How to reset the breaker in your home

how-to-reset-breaker

 

As a homeowner, there’s always a moment of panic when lights suddenly go out or essential home appliances stop working. 

You may think it’s a power outage, but it could be as simple as a tripped breaker. While you may have to contact your electrical services provider to inquire about power outages, you can reset a tripped breaker at home in no time. 

If you are on a home improvement spree and want to check your house’s electrical wiring, this guide can help you locate the circuit breaker and explain the potential causes of a tripped breaker.

This article discusses why circuit breakers trip, how to identify and reset one, and the steps you can take to avoid a tripped breaker.

 

Why do circuit breakers trip?

An electrical circuit breaker trips when too much electricity flows through it or it cannot bear the surplus load. To combat this problem, it cuts the flow of electricity so the circuits don’t overheat. This protects your home from dangerous occurrences, like lethal house fires or electrical shocks. 

It is important to note that a fuse box is not a circuit breaker box. Circuit breakers trip due to circuit overload, short circuits, ground faults or defects in the circuit breaker. Here’s what you need to know. 

Overloaded circuits

Circuit overload is a common reason your circuit breaker might constantly trip. 

When common high-amp devices, like microwaves, dryers, wall heaters and air conditioners, run on the same circuit, it can lead to an overload. 

For example, if you plug in your hair dryer to an outlet connected to a circuit that can withstand 10 amps, but the hair dryer puts it at 15 amps, the hair dryer’s circuit might catch fire or damage the hair dryer. This is when the circuit breaker trips — so it can save the appliance from damage. 

Short circuits

A short circuit happens when a hot wire comes in contact with a neutral wire. When this happens, the lowered resistance generates a sudden and unchecked flow of electricity. The tripping mechanism activates when the current flow increases inside the breaker. 

This reaction is not always caused by circuit wiring but by wiring issues within an appliance or any device connected to the outlet of the circuit. 

A circuit breaker that trips right after you reset it indicates a short circuit. 

Electrocution and fire damage are common examples of a short circuit. Short circuits are challenging to diagnose, and it is advisable to seek an electrician’s help in this case.

Ground faults

Ground faults are identical to short circuits. When a hot wire comes in contact with a ground wire made of copper, it causes a surge in the ground fault. 

In some cases, the wire comes in contact with the side of the metal box attached to the ground wire. This contact causes more electricity to go through the circuit, even beyond what it can handle. In this case, the breaker will trip to save the circuit and other essential appliances from overheating, which can lead to lethal fires. Outlet discoloration may indicate a ground fault.

Defective circuit breaker

If the above reasons are not the cause of your tripped circuit breaker, it could be because the main breaker is at fault and needs to be replaced. 

This happens when the breaker has worn off and cannot generate electricity anymore. If there’s a scorched smell in the circuit breaker box, repeated tripping that you are unable to reset or burn marks, there might be a defect in the circuit breaker.

 

How to identify a tripped breaker

To identify a tripped breaker in your electrical panel, check if the breaker handle is on, off or tripped. Let’s review how to identify a tripped breaker.

Breaker handle on

When the breaker’s handle points toward the service panel’s midline, it indicates the breaker is on and the power is passing through the circuit. 

Breaker handle off

When the breaker’s handle is away from the service panel’s midline, the breaker is off and the power is not passing through the circuit.

Breaker handle tripped

A breaker is said to have tripped when the breaker’s handle is exactly at midposition. Note that power doesn’t flow through when a breaker trips.

 

How to reset a tripped breaker

Below are simple DIY steps to reset a tripped breaker. It’s important to consider all the safety measures before proceeding.

Safety considerations

Here’s a checklist to ensure proper safety before resetting the breaker:

  • Turn off all devices that run on the electrical circuit, from the ones you think are causing the issues to any that run on the same circuit.
  • Bring a flashlight (if the service panel is in a dark location), put on rubber-soled shoes, and wear safety glasses. 
  • Ensure your hands are completely dry because water can cause electrical mishaps. 

1. Find the electric service panel

You can find your electric service panel either inside or outside your home premises. The electric panel is on the opposite side of the wall from where the external electrical meter is mounted. An electric service panel is a metal box mounted vertically, and it comes in colors like gray, tan or black. It’s likely in the utility area. 

2. Locate the tripped breaker

A circuit breaker panel, or breaker box, can be located in places like the basement, garage or hallways. If you can’t find it, check behind furniture or wall art.

To locate a tripped breaker, check the handle of the tripped breaker first. (It should be in the middle position.)

Note that certain breakers trip to the “off” position, not the middle one. Refer to the manufacturer’s manual to be sure. 

3. Turn the circuit breaker handle to the “off” position

Turn or flip the circuit breaker handle to the “off” position. It should point toward the outer edge of the service panel and away from the centerline. 

4. Turn the circuit breaker handle to the “on” position

Lastly, bring the circuit breaker handle back to the “on” position, toward the midline of the service panel. Ensure that the handle is firmly seated. Note that it should make a clicking sound as verification. Now it’s time to test it. Turn on the light fixtures or a heavy-duty appliance, like the air conditioner. 

If you think the breaker tripped because of an overload, experts recommend running only one appliance at a time. 

 

How to avoid tripped breakers

Here is a step-by-step troubleshooting process to avoid tripped breakers: 

  • If your circuit is overloaded, it is best to remove a couple of appliances from the circuit and plug them into other circuits that don’t draw as much power. To do that, note how much power the main appliances consume. 
  • Do not run too many appliances on the same circuit simultaneously (like a washer and a microwave). 
  • Ground fault surges can be dangerous. For protection, install ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. Whenever a ground circuit occurs, the GFCI outlet will shut off before the circuit breaker. 
  • Replace the circuit breaker if it has worn out or has burn marks inside it. 
  • Replace old outlets, switches or light fittings if you think they are causing the short circuit or tripping the breaker. 

Seek the help of an electrician to disconnect hard-wired appliances that are taking in too much power from an individual circuit. They’ll either have to move the appliances to another circuit or set up a new circuit. Doing so will help mitigate the power overload.

 

When to call a professional

Licensed electricians have the know-how to identify the reasons behind tripped breakers and the experience in fixing them. You can fix an overloaded circuit at home. However, it is advisable to seek help if the problem persists or if the cause of a tripped breaker is unidentifiable.

 

Protect your home from costly electrical issues with a Cinch home protection plan

A tripped breaker can damage your essential home appliances, like your microwave or A/C and heating systems. Having adequate protection ahead of time saves you from spending excessive amounts on repairs. 

That’s where a Cinch Home Services Built-in Systems plan comes in. A Cinch home protection plan protects you from overbearing costs on repairs or maintenance so you can stay stress-free. Learn more about Cinch, or get a quote today!

 

Learn about the step-by-step process to reset a tripped breaker in your home.