Electric power outages are inevitable, especially during the winter and extreme weather seasons. We can still power our homes or offices and keep things going thanks to portable power generators. Nonetheless, a generator tripping or disconnecting abruptly can cause immense inconveniences during an emergency.
Working in sales, I often get asked, “why does my generator keep tripping?” The most common culprits for this includes, power overload, electrical leaks, short circuits, malfunctioning circuit breakers and more. And you won’t be able to find out the solution unless you detect the problem first.
Any of the faults mentioned above could possibly cause a generator to trip. So, this article focuses on what causes power generators to trip and how to avoid tripping for seamless use of your generator. Keep reading to find out all you need to know.
Why Does My Generator Keep Tripping?
The generators we commonly use in our homes has both the circuit breaker and the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacles (GFCI). These two devices are for protecting appliances connected to the generator from high voltages and electric shocks. In most cases, a portable generator trips when the circuit breaker disconnects electric supply to the connected devices due to any potential threat.
In cases where the electrical circuit gets into contact with water or with a person’s body, the GFCI acts much faster (1/40 of a second) compared to the circuit breaker to prevent electrocution and life-threatening injuries. Even if the person feels a slight shock, GFCI will sense the ground-fault and cuts off the power supply from the generator immediately.
In contrast to the GFCI, a circuit breaker shuts down the generator to protect connected devices from catching fire in case of high voltage supply. It disconnects the corresponding electrical devices detected to prevent damage and fire hazards.
Circuit breakers work together with fuses, which are thin designed conductors that open into two pieces that break a circuit whenever high current flow offers threats to appliances.
Now, these two components may not work properly when malfunctioning or damaged. And that’s why your generator may keep tripping without any valid reason.
So, in addition to the matters discussed above, a generator disconnecting abruptly can be a result of:
- Circuit breaker failure
- Electric leakage due to GFCI failure
- Tattered wires
- Dust and water particles
- Contact with the human body
- Excess connected appliances
- Power leaks from defective electric devices, etc.
What Happens When a Generator Trips?
When a power generator trips, it goes off, usually suddenly and unexpectedly. A generator has an overcurrent protection system that trips, causing it to shut down when there is a power fault or overload. This protection mechanism is put in place to ensure your appliances are safe when in use.
Although you may see both the circuit breaker and GFCI as a problem now due to frequent tripping, in reality, they are lifesavers. Keep it in mind when buying a power generator.
How Do I Stop My Generator from Tripping?
As aforementioned, a generator will only trip if the circuit breaker and the ground fault circuit interrupter detect problems related to the generator’s power supply capacity. It can sometimes be challenging to determine which circuit is responsible for the fault, and not all generators may have the GFCI breaker.
The secret is to look for the reset button beside the electrical outlets. Why? GFCI breakers have these buttons at the outlets for protection purposes.
When you face such a challenge, to stop your generator from tripping, you will need to determine which of the two circuits is behind the problem. If your generator has both circuits, carry out tests on the GFCI outlets, and try to reconnect the circuit breaker and the GFCI.
How to Know Which Circuit Has Tripped?
Generator tripping is actually a safety feature, meaning the circuit breakers are working as intended to protect your appliances. But if it keeps happening without valid reason, proper maintenance is a must.
Here are steps you should follow to identify which circuit has tripped:
- GFCI breaker– Confirm the presence of a popped-out reset button.
- The circuit breaker– Confirm it in the electrical panel or the house’s fuse box.
- Blown fuses– Confirm the presence of a dark/metallic blue on the tube enclosing the breaker or the fuse.
- See if the Tripped Electrical panel switches- are off.
1. Testing the GFCI Outlets
In order to test whether the GFCI outlets are responsible for the generator to trip or not Follow the steps below:
Step 1: Switch off the generator.
- Unplug all the household appliances from the generator,
- Disconnect all items that are not important from your outlets.,
- Switch on the generator.
Step 2: Press the reset button.
- Check if the generator is still running or not,
- If not, you need to replace the outlets.
Step 3: If your GFCI receptacle is okay.
- Try to connect a small electrical load, for example, a portable radio, directly into the generator without using an extension,
- Wait to see if it trips or not for about 15 seconds,
- If not, then the receptacle is functioning just fine.
Step 4: Try using a different small load such as a bulb to confirm if it is operating correctly
- If each load you are connecting trips further,
- You need to seek professional assistance for proper service to your generator.
Step 5: You can repeat steps 3 and 4 with an extension
- If the generator continues to run in step 3, then there could probably be a leak,
- If the generator trips again in step 4, get professional assistance.
2. Check the Cords for Electrical Leaks
If you happen to use extension cords to connect your devices, after testing your GFCI outlets, you should also check your cables following the same procedure you used on your GFCI receptacles. Connect each of the cords to your generator in turns, check for the presence of moisture or dust particles causing the leaks. If any cables trigger the generator to trip, discard and find a new one to replace it.
3. Reconnect the Circuit Breaker and the GFCI
After performing the tests above, it is now the right time to reconnect your home appliances directly to the generator and confirm if any of them are responsible for the issue. Sometimes it can be the house’s wiring or Heavy loads and the capacitor.
Confirm the Wire
It is crucial that you check your wires now and then because improper wiring and the presence of damaged cables can cause your circuit breaker to misbehave, and consequently, the generator will trip.
In some instances, a generator will trip after a load is connected. We can say that the load is heavy or an external short circuit occurred. You may need professional assistance from an expert to help you fix that external short circuit.
It can be challenging to trust and check the inbuilt indicators inside the circuit breaker. These indicators show when the device has tripped and if there is an overload within the connected devices. Indicators can fail to indicate, or the whole breaker stops functioning.
You can test the capacitors using a multi-meter, which measures an electrical device’s current flow, voltage, and resistance. In this case, it is used to monitor the resistance of lead wires inside the panel. If you see infinity on the readings even though appliances are not connected, this shows that your breaker is not working and needs to be replaced.
Things to consider when choosing the right capacitor:
- Acquire a capacitor that can still function under high temperatures.
- Corrosion resistance when exposed to moisture.
- High potential to resist electric surges.
Every generator has a circuit breaker and fuses that protect your appliances against surges. This breaker will automatically trip in case there is an overload on the generator. But due to heavy loads or other internal issues, circuit breaker and GFCI can malfunction, leading to your generator tripping abruptly.
It is essential to always check a generator’s load capacity before purchase to avoid such inconvenience. If, even after following the measures I mentioned above, your generator keeps tripping, we recommend you contact a professional for further assistance.
Remember that frequently overloading your power generator to tripping shortens its life expectancy. It may cause other components to stop working. For safety, it is recommended that you mount your generator far away in a well-ventilated cabin to avoid carbon poisoning; or you can get an ideal generator for an enclosed trailer.