Circuit breakers regulate the amount of electricity to flow to a particular power source like any appliance or outlet. It is common for a breaker to trip to avoid serious accidents. But is it safe to reset it on your own? That is what we shall share today.
Generally, It is safe to reset a tripped breaker, provided to follow the proper steps properly and safely. To reset the breaker, you need first to identify the tripped breaker and then reset it by moving it to the ON position. If it’s a GFCI outlet, try pressing the ‘reset’ button.
Though it is safe to reset the breaker, there is a limit to reset it. Besides, sometimes the resetting fails. If you are new to these things, don’t worry. This guide will clear your doubts related to resetting a breaker safely.
Why does a circuit breaker trip?
There could be many reasons behind a circuit breaker, but the common reasons are:
- Overloaded circuits
- Short circuits
- Ground faults
Let’s talk a bit in detail.
We often overload our circuits by plugging in too many appliances without knowing the circuit load.
In general, the maximum circuit load should be only around 80%.
The load exceeding this range will overload and trip off the breaker.
It mainly happens when you plug in high amp devices such as dryers, microwaves, wall heaters, or A/Cs for a long period.
Some appliances demanding a short burst of energy can also lead to the breaker tripping, for example, coffee grinders, blenders, and hair dryers.
When the circuit diverts from its path, it causes a short circuit.
It can be caused due to loose wiring connections, wiring joining, or reverse polarity.
In most conditions, it causes when the hot wire comes in contact with the neutral wire.
The current flow increases to a great level and causes a short circuit.
Short circuits can also occur during wire leakage, piercing, or wear-out of the cable sheathing.
A ground fault is also a short circuit where the hot wire comes in contact with the ground wire.
The ground wire protects us from electrocution during a short circuit.
The extra current flow requires an alternate path (ground wire) when a short circuit occurs.
Ground wire doesn’t carry any current except during a short circuit.
So, if your ground wire is connected with a hot wire, it becomes live.
When the breaker senses this danger, it immediately trips off as a warning to you that something is wrong.
Also read: How Do I Fix A Hot And Ground Reverse?
Is it safe to reset a tripped breaker?
It is safe to reset the tripped breaker, whether the regular one or the GFCIs.
Resetting a tripped breaker means you are trying to bring back the power.
So, it is completely safe to reset a tripped breaker yourself if you are doing it 1-2 times after sudden tripping.
Sometimes, the house owners call an electrician to reset the tripped breaker.
Suppose the tripping is due to other issues like a ground fault or short circuit.
In that case, you will require an electrician to find the real problem, solve it first, and then reset the breaker.
Sometimes, the breakers will not reset even after resetting.
That is why consulting a licensed expert is necessary.
If you have GFCI breakers, you can also reset them alone.
The breakers come with test and reset buttons.
All you need to do is press the ‘reset’ button to bring back power.
However, you need an electrician here if the breaker doesn’t reset.
How many times is resetting safe?
You can reset a breaker only 4 to 5 times.
Resetting the breaker multiple times, more than 4-5 times, will cause an arc flash or start a fire.
Not only that, you push it one step towards damage every time you try to reset the breaker.
So, if your circuit breaker is not resetting after 1-2 times, you need to call an electrician to find out the real problem, fix it, and then reset it.
How to safely reset a circuit breaker?
Resetting a tripped breaker is easy if you know the right steps.
Knowing the right steps and gathering the proper items required for resetting will make resetting the breaker easier for you.
Below are the materials required and a detailed step-by-step guide to reset a tripped breaker.
- A flashlight
- Circuit breaker directory
- Rubber-soled shoes
- Safety glasses
- Electrical lamp to test the reset breaker
You cannot use any normal gloves.
For electrical purposes, you can try:
- Heavy duty gloves, Infi-touch, Strong and Tough
- SAS Safety 66519 Raven Powder-free Nitrile Disposable Gloves
Step 1: Turn off the devices on the circuit
Your first and foremost job is to turn off all the devices on the tripped circuit breaker, like the microwave, hairdryer, or A/C, and every other device from the same circuit.
