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Safety Nugget Week of January 25 - Electric Circuit Overload< Back to Blog

Jan 25, 2016
By: Y. Johnson
Categories: Safety
Recently, one day last week, it was colder than usual outside making the temperature inside our office seem cooler rather than the toasty warm we are used to when coming in from out of the cold.  Turning on our little heaters, that each of us keep by our desk, we kept our sweaters and jackets on until our area was warm enough to take them off.  Now for the pièce de résistance – a hot cup of cocoa to warm the insides!  What a tasty way to help warm up the body on such a cold day.   I placed my cup under the hot water spout of our coffeemaker, selected the required setting and anxiously watched as my cup began to fill, the smell of delicious hot chocolate permeating the office tempting my co-workers to possibly follow suit when all of a sudden we were standing in the dark.   The coffee maker’s digital screen went black, the lights in the office were off, computers and printers became silent.  There was no electricity - the breaker tripped!  We called building management who sent the maintenance man, he found the tripped breaker and flipped it back on.  We then re-enacted the above scenario to see if me making my cup of hot chocolate had been the culprit and again, darkness flooded our office.  Electric circuit overload.
Electric circuit overload happens when more amperage is put across an electrical wire or circuit than it can handle.  For instance, a #14 wire can safely carry 15 amps and should be protected by a 15-amp breaker.  If it happens to get connected to a 20-amp breaker instead, the breaker will allow 20 amps of electric current to flow through a wire that can only handle 15 amps however the wire and breaker can start to heat up and could cause or start an electrical fire.
Ampacity is defined as the maximum amount of electric current (amperes) a conductor or device can carry before sustaining immediate or progressive deterioration (exceeding its temperature rating).  It can be calculated by dividing the amount of wattage by the voltage.  For example, an 1,800-watt microwave that runs on 120 volts (1,800 / 120 = 15) would use 15 amps.  On a 20-amp breaker, that’s over half the circuit used.  Many of us have other items pulling electricity in our kitchens (e.g. refrigerator, coffee pot, can opener, crockpot), and we would not want to exceed the electric amp capacity creating a circuit overload - so how can it be prevented?  By making sure the larger wattage items are on different circuits. 
Circuit overloads can also be caused by loose or corroded wires and connections, the list is very long as to how this can happen but the point is if the breaker trips or a fuse blows there is a problem.  To correct the problem start by retracing your steps as we did when we discovered the coffeemaker could not run at the same time the other electrical appliances were running.  If that does not work then it could be a short in a wire, something far more serious.  It’s very important that a flipped breaker or blown fuse is taken seriously, because ignoring it can certainly be hazardous or even deadly.

What is an Electrical Circuit Overload?


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