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I have a house where the circuit breaker has tripped a few time over the last several days.

It flipped one evening, we flipped it back and was ok for a couple days. We went away for the weekend and sometime over that time it flipped again. Since we have been back it flipped again.

Other facts:

  • Fridge is old (10 years)
  • It is has been hot here (approx 100 deg during the day)

My first thought was it was the breaker\house electrical but then doing a couple quick searches a lot of posts mention the fridge itself.

What should be looked at first, the breaker\house electrical or the refrigerator itself?

If fridge what should be looked at?

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Is this a ground- or arc-fault circuit breaker? Is the panel in a conditioned space, or is it subject to the high temperatures? Is the refrigerator running almost continuously? Have you cleaned the dust bunnies out from under the refrigerator lately? –  Tester101 Jul 7 at 13:33
    
Is the refrigerator on its own breaker? –  Brad Gilbert Jul 8 at 22:00

1 Answer 1

The simplest, cheapest, and fastest test would be to swap the wire into the fridge breaker with another one of the same rating. (Turn off both breakers first.) This would test if the breaker has "de-rated" itself. That sometimes happens as they age. If the swapped arrangement doesn't trip, replace the (original) refrigerator breaker.

The next easiest step is probably to measure the current used by the circuit. The easiest place to do that is in the breaker box with a clamp on current meter. This would reveal whether the refrigerator is consuming more power than it is rated for—if you compare the reading with the ratings plate on the fridge. If it is too high, first make sure someone hasn't violated the prime rule of a fridge circuit: it should be the only device on the circuit.

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If you have a multimeter you could test for a short in the fridge cable, whilst off, you can use the multimeter test prongs on each of the plug pins to see if any of the wires are "fusing" –  Hightower Jul 7 at 9:31
    
What do you mean when you say that the "breaker has "de-rated" itself"? Do you mean the breaker is for some reason reacting too quickly to an overcurrent, or is tripping below its rated current? –  Tester101 Jul 7 at 13:15
    
@Tester101: Yes, especially the latter. This is particularly common with breakers which are run near their capacity. –  wallyk Jul 7 at 21:36
    
@wallyk I've never encountered that. Breakers are designed to operate at 100% their rating, without tripping. High ambient temperatures can cause them to trip at lower currents, but I don't belive that plays a role until around 120F. –  Tester101 Jul 7 at 21:44
    
@Tester101: In a commercial building I used to work in, we had two 200-amp services. One would trip several times per day. Since I sat closest to the panel, I was expected to reset it. I set up clamp on meters and noticed the problematic breaker would trip once the current was 135 amps through a particularly heavily loaded leg. When a master electrician finally arrived weeks later, he said he sees this all the time. 200 amp breakers tripping at much lower sustained loads. The loads should not have exceed 80% of rating on average. –  wallyk Jul 7 at 22:31

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