How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

By: Talon Homer  | 

circuit breaker
Restting a circuit breaker is a simple process, as long as you follow some basic safety guidelines. Andy Cross/Getty Images

Most homes use circuit breakers that turn off power to a room whenever an electric overload or short occurs. The circuit breaker conveniently cuts power only to the problem circuit without turning off everything in the house.

Here's how to reset a circuit breaker. Important: To prevent shock, wear safety glasses, make sure your hands are dry, stand to the side, and stand on a dry surface when resetting a circuit breaker.

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  • Turn off all the lights and unplug everything in the affected room or rooms.
  • Be sure that the breaker box, surrounding area and floor below are completely dry before interacting with the components.
  • Take a flashlight and open the circuit breaker panel so you can see the circuit breakers. Each breaker has three positions: on, off, and a center position.
  • Look for the circuit breaker with the switch in the center position.
  • Flip the switch to off, and then flip it to the on position.
  • Wait a moment to see if the breaker stays in the on position. If it does, the circuit breaker is reset and power should be restored. If the switch doesn't stay in the on position, it indicates a serious wiring problem. Contact a qualified electrician.

Assuming the power stays on, it's time to find the cause of the problem. The two most common causes are a shorted device or too many things running at once, overloading the circuit.

Here's how to find the problem:

  • Check for a short by turning on each light. If the breaker stays on, carefully plug in each device. If the circuit breaker trips when you plug something in, you found the source of the problem. Unplug the device and reset the breaker. You can verify a suspected short by examining the power cord for melted insulation. Also, check the plug and outlet for a burnt smell or charring.
  • Check for an overload by plugging everything in and turning everything on. If the breaker trips, either turn off some power guzzlers, like the air conditioner or heaters, or plug them into an outlet on a different circuit [source: Do It Yourself].

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Originally Published: Jun 23, 2011

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