The coffee is percolating, the washing machine is spinning, and the toaster is toasting. Your morning routine is off to a fine start as you plug in the hairdryer, until, *click*—total darkness. Shoot. In this instance, it’s unlikely that you’re power is out for good, you probably just overloaded the electrical circuit and tripped the breaker. Though inconvenient, this sudden shutdown happens purposely to safeguard your electronics, ensure the circuit doesn’t overheat, and prevent damage to the electrical panel.
Resetting a circuit breaker is a quick and easy fix. Follow these simple steps and safety precautions to get your electrical supply back up and running again.
Prepping to Reset a Circuit Breaker
Before resetting any breakers, turn off any lights and appliances attached to them. Although this isn’t essential, experts recommend this as an additional safety precaution so you don’t overload the circuit breaker again when you reset it. This also makes it easier to identify the particular appliance causing the overload because you can then gradually turn things on again.
Inspect your breaker for scorches, burning smells, heat, or rust. If tripped circuit breakers are a regular occurrence in your home, this could indicate a more serious problem better left to a local electrician (more on this later). If your breakers look intact, and this seems like a random trip, follow the below steps to reset your breaker box.
Locate the Circuit Breaker Box
If you don’t know where to find your circuit breaker, it’s time to go hunting. An electrical panel is pretty easy to identify as it’s usually a gray metal box attached to a wall in the home.
You find them in places like the garage, basement, hall cupboard, or utility room.
Can’t Find Your Breaker Box? Older Homes May Have a Fuse Box
Once you open the box door or cover, you’ll see rows of switches. If your switches are labeled noting which part of the home they provide power to, your job just got easier.
If there has been a sudden unexpected power surge, like that created during a lightning storm, the main breaker will trip, cutting off power to the entire house. Otherwise, it’s usually a sub breaker that controls power to a particular area of the home at fault.
The main breaker is usually at the top of the panel and larger than the other sub breakers, which are in rows underneath. You need to look for the breaker switch that’s in a different position from the rest.
All working switches will be in the “on” position. The tripped breaker will usually have a switch in the “off” position, although some breakers are still off but in a neutral middle setting. Do not reset just yet.
Reset the Tripped Breaker
To reset the breaker, move the switch into the “on” position to restore power. If the breaker switch is in the middle position, you should first move it to the “off” position before flipping it back up to “on.”
Occasionally, a breaker box can spark when you reset a switch. Always stand to the side of the electrical panel, and you may even want to wear safety glasses as an extra precaution. Never turn a switch on if you have wet hands or are standing on a wet surface, and don’t poke around with the wiring behind the breaker switches.
Test an Appliance
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock
If these simple steps have done their job, the lights and appliances associated with the circuit breaker you have reset will turn on. If they aren’t working or the breaker trips again, this is a sign that there’s likely a more serious issue.
Troubleshoot If the Reset Doesn’t Work
If the breaker trips again after the reset or it won’t stay in an “on” position, you don’t need to call an electrician straight away. A dodgy light fixture could be to blame, or you may have overloaded the breaker again by using too many high-powered appliances at once.
To check if a particular appliance is causing the problem, try switching things on one at a time. Sometimes an appliance may have a damaged plug or wiring, or the outlet or switch connection could be troublesome. Certain appliances like old refrigerators and hair dryers are also more likely to trip circuit breakers.
If this process of elimination doesn’t solve the problem, it could be a bigger wiring problem, or the circuit breaker may have failed and will need replacing.
DIY vs. Hiring a Pro: When to Call a Certified Electrician
Sometimes simply flipping the switch won’t be enough, and calling a local certified electrician for further investigation or repairs will be necessary. Electricians in most areas generally charge between $40 and $120 per hour for their time.
If your circuit breaker is regularly tripping, even when you aren’t overloading the system, this is usually a sign something more serious is going on. Look out for signs of scorching, burning smells, heat, or rusting around the circuit breaker. These aren’t things to ignore as they can be a fire risk.
Make sure you leave the breaker in the “off” position in these scenarios until the electrician can investigate. Sometimes it can simply be a case of a breaker needing replacing because it’s old and there’s significant wear and tear. Other times, a more substantial system upgrade is required. This could involve adding extra circuits or investing in the cost of a new, more powerful circuit box, which runs about $1,150 on average.