If you live in a colder climate, space heaters are a common addition to your home.
Unfortunately, they lead to something else that’s fairly common, something that prompts people to ask why do space heaters trip breakers.
Is your space heater constantly tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse?
There are several reasons why this could be happening.
The following will take you through probable causes and what you can do to fix the problem.
Check Your Space Heater for Damage
If your space heater is tripping your breaker, take a look at the power cord.
What is the condition of the cord? Is it:
If there’s any damage to the cord at all, stop using your space heater.
Of the four listed above, a burned cord is the most dangerous, since it means there’s an electrical problem.
And there’s the potential to burn more than the cord.
If you’re handy, it is possible to replace appliance cords, however, you need to be sure to choose a replacement wire and plug that have the same gauge or carry the same current as your original.
If you’re not comfortable doing this, it may be time to buy a new space heater.
Do Your Space Heaters Trip Breakers Randomly or Consistently?
Does this happen consistently or does your space heater trip your breakers randomly and occasionally?
Having your circuit breakers trip randomly or occasionally typically isn’t a cause for concern.
However, if you always run your space heater from the same outlet and it trips every time you use it, there’s a good chance the issue isn’t your space heater.
What happens if you plug something else into that outlet?
Especially something that doesn’t use the amount of wattage that your space heater has.
If something like a small hand blender works without stopping, it could simply be that the circuit you’re running your space heater on doesn’t have the capacity for your space heater.
It’s never a good idea to ignore a circuit breaker that’s constantly tripping.
It’s often an indication that there’s something wrong, somewhere.
Simply running to your breaker box and re-engaging the breaker every time it trips is not the answer.
Your breaker is designed to trip as a safety feature—it can save you from an electrical fire starting in your home.
So it’s important to find out why your breaker is stripping.
Most space heaters use 1,500 watts of electricity, which isn’t insignificant.
A 1,500-watt space heater, used at a high setting, will draw 12.5 amps.
In North America, 20 amp circuits are commonly used for general-purpose receptacles—meaning most of the outlets you’ll find around your home.
What else do you have running on that circuit?
If, for example, you had your space heater plus another appliance that draws the same number of amps, your circuit would be overloaded, and your breaker would trip.
And it isn’t always obvious what outlets are on the same circuit.
While they’re often clustered fairly close together, perhaps in the same or adjoining rooms, they could be on separate floors.
Does your space heater trip the breaker when nothing else is running or does the breaker trip when there’s something else drawing electricity from the same circuit?
Solution. Try running your space heater using a different outlet—preferably one that has nothing else running on.
If your breaker doesn’t trip, it means the issue is not with your space heater.
You’re either overloading the previous outlet and circuit or there’s a problem with the circuit.
If there’s a problem with the circuit, that will require an electrician.
Space Heater Trips Breaker Because of a Short Circuit
Short circuits or potentially dangerous, so identifying the problem is critical.
At the very least, they can give you a shock or damage your space heater.
At the very worst, they can cause a fire in your home.
When wires become loose and come in contact with each other, this can cause a short circuit, which in turn causes a surge of electricity.
This overloads the circuit and causes your breaker to trip.
This is a required safety measure.
Additionally, if there are any wires or electrical connections within your space heater, they may be the cause of the problem.
There’s also the chance that the problem does not originate with your space heater but with the outlet or switch your heater is on.
This could be because of faulty or old wiring at the outlet or switch, or even nails or screws that have damaged the wire.
Solutions. First, and if you haven’t already, check the wiring on your space heater.
If you have a pet or rodents that are chewing on your wires or perhaps a wire that is old and frayed, it needs to be replaced.
Either the cord or the entire space heater.
You can also do a short-circuit test.
Here are the steps:
- Switch off the breaker
- Unplug everything on the circuit
- Wait a few minutes
- Switch the breaker back on
- One at a time, plug in and turn on each device or appliance, waiting a few seconds in between to see if and when a circuit breaker trips
If your breaker consistently trips at a specific outlet—for example, the one your space heater is plugged into—there’s a good chance you have a short.
Discontinue using that outlet or switch until you have it repaired by an electrician.
Extension Cord Use
It’s very common for space heaters to trip breakers when you’re using an extension cord.
If you must plug your heater into an extension cord, a 12-gauge cord is your best option.
A typical indoor 16-gauge cord, especially one that’s very long, will not only cause your breaker trip, but it could also burn down your home.
Regular extension cords can typically only handle about 750 watts, but most space heaters use 1,500 watts.
Circuit Breaker Failure
Another thing to consider if your space heater trips your breaker is that the problem is with your breaker or breaker box.
A breaker consistently tripping may indicate that the box itself is failing or that you have an improperly sized breaker.
There are a few signs to look for when pinpointing a bad breaker.
- A breaker that refuses to reset
- a burning odor on the panel
- Any sign of damage on the breaker, such as scorch marks
- Frequently tripping breakers
- Lamps or lights that constantly flicker
Problems with circuit breakers and breaker boxes aren’t that common in newer homes.
Still, if you have an older home and haven’t had work done on your electrical panel for years, you may need to replace some of your breakers.
Stop Your Space Heater from Tripping Your Breaker
Here are several tips to help you deal with space heaters that trip breakers.
- Before purchasing and plugging in a new space heater, check the amperage rating on the outlet you plan to use it on. Compare that to the number of watts to amps your new space heater will use in a high setting.
- If your space heater only trips your breaker when operating on high, test to see how it works on lower settings.
- Remember that each circuit only supplies a limited number of amps. Many space heaters use 12.5 amps, and older homes may only have circuits rated at 15 amps. Keep this in mind when selecting which outlet to plug your heater into.
- Don’t plug your space heater into an extension cord. If you must use an extension cord, use a 16-gauge cord.
- Place your heater somewhere where it won’t overheat. Your manual should tell you the minimum distance to place your heater away from furniture and walls. In many cases, this is anywhere from 24 to 36 inches.
- Never place anything on your space heater—wet towels, mittens, hats, or socks. This is a fire hazard.
- Always put your heater on a stable surface. Some newer heaters have trip-over protection, meaning they will shut themselves off if they fall.
Most heaters draw a lot of power, which is potentially dangerous if not used properly.
If you have a space heater continually tripping your breaker, don’t ignore it.
A tripping breaker is a warning sign that there is something wrong with your heater or with the outlet you have it plugged into.
Read the heater’s manual, paying attention to the manufacturer’s safety measures.