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Overloaded Electric Circuit

If you’ve ever plugged in too many holiday lights, turned on a vacuum cleaner, or turned on a space heater only to have the lights or appliance suddenly go out, you’ve created an electrical circuit overload. The shutdown was triggered by the breaker (or fuses) of your home service panel. And while circuit breakers are reliable and do a good job of preventing home fires due to overloads, the safest strategy is to manage electricity consumption to avoid an overloaded electrical circuit in the first place.

What is an electrical circuit overload?

Electrical circuits are designed to handle a limited amount of electricity. An overload occurs when more electricity is absorbed than a circuit can safely handle. Circuits are made up of wires, a switch (or fuse, in older wiring systems), and devices (such as lamps, appliances, and anything plugged into an outlet). The electricity consumption of each device (during operation) increases the total LOAD on the circuit. Exceeding the rated load for the circuit wiring causes the switch to trip, cutting off power to the entire circuit, thus preventing an overloaded electrical circuit.

If there were no switches in the circuit, an overload would cause the circuit wiring to overheat, which could melt the wire insulation and cause a fire. Different circuits have different load values ​​so some circuits can supply more electricity than others. Home electrical systems are designed based on normal home use, but there is nothing to stop us from connecting too many devices on the same circuit. However, the more you know the layout of your home circuits, the easier you can prevent overloads.

Signs of overloaded circuits

The most obvious sign of an electrical circuit overload is a switch that trips and turns off all power. Other signs may be less obvious:

  • Dimmable lights, especially if they turn off when you turn on fixtures or multiple lights.
  • Presses or switches that buzz.
  • Cover sockets or switches that are hot to the touch.
  • Burning odors from sockets or switches.
  • Burnt plugs or sockets.
  • Power tools, appliances, or electronic devices that appear to have insufficient power.

Buzzing sounds, burning smells, and unusually hot devices can also indicate other wiring problems, such as loose connections or shorts. If any of these problems persist after taking steps to prevent an overloaded electrical circuit, contact an electrician in Fairfax-VA.

Home circuit mapping

The first step to preventing electrical circuit overload is learning which circuits power which devices. After mapping the basic circuit layout, you can calculate the safe load rating of each circuit to get an idea of ​​how many things can be operated on that circuit. For example, if your kitchen lights dim when you turn on your toaster (a device that consumes a lot of energy), this tells you that the toaster and the lights are on the same circuit (although they shouldn’t be) and that you are nearby. to maximize the capacity of the circuit. Circuit mapping can also tell you if new circuits need to meet the family’s normal needs.

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The mapping loops are simple (if repetitive) – get yourself a notepad and pencil. Open your home’s service panel door (breaker box) and turn off one of the switches with the number 15 or 20 embossed on the end of the breaker switch. (Don’t worry about switches printed with numbers 30, 40, 50, or higher; these are high voltage circuits for appliances such as electric stoves, water heaters, and dryers, and you are not connecting ordinary appliances to these circuits.) Note on the pad where you find the circuit in the panel so you can identify it later.

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Then, walk through the house and try out all the lights, ceiling fans, and plug-in appliances. She notes everything that has no energy and looks at the room she is in. Also, test each outlet with a voltage tester or receptacle, or even a connected light or lamp, recording anything that doesn’t work. You don’t necessarily have to go through the entire house for each circuit. And if your electrician is accurate, there may be helpful labels next to the switches, indicating areas of the circuit. But for accurate mapping, you should test each area extensively because circuits can have odd members, such as a microwave oven on a hallway lighting circuit.

Calculation of circuit loads

Your circuit map tells you which devices are powered by each circuit. Now you need to calculate how much power those devices are using. To do this, a short lesson in electricity is required. Electricity is measured in watts; a 100-watt light bulb consumes 100 watts of electricity. A watt is the product of voltage (volts) and amperage (amperes):

1 volt x 1 amp = 1 watt

To calculate the total load on each circuit, add the power of all devices on that circuit. Light bulbs and many small appliances have labels indicating their wattage. If a device only supplies amplifiers, multiply the amplifier value by 120 (the voltage of standard circuits) to find the power. Include any devices that are permanently connected to the circuit and plug-in appliances that you don’t move very often (like a toaster oven or stove in a particularly cold room).

Compare the total power of each circuit to the rated load of that circuit.

Circuits with “15” breakers are rated for 15 amps. The maximum range of any of these circuits is 1,800 watts:

120 volt x 15 amp = 1.800 watt

If you try to use more than 1,800 watts on that circuit, it will overload and the breaker will trip.

Circuits with “20” switches are rated at 20 amps and have a maximum rating of 2,400 watts:

120 volt x 20 amp = 2.400 watt

Compare the power total (how much electricity you are using) and the load rating for each circuit. For example, a 15 amp circuit serving lights and outlets in a living area could provide 500 watts for lighting, 500 watts for the TV and cable box, and 200 watts for the sound system, for a total of 1,200 watts. Plugging in a 700-watt vacuum while the TV, stereo, and lights are on will exceed the 1,500-watt rating on the switch, causing the power to trip and shut off.

Even an electrical maintenance service in Fairfax-VA or an electrical inspection service can give you a clearer idea of ​​the condition of your home’s electrical systems.


The maximum load on each circuit is not the ideal goal. For a safety margin, it is best if the normal load on a circuit does not exceed 80 percent of the maximum (nominal) load, for a 15A circuit, the target safe load is 1,440 watts, for a 20 amp circuit, the safe load is 1,920 watts.

If your circuit calculations indicate that you are drawing more power from a circuit than the safe load number. If you are exceeding the rated load and frequently overloading the circuit, there are a few ways to reduce the load on the circuit to avoid overloading:

  • Move connected appliances to a less-used circuit (use mapping and circuit calculations to identify circuits that have a lot of available wattages).
  • Remember not to turn on too many things at once. For example, turn off the TV and sound system while vacuuming (you can’t hear them anyway).
  • Reduce lighting loads by replacing incandescent or halogen bulbs with energy-saving (preferably) or CFL (fluorescent) LED bulbs.

Install new circuits for high-demand devices. For example, if you run a lot of power tools in your garage workshop, but your garage is wired with all sockets and lights on the same 15A circuit, install a new 20A circuit that provides some new sockets for your tool.

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Emergency Electrician in Fairfax-VA is a service provided by certified electricians and experts in the sector. Do you want to prevent an overloaded electrical circuit? Contact the number below to book an appointment.
For any electrical problems, contact the Electrician Fairfax VA.

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