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Eaton Breaker Flashing Red

Electronics and error codes are all around us. Even our toasters these days connect to the Internet! It’s probably not that surprising when your breaker keeps tripping to find out that they too have error codes.  When you go to your panel to find your Eaton breaker flashing red LED lights in your face that you’ll need to either diagnose it yourself or call in a qualified electrician.

The good news is that figuring out a tripped AFCI error code isn’t too hard. All it takes is a few seconds when you know what to check for.

Understanding Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

Modern breakers use a technology called Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters or AFCI. This technology monitors the circuit for signs of an arc and is designed to prevent electrical fires.  AFCI has been required for all new construction in bedrooms since 2000. There are many things that cause arcs on a circuit. This could be a short in an appliance, or even a nail that pierced the electrical wiring during construction of the home. When the AFCI’s internal electronics sense an arc this will result in units like the Eaton breaker flashing red LED lights to notify the homeowner there has been a problem detected.

This technology is not without issues however. Sometimes certain appliances or weather events can trick an AFCI breaker into thinking it has detected a fault when none exists. AFCI breakers are also known to interfere with some types of power line networking such as PLCC. It is best to install power line networking devices on non-AFCI circuits to prevent issues and eliminate the potential frustration of constantly tripping of breakers.

Eaton Breaker Flashing Red

If you find your Eaton breaker flashing red after you reset it from a previous trip it is easy to diagnose the underlying issue by counting the number of flashes. After resetting the breaker the LED will flash a set number of times and pause for a second. It will then repeat this action 30 more times before stopping and turning off the LED until the next trip has occurred (or the test button has been pressed). This blink pattern determines why the breaker tripped and will help you diagnosing the problem if one actually exists.

Eaton AFCI Breaker Error Codes

Follow these error codes to diagnose the trip. After resetting from a trip, count the number of flashes and refer the corresponding error code. If the breaker immediately trips again there is either a direct short on the line or the breaker has failed and must be replaced.

No error Code   No error code is most likely cause by one of the following conditions:

  • The TEST button has been pressed
  • A thermal overload has occurred
  • A direct short has happened on the line

AFCI breakers still function as standard breakers. Therefore when a condition that a matches the response of a standard mechanical breaker, a trip will occur without an error code. This is normal behavior.

 1  A series low current arc was detected. This is most likely the result of a frayed or worn power cord on an appliance, lamp, or fixture. Unplug everything from the circuit and then add back one appliance at a time until the trip repeats.
 2  A parallel high current arc was detected.  The most common type of high current arc is a pierced electrical cable caused by a nail or screw.
 3  Short delay has been triggered. If the main mechanical breaker fails to take action during a direct short, the electronic system will kick in and force the breaker to trip.  The mechanical breaker is most likely faulty and should be replaced.
 4  Over-voltage has been detected. The breaker monitors for voltages that are 160 volts or greater (on a 120 volt circuit). This is most likely due to high voltage from the mains feed or caused by an electrical storm.  Reset the breaker.
 5  Ground fault detected. Current normally returns to ground over the neutral wire. The breaker has detected that current is following an alternate path to ground. This could cause injury or death if person touches the shorted appliance causing the alternate ground path. This could also be caused by a nail or screw piercing the electrical cabling in the wall.
 6  Self-test has failed. The breaker continuously runs a self-test. If this self test fails the breaker will trip.  Breaker is faulty and must be replaced.

Replacement Breakers

You can order replacement breakers for about half price of Lowe’s or Home Depot from Amazon:

AFCI Breakers and Nuisance Tripping

failed Eaton AFCI breakerIn some installations AFCI breakers can be very finicky and may trip often.  Nuisance tripping of breakers can be a major headache. This is most common in areas that have lots of stormy weather or high amounts of static electricity (near tall towers). If you have problems with nuisance tripping and your breakers are not faulty, consult a qualified electrician to determine how to solve the problem. You may require a noise filter and/or whole home surge protection system installed before the breaker panel to stop the nuisance tripping.

It is not recommend to remove AFCI breakers and replace them standard mechanical breakers. Arcs on power lines in homes are the #1 cause of electrical fires and are easily prevented with properly installed AFCI breakers in your panel.


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19 Responses

  1. You’d think eaton would put this info on the breaker panel instead of making me google for it! I’ve been resetting that damn blinking breaker for weeks not knowing what the hell it meant.

    1. This is unlikely. I’ve had more than one arc fault breaker blink red six times and nuisance trip on a regular basis. Replacing them always seems to fix it permanently.

      One thing you could try in a pinch is to swap two identical breakers in your panel. Swap two bedrooms for example and if the swapped breaker trips you know there is an issue in the room wiring. But if the tripping moves to the other room you know there is a breaker issue.

  2. There is a very light red glow on the 20 amp Eaton arc fault breaker for 10 led can lights. The breaker does not trip. What does that mean?

  3. I have unplugged everything and after a few minutes it trips again… I will try swapping it out with a different one (as was suggested) and see what happens. Thanks.

  4. Mike, thank you for the article. Was exactly the info I was looking for. My issue turned out to be #6: Self-test has failed.

  5. I have an Arc fault breaker that appears to reset and test as required but no power is being transferred to the two rooms it powered . All light switches are off and nothing is plugged in any outlets. I have investigated each outlet for loose wiring and found none. Hmmmm.

  6. I installed an Eaton 20 amp AFCI/GFCI breaker for a dedicated lighting circuit in my basement greenhouse about three years ago. The circuit supports six 250w heat lamps and ten 9w LED lights, for a total load on the circuit of 1590 watts.

    Everything goes through two day/night timers, so it’s only supporting the full load for about 14 hours at night, in the winter. That’s less wattage than a single electric space heater on a single circuit.

    Which should be perfectly safe, right?

    In three years, the breaker has never tripped, no wiring or plugs or outlets have ever overheaded (and I check all the wiring and plugs and outlets for overheating every time I go down there, which is every day).

    Early this evening, for the first time ever, the breaker tripped while I was down there. Breaker flashing 2 red lights (parallel high current arc). I reset the breaker, everything came back up, no problems. Checked all wiring, plugs and outlets for temperature…everything nice and cool.

    Tested and reset the breaker repeatedly, still coming up with 2 flashing red lights (parallel high current arc) afterwards. There has been virtually no physical change to the circuit since I installed it three years ago, no nails or staples through the Romex at any point, no humidity issues, no nothing.

    What could this be? An arcing heat lamp? Failing breaker?

  7. I replaced one breaker because it kept tripping (dishwasher). It works fine now going on a month.
    The microwave/oven are tripping another breaker. At this pace, I may have to replace all of them. And at what they cost, I may go broke!
    (House is 7 yrs old, we are 2nd owners).

  8. Would it make sense that cold weather could cause the breaker to trip? It’s happened 3 times over the past couple weeks. It blinks a red light twice.

  9. My dedicated circuit for my dishwasher trips regularly. You can reset it and it will cycle a load and then after it’s done it trips at some point. It’s flashing 5 red. Sometimes I think it’s flashing 6 red. I think I read somewhere that Eaton will replace these under warrantee? Or am I dreaming?

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