My circuit breaker kept on flipping and eventually wouldn't flip back on at all. How can I diagnose and fix this?

After further inspection, I saw "see picture" 2 black wires placed in the circuit that kept flipping and a white wire that appeared to be colored red with a marker inserted into a breaker as well as a black wire into a different breaker. Why? Shouldn't the white be neutral? Is this a possible cause if my problem?

  • someone just run out of wires and dedicate the white to be hot.
    – Traveler
    Jan 7, 2023 at 2:44
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    Neutral must be white(or grey), but white does not need to neutral(yes confusing). Comes in handy on small amp 240v circuits that do not need neutral, just two hots and ground, saves some wire.
    – crip659
    Jan 7, 2023 at 2:45
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    I don't see a picture. Please {Edit] your question to add it.
    – brhans
    Jan 7, 2023 at 2:56
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    edit your question to add the pic. It helps to register your account on your phone, then use that to sign into your account on a real PC. Then you can also clean up the confusing TXT speak. It looks like you have trouble correcting typos on your phone. Don't we all LOL. Jan 7, 2023 at 3:16
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    Is it a double pole breaker? Many double poles going to water heaters and dryers were 3 wire in years past, white is not neutral all the time, switch legs and double pole circuits the white was hot in the past.
    – Ed Beal
    Jan 7, 2023 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


Assuming this is in the US, since color conventions may differ elsewhere:

Occasionally white gets reassigned for other purposes. The convention, as you've seen, is that when this is done the end of the white wire should be colored at both ends -- with marker or with tape, typically -- to indicate what role it is now playing.

Red, in the US, is sometimes used for "alternate hot" -- a switched hot such as a traveller, or the second phase of a 240V circuit. As @crip659 said in the comments, on circuits which are 240V only (and don't need neutral in the middle) recoloring white as red allows using two-conductor (plus ground) non-metallic-conduit cable, rather than three-conductor (which would have a real red wire), saving some money.

As far as the two black wires go, I think we'd need to see the pictures to offer any opinions. However, I should point out that if the breaker has only started blowing recently, and those wires have been there for longer than that, they are probably not the cause of the problem. There is either an overload somewhere in the house which needs to be fixed, or the breaker itself is going bad. The former is more dangerous, and more likely.

Unplug and turn off everything on this breaker, and see if you can reset it then. If you can't, the breaker may be bad and replacing it would be the next diagnostic step. If a new breaker immediately blows, the next step might be disconnecting branches of that circuit to try to isolate the problem.

If the new breaker does not immediately blow, turn on things one at a time, maybe one per day, until you find the one, or combination, which causes the breaker to blow. Then fix the bad device, or move the excess load to a different circuit where there's space for it.

In one apartment I lived in, there was a circuit that was apparently heavily loaded; it worked fine under most circumstances, but if I plugged in and turned on the vacuum cleaner without first turning off the stereo system it had about 50% chance of blowing the breaker. Simplest solution was to find an outlet on a different circuit to plug the vacuum into.

  • Stereo and vacuum not the two things I would usually want on together, but can see how it can happen.
    – crip659
    Jan 7, 2023 at 4:31
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    It was the easiest outlet to reach in the center of the apt, and I tended to have background sound on pretty continuously.
    – keshlam
    Jan 7, 2023 at 4:49

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