A circuit breaker is an electrical switch that protects electrical circuits and outlets from damage and overload. It trips off whenever there is any load. But what if the breaker still has power despite being in an off position? Let’s find out.
If the breaker is off but still has power, the reason could be a tripped breaker, circuit back feeding, or a defective breaker. To fix the problem, turn the breaker off and check the terminal of the breaker. If the terminal is energized, the breaker is faulty; if not, there is another issue.
There are not many reasons behind the problem, but you must be careful while handling this issue because an energized breaker can electrocute you.
This guide will help you know the reasons behind an energized breaker despite being off and ways to troubleshoot it.
Circuit breaker off but still has power: Why?
If you ever notice that your circuit breaker still carries despite being off, don’t worry.
You are not the only one to experience such a thing.
When dealing with such issues, you must not touch the breaker.
You should first check it with the voltage tester to find out if there is still any power or not.
There are very few reasons behind the issue.
But since an energized circuit is dangerous to handle, you must keep the main power line off and fix the issue immediately.
Otherwise, you might receive a shock.
So, here are some common reasons behind a circuit breaker having power despite being in an off position.
Tripped circuit breaker
A circuit breaker will trip if it senses some overloading or overheating.
The GFCI circuit breakers are designed with highly responsive systems where it trips whenever it senses some signs of defects like overloading, short circuits, etc.
So, if your breaker has only tripped, do not think that it is not carrying any power.
The breaker has tripped on its own, but it can remain energized.
So, it would be best to be careful while dealing with this issue.
The solution to this problem is to reset the breaker.
The GFCI breakers are different from the regular circuit breakers.
They come with button sets where you can test and reset the breaker.
So, reset the breaker.
Before doing this, check the voltage with a voltage tester. Otherwise, you may receive a shock.
For more precaution, you can turn your main power line off, reset the breaker, turn the main power back, and switch on the breaker.
Also read: 8 Reasons Your GFCI Outlet Keeps Tripping Without Load
The circuit is back-feeding.
Sometimes, a wire gets power from two different power sources with the same amperage.
That is why the wire and the shut-off circuit breaker will remain energized.
Doing this thing is illegal.
So, if it has ever happened, it will be unintentional.
Suppose you have two circuits powering receptacles in the same electrical box, and someone is unaware about splicing them together.
In such a condition, if one circuit is on, the other shut-off circuit will still have the power to serve outlets.
To determine which circuits are connected, you need to shut off the circuit and check the voltage in the hot wire with a voltage tester.
You can also shut off the other breakers so that the hot wire that keeps the shut-off breaker energized does not carry any voltage anymore.
If one of your circuits still has power, you will know which one is back-feeding.
So, you need to mark the wires, circuits, and even location as energized wires or circuits.
Then, you need to remove the connection where the circuit, wire, or any other outlet or receptacle is getting power.
Sometimes, the circuit breaker will have power despite being shut off due to malfunctioning.
Malfunctioning will also lead to the opposite thing, i.e., the power on the circuit breaker will be on, but no power will be left in the circuit.
The malfunctioning can occur due to some power surge, spikes, or the presence of static electricity nearby.
Sometimes, the circuit breakers cannot handle the surge or spike and stop working.
Sometimes, you will find power despite being off.
If your circuit is carrying power despite being shut off, consider identifying the problem.
If it is some power surge, you need to use a dedicated surge protector for your circuit breaker.
However, it may only partially protect your breaker because it will still get affected by spikes.
If a shut-off circuit has power due to some nearby static electricity, identify it and find a different place for it away from your circuit.
Call an electrician if you cannot find the real cause of such a circuit.
Defective circuit breaker
If your circuit has some manufacturing defects, it won’t remain off even if you shut it off or the breaker is tripped.
You are not at fault here.
If you suspect the shut-off circuit still has some power, test the circuit using a voltage tester.
You need to hire a professional to replace the defective breaker.
Suppose your outlets connected to a shut-off breaker are still giving power.
In that case, it could come from the neighbor’s house, especially if you live in an apartment or condominium.
First, try identifying all the above possibilities.
If your breaker is still energized and gives power to the outlets and receptacles, it could be from the neighbor.
Somehow, their power supply is connected to yours.
You can hire a professional to correct the issue and cut off the route of this connection.
The main circuit breaker is on.
If you have turned off one circuit for some work but still have power, check for the main circuit breaker and turn it off.
Your shut-off breaker will carry power if the main breaker still has power.
Maybe it has a battery-powered radio.
You can either disconnect each breaker or check the voltage of each breaker while all the others are off.
One will have 0 volts and others 120v unless they are damaged.
Will you get a shock if the breaker is off?
You will receive a shock if your breaker is off but still carries enough power.
If your circuit is energized, the current will continue to flow through the circuit and wires.
So, touching them will, of course, shock you.
You will probably receive the shock from the hot and neutral wires.
These wires are always live and carrying power.
There is no ground wire for connection.
That is why you may receive a shock.
