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I have a circuit breaker that keeps tripping. When i try to reset (close) it, it immediately jumps back to the open position with a noise that sounds a little scary.

I have now stopped trying to do this and will get an electrician in to find and fix the short, but I was wondering whether re-closing a circuit beaker like this can actually be dangerous.

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Are you asking if the wiring in the circuit is dangerous or if just the act if resetting the breaker is dangerous? –  auujay Sep 25 '11 at 3:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When it first trips, you should first eliminate any causes for it to trip before resetting it.

A standard circuit breaker (not a GFCI or AFCI) will trip because too many amps are pulled. If this is powering outlets, then unplug everything on the circuit. If it still trips, then either you didn't notice the fork stuck in one of your outlets (I had an exciting childhood), the problem is with a hardwired appliance, or there's a short, and you should get an electrician out to diagnose.

If it doesn't trip with everything unplugged, then it could be an overloaded circuit, which would still require an electrician to run a new circuit. However, overloaded circuits often take a short time to trip, and it would more likely be a faulty device that you can detect by plugging things in one at a time until the breaker trips again. Note that if any wires or extension cords are worn or frayed, then they are a fire and electrocution hazard and should not be used.

If the breaker is a GFCI (typically seen with outdoor or bathroom/kitchen outlets), then in addition to triggering on amps, it can also trigger when current is going to a ground. You can try the same diagnosis as above, but realize that this is a significant risk of electrocution if you become a better ground than the path the current has already found.

If the breaker is an AFCI (typically seen in newer homes to bedroom outlets), then it can also be tripping because of a an arcing current, either from a short in the wiring, a frayed wire, etc. This is an immediate fire risk rather than the slightly slower fire risk you expose yourself to by overloading the wiring with too many amps.

In all cases, if you can't isolate it to a bad device that you can unplug, get an electrician out to diagnose and repair. The risk of fire or electrocution is too great.

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It all depends on why the breaker is tripping in the first place, but in general yes it could well be dangerous.

There are several reasons why the breaker might be tripping from a faulty appliance to a loose connection somewhere on the circuit. Each can be dangerous in it's own way.

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It can be dangerous as if there is a short going to ground which caused the breaker to trip, when you close the breaker all the current in the line is going to try to go through that breaker. Look up 'arc flash' to see what can happen.

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This is the only answer I've seen that addresses the only immediate danger that occurs as a direct result of closing the breaker. I think the risk of a dangerous arc is far lower in residential settings, but I still follow a safety procedure I picked up from some electrical reading when flipping breakers back on: stand to the side of the panel (clear of any arc shooting out of the panel), look away from the panel (the brightness of an electrical arc can blind you, and an arc could cause the box to explode), and then flip the breaker back on. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Feb 10 '13 at 19:12

Yes, that is dangerous.

Unless it's malfunctioning, it's tripping for a reason, and that reason is that something is pulling so many amps that it would create a fire if the breaker did not intervene.

You most likely have a short circuit somewhere, which will probably be difficult to locate. I would call an electrician.

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