Here I was, multi-tasking before heading out for a fun night on the town – vacuuming the carpet, listening to some tunes, and just popped a cup of this morning’s coffee into the microwave when POOF!  Everything stops working, I’ve tripped the breaker again and will surely be late (again).  If only I better understood it all!

Ok, so perhaps I did understand it all enough to know that that’s a LOT of power to expect my measly 20 amp circuit breaker to handle, but this sometimes happens when I’m just using the microwave alone.  Do I need a new unit?  Can I just add a new breaker?  Is it ok to just keep tripping it (the box is only a few steps away so it’s not really that inconvenient). A local electrician in London, GVA Electrical Limited says it could be a multitude of reasons why simply using your microwave is causing your breaker to trip.

So, I scrapped my big plans for the night and instead sat down to find out the answers to these questions.


Is My Microwave at the End of Its Life?

Have you been multi-tasking all these years with the same appliances and you’re just now catching the breaks?  Your microwave could, in its old age, much like people, be taking more energy than before to complete the same task as in its younger years.  If your microwave is drawing more than the 20 amp breaker it is likely connected to, just heating your game-day dip could turn into a stove-top ordeal.

How do you know if it is, in fact, the unit, and not another issue related to electricity in your home?  You can test the quality of the microwave itself by moving it to another outlet temporarily.  If you have a mounted unit, you can use an extension cord (again, ONLY temporarily – this is not a safe, permanent fix).

All wiring must be appropriate in size to the amount of amps that will run through it, and most of us non-electricians don’t have an eye for such, so please do NOT begin rewiring your appliances with extension cords.  Power strips only add the space to plug more in, they don’t increase the number of amps that the circuit can handle.

Once you have plugged the unit into its temporary outlet, turn it on.  If the microwave trips this other breaker, then it’s probably time to consider a new unit.  Check out these units on Amazon.

It’s possible that your current unit is causing a short circuit or a ground fault.  A short circuit can be caused by loose or damaged wires, switches, or appliances.  A ground fault often occurs in defective or old appliances, and can cause parts of your unit to become “hot” with electricity.

Both short circuits and ground faults can be highly dangerous, so if you are uneasy about electrical work, please call your local electrician for help.

If your microwave doesn’t trip on your temporary outlet, then you can assume it is an overload of amps running through the microwave’s circuit breaker.


Can I Just Add Another Breaker to Distribute the Energy?

First of all, let’s better understand just what that pesky breaker is there for.  A circuit can only handle a determined number of amps (amps are the rate at which the watts of energy flow, you can learn more about amps here), and the breaker is designed to interrupt the load when it reaches unsafe levels.

Most likely, the circuit your microwave is connected to is 15-20 amps, and your microwave is probably 12 or so.  If you have other appliances hooked to the same breaker, it could easily exceed its load.

The breaker is protecting your microwave dinner from becoming a meal cooked on open fire.  So, even though it is immensely frustrating, it is in fact doing its job to keep you, and your appliances, safe from fire.

According to a 2019 report by the National Fire Protection Association, 50% of the 44,880 home fires from 2012-2016 were caused by electrical distribution problems, with 20% of those occurring in the cooking area.

Electrical safety standards recommend your microwave have its own, dedicated breaker.  Check your breaker box to see if other appliances are sharing the load.  If they are, it is possible to add another breaker, but does require the help of a professional electrician to do so.

While I prefer the DIY routes for most instances, electricity can be scary for a lot of us.  If you are not comfortable calling yourself Sparky, call a local electrician, they are professionals who will help you understand the problem for the future, and hopefully fix it so it won’t happen again.

If you do choose to attempt a fix on your own, check out the Electrical Safety Foundation International web-page about DIY Electrical Safety.

Additionally, permits and inspections are required in the United States (and many other countries) for installation and alteration of any permanent electrical work.

So before you think you can just “add another breaker to your box,” take a look at the updated 2020 National Electrical Code regulations by Electrical Safety Foundation International.


Can I Just Live With the Annoyance and Keep Tripping the Breaker?

Short answer – yes.  However, tripping the breaker over and over again can wear on it and eventually cause it to become faulty, and remember, it is there to protect you.  Perhaps a safer, in the meantime solution is to be mindful of how many appliances you run at once.  If you have determined that your microwave is sharing its load with other energy sources, take care not to run them simultaneously.


Cooking Up Conclusions

Your microwave is causing your breaker to trip either due to:

  • Faulty wiring creating a short circuit,
  • Your unit is old and creating a ground fault, or
  • There is simply too much load on the breaker that should be dedicated to your microwave alone.

While it may be tolerable to live with a tripping breaker, keep in mind that it could be causing more than just an annoyance down the road.  There could be a serious electrical issue somewhere, so please consider reaching out for professional help if you are unable, or unwilling, to trace the root cause.

Happy cooking!

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