Refrigerator Keeps Tripping Breaker
LESLIE: Next up, we’re going to take a call from Chris in Tennessee and hopefully we can save him from a shocking situation.
Chris, what’s going on?
CHRIS: Uh-oh, first of all it’s not a him; it’s a her.
LESLIE: Ah! Hello. Sorry, Chris.
TOM: Oh, sorry!
CHRIS: That’s OK. I have about a year-and-a-half-old home, custom, and they screwed up a lot of stuff. And I have no recourse with the company. The manufacturer won’t even return my calls and the people I bought it from have gone out of business.
TOM: Oh, no. Oh, no. So what’s going on with your electrical system?
CHRIS: Well, I’ve had two plugs that have turned black and they did come out one time. I asked them to check it out and all they did was replace the faceplate.
LESLIE: So they didn’t fix any wiring.
CHRIS: No, they didn’t check out where it was coming from and the breaker from my refrigerator has kicked off a couple times and spoiled all the food.
LESLIE: Does it just kick off on its own or does it kick off while you’re using another appliance?
CHRIS: No, I wasn’t even home. I’m a truck driver. I was out of town. My neighbor called me and said, “Oh, my God. You’ve got to come home.”
TOM: Now the refrigerator, when you say it kicks off, the circuit breaker, is it kicking off the circuit breaker in the panel or is it kicking off the ground fault circuit interrupter?
CHRIS: In the panel.
TOM: OK, because I was …
CHRIS: It’s a new refrigerator. It came with the house.
TOM: Hmm. Something does not sound right because the circuit in the panel should not be pulling that much power. When you first started talking about this, I was thinking there could be a mis-wire where they wired it into a ground fault circuit, which would explain why it’s kicking off. Because whenever the compressor comes on, it pulls a lot of power; it can sometimes trick a ground fault circuit into going off. But if it’s pulling so much power that it’s tripping a 15-amp breaker, something is dreadfully wrong with the way the circuit is …
CHRIS: It’s a really small refrigerator.
TOM: Yeah, well it’s not – there’s no way it’s pulling 15 amps. It’s pulling a heck of a lot less than that.
CHRIS: Well, what would make the outlets turn black? What they told me is I plugged the wrong thing into them.
TOM: No, there’s nothing you can plug that’s the wrong thing into them. Listen, Chris, you need to have an electrical inspection done. There’s a couple of things that could be done.
First of all, the panel should be opened up; an electrician should look at all the wiring and see if it was assembled correctly. You want to make sure that you have the right-sized breakers on the correct-sized wires; that everything is grounded.
As far as the outlets are concerned, with a simple outlet tester, a polarity tester, every outlet in the house can be tested to determine if it’s grounded or ungrounded or wired backwards or anything else of that nature.
CHRIS: OK, I’ve got a tester.
TOM: Now it’s true that if you do plug in a bad appliance you could get a shock but that shouldn’t happen every time. Or you could get a spark or something like that if you had a short in the plug itself that you were inserting into the outlet. But I would test all of the outlets and I would have the panel examined by an electrician because it could be very, very dangerous. You could be looking at a fire and there’s no way that your refrigerator should be tripping that circuit off. I mean the breaker could be burning up from the inside. There’s a whole bunch of things that could be going wrong, Chris, and you really need to have it looked at by …
CHRIS: Better not mess with it myself.
TOM: You should not mess with it yourself. Electrical work is not a do-it-yourself project unless you’re an electrician.
CHRIS: OK. No, I’m a little scared of electricity, actually.
TOM: And so you should be. But that’s what you need to do, Chris. So sorry that hadn’t to you but I think that’s the best thing to get you back on track.
Chris, thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.