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After a tenant plugged in space heaters in a bunch of outlets, tripping half the breakers in the panel, I investigated, and reset as many breakers as possible. The 30 amp breaker for the electric dryer would not reset, so I replaced it (the breakers are at least 20 years old). Upon restoring power, the breaker immediately tripped again, and would not stay in the on or off position until the dryer was unplugged.

I would normally be looking for an overloaded circuit, but this one seems to only serve the dryer… since the breaker will reset with the dryer unplugged, I am ruling out a ground fault. Is there a way to determine if there are other appliances/outlets tied to this circuit? And how do I confirm that the dryer is okay (or not)?

Thanks, David

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  • dryer just plugged in but not turned on ? or running ?
    – Traveler
    Dec 29, 2022 at 17:22
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    How old is the dryer? It sounds like the internal wiring could be loose or broken. The fact that the breaker is tripping immediately tells me there is a very high probability of arcing inside the dryer. Arcing is never a good thing but it's extra bad inside a dryer with a bunch of flammable lint!
    – MonkeyZeus
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:30
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    On a rental unit, you are required to use a licensed electrician for electrical work, unless your local AHJ will waive that, which they typically do for trivial work (replacing receptacle, switch, light fixture). I could seem them approving a breaker swap (though you really need to torque those with a torque driver)... but that's about as far as YOU can go. Pro time. Dec 29, 2022 at 19:31
  • Hi Harper, Thanks for that heads up. I think that we are allowed to go as far as changing a breaker here in Northern California, but I will check. I have already swapped that twin pole, 30 amp Eaton breaker as well as a quad 20/20 breaker in this instance, but I will check to see what is allowed. Thanks, David
    – 2002sheds
    Dec 29, 2022 at 19:36
  • Hi Ruske, Monkey, I do not know the age of the dryer, as it is owned by the tenant. A major hint in all of this is that when I went to reset that bunch of breakers, this 30 amp breaker was already tripped. In thinking about it some more, it is unlikely that there are other circuits tied to that breaker (I will verify this), so now, more than ever, the dryer itself emerges as a primary suspect…
    – 2002sheds
    Dec 30, 2022 at 18:48

1 Answer 1

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Several months ago, my family told me that if they touched a nightlight in the bathroom and their hands were wet, it would trip the GFCI. But it worked OK in another receptacle. Must be a bad GFCI, should we replace it?

No! GFCI tripping when something gets wet means the GFCI is doing its job and the device, not the GFCI, is faulty.

Similarly:

  • Breaker tripped
  • Breaker won't reset
  • Unplug dryer and breaker resets
  • Plug dryer back in and breaker trips

Hmmm. Could it possibly be the dryer?

Starting point: 3-wire vs. 4-wire

Older dryers used a 3-wire connection - hot/hot/neutral. Neutral and ground connected in the dryer.

New dryers are supposed to use a 4-wire connection - hot/hot/neutral/ground.

The 4-wire connection is much safer. The 3-wire connection has been against code since 1996. However, inertia is the most powerful force in the universe:

  • Dryer with 3-wire connection fails.
  • Get new dryer. It comes with a 4-wire cord/plug. But receptacle is 3-wire.
  • Instead of replacing the receptacle (moderate level of work, unless you have an old panel like I did - in which case it becomes very scary, really need an electrician level of work) most people replace the cord/plug (trivial level of work).

In my case, I didn't - despite knowing better for several years - replace the receptacle (and cord/plug to match) until I got my panel replaced a few months ago. (My electrician told me that even now it was not technically required because officially every circuit (except one new circuit) was being moved to the new panel and therefore did not need to be upgraded to meet newer code. But I had him replace it anyway (and I did the cord/plug myself)).

So if you have a 3-wire connection and you have reasonably easy/safe access to the wiring (which it sounds like you do, as you have a real, easily replaceable, breaker and not old fuses in a decrepit box), the first steps are:

  • Replace 3-wire receptacle with 4-wire receptacle
  • Replace 3-wire cord/plug with 4-wire cord/plug
  • Remove neutral/ground bond from dryer (usually one screw/wire/strap)

and see if that magically fixes things.

If that doesn't fix it, or if your dryer is already using a 4-wire connection, then my next guess is something actually wrong with the dryer. Troubleshooting that will start with make/model # and a look at the schematic.

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  • I would start with dryer fault before Replace 3-wire receptacle with 4-wire receptacle Replace 3-wire cord/plug with 4-wire cord/plug Remove neutral/ground bond from dryer (usually one screw/wire/strap)
    – Traveler
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:05
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    Hi mana, Ruskes, This is EXACTLY what I was looking for !!!! Thank you both so much ! I will attempt some or all of each of your suggestions and report back. I am certain that this issue will soon be solved. Thanks again !!!! David
    – 2002sheds
    Dec 29, 2022 at 18:30
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    Hi mana, Ruskes, All, I had said that I would report back but didn’t… replacing the top quad breaker (20/20/20/20) allowed me to reset that breaker, which has been fine, until today, when the tenant said that they were without power again (I strongly suspect that they once again overloaded one or more of those circuits with space heaters, as they did a few weeks ago). The 30 amp twin pole breaker would not reset while the dryer was plugged in, but has been fine since the dryer was unplugged. All other breakers were reset without incident.
    – 2002sheds
    Jan 8, 2023 at 4:46
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    Hi mana, Thanks very much for the reply! I agree, that would seem like an unlikely event. In communicating with the tenants some more, I found that they have been using space heaters. At first, I was convinced that it was too many devices plugged in at the same time. While that may still be the case, I realized last night that the circuit breaker that has tripped again after replacement is on the same circuit as at least one outdoor outlet. We have been getting some heavy rain lately, and the outdoor outlets are not well protected (no plastic box with cover surrounding the outlet).
    – 2002sheds
    Jan 10, 2023 at 18:01
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    Rain can actually cause a true short on an outside receptacle. Far more common is that it will trip GFCI. If GFCI is at the breaker then the net result is the same. If it is at the receptacle then it will only affect that receptacle and any others chained to it (LOAD side of GFCI). Jan 10, 2023 at 18:44

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