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Why Is My Circuit Breaker Hot?

Person hold an orange flashlight up to an electrical panel.When it comes to electrical safety, few things are more alarming than burning, heat, smoke, and fire. It’s imperative that homeowners monitor their electrical systems to ensure their equipment isn’t overheating and increasing their risk of an electrical fire.

Hot circuit breakers are of particular concern. A circuit breaker that’s hot to the touch can be a clear indication that something is very wrong with your home’s electrical system.

In this blog post, Lon Lockwood Electric’s expert electricians take a deep dive into the common causes of an overheated circuit breaker. We also let you know when it’s time to call a professional team for service.

Read on to find out why your circuit breaker is hot to the touch.

How Hot Is Too Hot?

Every circuit breaker has an ambient temperature rating set by Underwriters Laboratories. It’s natural for circuit breakers to produce some heat because electrical resistance is constantly passing through its contacts and bimetal trip device.

During normal operation, the sides and back of the system will reach higher temperatures than its knob. Generally, units shouldn’t exceed an ambient temperature greater than 90º F, and the knob temperature should not exceed 185º F. Knobs are expected to reach higher temperatures since most are created from plastic.

Most homeowners probably wouldn’t think to break out the thermometer when checking their circuit breaker. It’s usually safe to say that if your circuit breaker is hot to the touch, something has gone wrong in its system. Let’s take a look at some reasons this may be happening.

What Can Cause an Overheated Circuit Breaker?

A few possibilities could contribute to a circuit breaker overheating. This list illustrates the top three causes of an overheated circuit breaker:

  • Loose connections: Because electrical resistance increases wherever there are loose connections, a loose circuit breaker will naturally produce more heat. If your unit wasn’t properly seated at the time of installation, it will protrude significantly. In this case, you can push in the unit manually until you hear the click that means the breaker has been properly seated. However, if the unit is already seated correctly, the issue may be a loose wire instead. This is a job for professionals.
  • Current limit: A circuit breaker automatically shuts off when a current passes through that exceeds its capacity; however, sometimes the units will overheat without initiating an emergency shut-off (or trip). This happens especially if the current is just below its rating. In other cases, it may be that an appliance powered by the breaker is faulty and needs service.
  • Bad breaker: If your hot circuit breaker is partnered with flickering lights and unreliable circuit power, you likely have a bad unit. Certain types of circuit breakers are more prone to this problem than others, and the only solution is to have it replaced or upgraded.

While pushing in the unit until it’s properly seated is an easy fix, many times, circuit breaker issues require professional attention. Never risk DIY electrical repairs on your own. Rely on experts to get the job done safely and correctly.

Lon Lockwood Electric for Wiring Upgrades

If your circuit breaker is overheating, it may be time for an upgrade. At Lon Lockwood Electric, our team provides the electrical upgrades homeowners need to stay safe and connected.

Get the electrical upgrades your home needs by scheduling service with our team today.