When you try to connect the wire to a switch, the voltage will start leaking through it and give you a shock.
Another reason is touching the wire with wet hands.
Water is a great conductor of electricity.
That is why it is always recommended to ensure that no wet elements or water stays near the electrical circuits, switches, wirings, or outlets.
You will also be shocked if standing over a shared neutral wire from a branch wire.
Even if the main breaker is off, you will receive a shock if you are very close to the switch.
So, you must be very careful when dealing with electrical problems.
What if the circuit is on, but there is no power?
Sometimes, you will face the complete opposite condition.
Your circuit breaker will be on, but it won’t have any power.
There are three common reasons behind the breaker being on, but there is no power:
- The breaker is tripped, and you can not reset it. Testing and resetting buttons are present in the GFCI breakers and outlets. So, try resetting them once.
- Your circuit breaker might have loose connections, and that’s why it fails to serve any power to outlets or receptacles.
- The outlet is damaged because it cannot take power from the breaker.
- The breaker receives some recent short circuits due to wrong wire connections.
How to fix it?
- The first and foremost job of yours is to try resetting the breaker. Unplug the connected appliances and then reset them.
- You need to open and check for loose wirings. Call a professional if needed.
- If your outlet has been damaged, call a professional and get it replaced.
- Use a surge protector if a short circuit occurs due to any power surge. If the problem is in the wiring, confirm by opening the breaker and then consult an electrician to fix the wiring.
What happens if a certain area of your house cannot restore power?
You must reset the breaker if a certain place in your house cannot restore power.
It is mostly needed when your breaker has been damaged or tripped off.
Once you reset your breaker, you can restore the power to the specific area of your house.
To reset the breaker:
- Turn off the appliances and devices connected to the circuit.
- If your circuit has multiple appliances, one will trip off. Unplug them all to reduce the load.
- Turn off the main breaker, too, as a precautionary step.
- Now, reset the breaker by pressing the reset button. You will have a reset button on your circuit.
It will help you reduce the destruction of the electronics and loss of current.
If you are on vacation, reset your circuit breaker before leaving your house.
Unplugging the plugged appliances help in restoring the power and prevent power demands on the main breaker.
It also prevents repeated tripping of your breaker.
However, unplugging will not help restore power.
It will reduce the load and help in fast power restoration after resetting.
How can I know if the circuit breaker is bad?
Knowing what is wrong with your circuit is crucial to prevent serious accidents.
You should not keep problems, especially if it concerns electricity.
A faulty breaker may stop working but will not stop the breaker from creating accidents or fire hazards.
Fires can always destroy your property, no matter how small it is.
There are many things to look at, like the breaker type or voltage reading.
If you can read the voltage, you will be able to know about the breaker’s condition.
There are 3 steps to determine the condition of the circuit breaker:
- Unplug all the connected appliances from the circuit. If you know which circuit can cause the issue, you can unplug appliances from that particular breaker. Otherwise, remove all appliances from the breaker. It will prevent power surges and prevent your electronics from damaging.
- Wear protection like gloves and goggles, and make sure you are dry. Remove the breaker panel of the entire system. The type of cover depends upon your home’s set-up. The lock can be with screws or handheld locks.
- Now, take a multimeter to find out about your breaker. Connect the black wire with the multimeter’s COM slot and the red wire with a slot having a V letter and Omega symbol.
- Connect the red wire’s testing tip with the screw holding the individual breaker handle. Hold the black wire’s tip with the neutral bar of your circuit beside the breaker’s handle. You can now read the voltage of your breaker.
Handle things carefully and ensure that your bare skin doesn’t come in contact with any wires or metal parts of the circuit.
Depending on the single or double pole, your multimeter should show a voltage of around 120V-240V.
If the voltage shows 0, you have to replace the circuit quickly.
It indicates that the breaker is at fault and may cause serious issues in the future.
Should I call an electrician?
Suppose you cannot understand what is wrong with your circuit breaker.
In that case, you must call an electrician to identify and fix the problem.
Some states do not allow laypersons to do electrical work.
So, you will have to call a licensed expert to get the job done.
The sooner you call them, the faster they can fix the issue. Do not retain such problems for a long time.
Otherwise, accidents can happen anytime.
A circuit breaker having power despite staying off could be tripped breaker, back-feeding, malfunctioning, defective breaker, the current coming from a neighbor’s house, or an energized main circuit breaker.
You must find out the real cause and solve the problem as soon as possible. Otherwise, the circuit breaker may lead to other serious issues in the future.
Sometimes, you will also face the opposite, i.e.; the circuit breaker is on but with no power. It will be due to a defective or tripped breaker, short circuit, power surge, or spikes. Find the right cause and replace the breaker.
Only work on something if you are experienced. Even if you have little knowledge, it is better to hire a professional. They can fix the problem faster. Besides, some states allow only licensed experts to deal with electrical problems.
Data Source: National Electrical Code, NEC Wire Table, Electrical wiring, Home wiring.