Home Wiring 101: Dealing with Circuit Breakers and Fuses

Single and double 20-amp circuit breakers.

Single and double 20-amp circuit breakers.

How to Reset a Tripped Circuit Breaker

When a breaker trips or a fuse blows, it’s usually due to a power surge beyond the rated amperage of the breaker or fuse. This could be the result of:

  • An overloaded circuit with too many electrical devices on it.
  • Faulty wiring, such as a short in a wire or a connection that’s loose.
  • Short in an appliance, light fixture, lamp, or other electrical device.
  • Lightning or a power surge from the main line leading into the house.

It’s also possible that the circuit breaker or fuse itself is defective and needs to be replaced.

It’s important not to repeatedly reset a circuit breaker or replace a fuse, since it’s usually a sign of a problem with the wiring which needs to be fixed to prevent a fire or electrical shock.

To reset a tripped circuit breaker:

  • Turn Off Electrical Devices: If the breaker tripped because the circuit was overloaded, turn off or unplug any electrical devices on the circuit before resetting the breaker to prevent it from tripping again.
  • Locate Tripped Breaker: The switch on a tripped breaker will be near the off position or between the on and off settings.
  • Turn Breaker Off: Switch the breaker completely to the off position (away from the center of the panel box).
  • Turn Breaker On: Flip the breaker back to the on position (toward the center of the panel box).
  • Test Circuit: Turn on a light fixture or lamp on the circuit to make sure the circuit has power.

If the circuit continues to trip, there is either a problem with the wiring that needs to be fixed or the breaker itself is defective and needs to be replaced.

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6 Comments on “Home Wiring 101: Dealing with Circuit Breakers and Fuses”

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  • Lee Dobbs Says:
    November 19th, 2015 at 3:24 am

    My A/C outside unit fan motor went out. I had a license service company replace the motor. It ran all summer long never shutting it off. Finally it cooled down in sept., turn thermostat off. I notice the outside fan unit did not turn off. I now think it never did cycle off. Our electric bill was higher than normal. Anyway, had to shut it off by breaker switch. It has always shut off by thermostat and the only thing that changed was the replacement motor. I called service company and she said it was 4 months ago and I said yes we never shut it off. I asked her to ask the guy who installed it if he could had crossed wired something. She asked and called back and said its a possibility but if it is not our fault the 90 service fee will be charged. I don’t trust this company, I feel that they would make up something to keep from owning up. Also if the unit never cycled off that new motor ran 24/7 and its life expectancy is now less. Is there a way I can look at wiring and know if it was miswired?

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 6th, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Paula and Janie,
    Circuit breakers are not designed to act a regularly used on/off switch, and doing so will cause the breaker to wear out prematurely over time. If the water is hotter than necessary, start by turning the breaker to the water heater off and then turning the thermostat on the hot water heater down to 110 to 120 degrees. Another option is to have a switch rated for the number of amps the water heater draws installed in the electrical line that powers the water heater.

  • Janie Barnes Says:
    September 6th, 2014 at 10:06 am

    ABOUT THE SWITCHING HOT WATER HEATER off & on (to save electricity)…Whats the pros & cons on that ???? It saves about $20 mo. on electric bill. Whats a better way to go ?????WE have enough HOT water for 2 days.Turn on for 1 hr….then off again.

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    September 1st, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Hi Rusty,
    Most breaker panels are located inside a house, but they can be mounted outside if a NEMA Type 3R enclosure is used. The house I used to live in had a combination meter and breaker box mounted on the outside wall.

  • Rusty von Schwedler Says:
    September 1st, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    The first para could be easily misconstrued and it states: “An electrical service panel is a metal box mounted on a wall or on the outside of your house which contains either circuit breakers or fuses to control the wiring in your home.”

    For all homes I’ve ever seen the circuit breaker box is never outside. What is outside is the meter box, and most commonly the circuit breaker box is directly behind it on an interior wall. It is not too far away since it is a high power wiring.

    I’d like to suggest one diagnostic approach if early conclusion is a defective breaker, remove it with main power switch off, and replace it with another one in the paned with the same amp rating. This also goes for old fashioned fuses where it only needs to be unscrewed from the fuse socket.


  • Paula Bounds Says:
    September 1st, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Since my husband passed away and I’m the only one in the house, I’ve been switching off the breaker for the hot water heater. I’m gotten mixed messages if this is ok. Someone just told me I could wear out the switch if I do this too often. Am I making a mistake switching off the water heater at the box for a day or two?

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Home Wiring 101: Dealing with Circuit Breakers and Fuses