Last month we talked with you about why fuses blow, and how to replace a blown fuse.  This month we will discuss circuit breakers and how to reset and restore power.

Circuit breakers “trip” as a safety mechanism by interrupting the flow of electricity to prevent a circuit overload or fire due to a short circuit. Circuit breakers are designed to trip at a specified number of amps, such as 15 amps, 20 amps, 30 amps etc.  As the number of appliances and electronic gadgets has increased in use, so has the demand on the electrical systems in our homes.  Greater electrical demand can mean an increase in tripped circuit breakers.  One sign of this overloading problem is the use of cube taps and power strips that increase the number of devices we can plug into one outlet.

A circuit breaker is a UL rated safety switch that has clearly identified “on” and “off” positions.  When a circuit becomes overloaded or senses a direct short, , the circuit breaker’s internal mechanism is tripped and the circuit breaker goes from the “on” position to the “off” position.  If the problem is a simple overload (too many items plugged into the same circuit) then correcting the problem is usually just a matter of eliminating some of the load on the circuit and pushing the switch all the way to the “off” position then back to the “on” position.  If this does not work and the breaker continues to trip, STOP!  Continued resetting of the circuit breaker could be an indication of a more serious problem.

Bigger Problems

#1) If the circuit breaker constantly trips, you are probably overloading it.  As mentioned above, this is increasingly common today, as older homes were not wired to handle the increasing demands we are placing on our electrical systems.

The first thing to try is to unplug some appliances and devices from the affected circuit.  If that does not work, you may need to consider separating and adding additional circuits to eliminate continuous overloading of the existing circuits.  This should only be done by a qualified and licensed electrical contractor.

#2) If you have attempted to reset the circuit by following the above suggestions and it immediately trips off, do not reset the breaker. This scenario indicates that there may be a short circuit in the wiring and continued resetting may cause arcing that may result in a potentially hazardous situation. Call your qualified and licensed electrical contractor.

Most importantly, don’t do anything unless you are 100% sure you know what you are doing.  Electricity is dangerous.   If you are unsure, your actions can result in major electric problems, create fires, and cause bodily harm up to and including death.  So if you are unsure, call a professional.