What is that outlet with the test and reset buttons anyway?

That outlet is called a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). It is there to protect people from electrical shock. When you look at a normal 120-volt outlet in the United States, there are two vertical slots and then a round hole centered below them. The left slot is slightly larger than the right. The left slot is called neutral, the right slot is called hot, and the hole below them is called ground. If an appliance is working properly, all electricity that the appliance uses will flow from hot to neutral. A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit. It is able to sense a mismatch as small as 4 or 5 milliamps, and it can react as quickly as one-thirtieth of a second.

So let’s say you are outside with your power drill and it is raining. You are standing on the ground, and since the drill is wet there is a path from the hot wire inside the drill through you to ground. If electricity flows from hot to ground through you, it could be fatal. The GFCI can sense the current flowing through you because not all of the current is flowing from hot to neutral as it expects; some of it is flowing through you to ground. As soon as the GFCI senses that, it trips the circuit and cuts off the electricity.

Why do my breakers keep tripping?

An overloaded circuit is the primary reason for a breaker tripping and occurs when a circuit is has more connected electrical load than it is supposed to have.When more current runs through the circuit than the circuit was intended to take, the circuit breaker is designed to, well, break the circuit.

Circuit breakers come in different ratings that determine how much current they will allow to flow through the circuit. If a 15 Amp circuit breaker is protecting a 15 Amp circuit, and 20 Amps of current start to flow through it because a hair dryer, TV and small personal heater were all connected to the same circuit and were on at the same time (even if on different outlets) then the circuit breaker trips to prevent overheating of the circuit.

  • The most probable reason the breaker tripped is that you simply have too much plugged into one outlet or multiple outlets connected to one circuit.
  • Move lamps, heaters, irons, hair dryers and other heavy power consuming devices to a different circuit not being heavily used; or
  • Turn off some of the devices on the circuit to reduce the load.
  • Loose connections are another possible but less common cause. With power off, check outlets for a loose wire and the electrical service panel hot wire connected to the circuit breaker to see if it has become loose. Retighten the connections if necessary.
  • If these suggestions do not solve the problem you may have a more serious problem such as a Short Circuit or Ground Fault.