from the panel to the farthest point on that circuit. It's not a perfect science, but the box the precedes the one that you are having trouble with is likely the one next in line, going toward the panel.

See if you have power at the box and check the connections that feed the next box. Pretty simple really, I know you would have figured it out on your own sooner or later, but why waste the time. Keep working backwards toward the panel until you find out where the break down is. What do you look for? Good question.

Joints are made up in more or less two ways inside the boxes. One way to continue a circuit that has outlets is to plug the wires into the back of the outlet. One pair of wires is coming from an outlet closer to the panel and the other pair is feeding the next outlet. You can usually tell when you are at the end of the circuit, because you only have one set of wires in the box.

No Power at Connection

The other option is to join the wires together with wire nuts and add a 'pigtail' to connect to the outlet or light. In my opinion this is a better way to do it. Unfortunately, it takes a little more time, that whole 'low bidder' thing. Either way, you have a joint in each box that could potentially be the reason you are not getting power to the boxes that follow it.

Before you touch anything, use a non contact voltage tester to determine where the power has stopped flowing at. Got it, power to one side of a connection and no power to the other side. Bingo. Shut off the breaker and tighten that connection. Turn the breaker back on and see if you have solved the problem.


I guess I should have explained that you are going to need to open up the boxes by pulling out the outlets or loosening the lights to do this. We could be into an area where you are thinking about hiring someone. Your choice, if you decide to proceed, be careful, shut the power off whenever you are working on anything. Turn it on and use the tester to follow things when the boxes are opened up.

Is it working? Yes, Great! No, then you have to keep checking the joints. Here's another visualization, if you damn up a creek no one gets water down stream. The bad connection is like a dam for the electricity. Find the dam and your problem is solved. Found it! Wonderful, installing a new circuit breaker is not needed. You have succeeded in making this repair.

Related Information

For some related topics, see the articles 'Troubleshooting Electrical Wiring', 'Fixing Electrical Outlets', 'Installing Light Switches', 'Reparing Three Way Switches' and 'Basic House Wiring'. Follow these links for more information.

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