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How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

What to do When a Circuit Breaker Trips.

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A circuit breaker in a

A circuit breaker in a "on" position.

Timothy Thiele

When a circuit breaker trips and the power goes off to a circuit in your home, do you know how to reset it? Circuits are protected by either circuit breaker or fuses. The purpose of a circuit breaker is to trip, or turn itself off, at a predetermined amperage load. So let's say the circuit breaker is rated at 20 amps. That means the circuit has been designed and tested to allow up to and including 20 amps to flow through it, but nothing more. Once that limit is reached, the circuit breaker will trip, or open the circuit.

There are a couple of ways of determining if a circuit breaker has tripped. If you look at a circuit breaker's switch handle, if the handle is pushed towards the center of the panel, it's in the on position. If it's pushed towards the outside of the panel, it's in the off position. If it is between those two positions, that is the tripped state. Often these circuit breakers will have a sight glass in which when clear,the breaker is in a normal operating state. But in the case when the window shows red, it has tripped and must be reset to restore power.

To do this, turn off the breaker by simply pushing the circuit breaker handle towards the outside of the panel, away from the center, and then turn it back on. That requires that you push the circuit breaker handle back towards the center of the panel.

When doing this, it's always advisable to check to see if you can locate the problem on that circuit first before resetting the breaker. Is the circuit overloaded or did something short out that is connected to it? It could be a number of things, so take time to unplug everything connected to that circuit, reset the circuit, and then plug in one thing at a time to find the faulty cord or appliance.

A safety reminder is to always stand off to the side of the panel when resetting a circuit breaker. If the circuit breaker or panel were to explode or shoot out sparks, you don't want to be right in front of the panel to catch it in you face. Actually, wearing safety glasses when resetting a circuit breaker is also recommended. Remember, safety first, not sorry later!

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