The breaker might have tripped due to overload.
Unplugging all the devices will reduce the load and help the breaker reset faster and safely.
Also read: Circuit Breaker Off But Still Have Power: 6 Causes+Fix
Step 2: Find the circuit breaker panel.
The circuit breaker is a metal box with a door.
It is mostly found inside a wall, its face flushing to the wall or surface-mounted where the box remains exposed.
A circuit breaker can be located in different areas of the house, like the garage, basement, closet, kitchen pantry, hallway leading to the garage or backyard, mudroom, etc.
You can first go for the electric service drop from the main line to locate the circuit breaker.
It will be mostly located below or near the inside of your house.
Step 3: You must locate the tripped breaker
To locate and identify the breaker, you need to check the handle of the tripped circuit.
The handle of such breakers should be in the middle position, not left or right.
By seeing or feeling it, you need to locate the breaker handles.
They will be different from the hard right or left positions.
Some breakers, like the Eaton Breakers, trip the breaker off, not in the center position.
So, before resetting the beaker, you must check the breaker manufacturer’s instructions for your product.
Step 4: Turn the breaker handle to the ‘off’ position.
Flip the breaker’s handle from the middle to the ‘off’ position to firm off its location to the outer edge of the breaker.
Also read: Can You Still Get Shocked If The Main Breaker Is Off?
Step 5: Turn the breaker to the ‘on’ position
Flip the breaker again to the ‘on’ position towards the centerline of the circuit breaker.
The breaker’s handle should sit firmly in its place. To confirm that, it should make a clicking sound.
Step 6: Check the breaker
Now, plug in any appliance, like a lamp or any other light, to test the breaker.
If the breaker has tripped due to overload, plug in only one appliance at a time and not too many of them.
Also, make sure to plug in a device that draws and consumes low power, for instance, a light fixture.
If your breaker still did not respond, you need an electrician to fix the problem.
What to do if the breaker tripped again after resetting?
When you reset a tripped breaker and plug in any appliance for testing, and it trips again, it could be due to overloading again or a short circuit.
It indicates that you need to reduce the load in your circuit.
You can use a low-power consumer like a light fixture.
In the case of short circuits or other issues, you need to hire a professional to fix the problem and reset the breaker safely.
Your breaker will not be safe if you constantly reset it.
Constant resetting of the breaker will damage the breaker and reduce its lifespan.
After that, even an electrician won’t be able to help you.
In the end, you must replace the breaker with a new one.
Since breakers are quite costly, you must always try to keep them safe and increase their shelf life.
To reset a tripped breaker safely and properly, you must find the right cause behind the tripping and also locate the right breaker for fixation.
Sometimes, outlets and terminals can also cause tripping, especially if there are scorch marks. Here also you require an electrician to fix the problem.
What to do if the breaker is not resetting at all?
If you suspect a breaker has tripped and try resetting it, it won’t reset.
If you doubt the condition, here are some steps to fix the breaker safely.
Reset the right breaker properly.
It is essential to follow the proper steps and reset the breaker.
Otherwise, you cannot fix the issue.
You must be sure about flipping the correct circuit breaker.
Also, ensure that you push the handle properly to the ‘off’ position and then turn it back to the ‘on’ position.
Check for overloading before resetting the breaker.
Some signs of an overloaded circuit include:
- Breaker tripping and not resetting immediately
- Breaker resetting after cooling down
- It trips again after some time of resetting
Overloading happens when you plug in many appliances or heavy-duty appliances in the receptacle or outlet of the same circuit.
As a result, the load exceeds the 80% rule, overloads the circuit, and trips immediately.
Overloading is common in old kitchens and bathrooms where you use multiple heavy-duty appliances on the same circuit.
To fix it, you must unplug the devices before resetting and use only low consumers to prevent overloading.
Check for short circuits.
If your breaker is not resetting despite several flips, the problem could be due to short circuits.
It happens when a hot wire comes in contact with the neutral wire.
Flipping the breaker, in this case, is safe, and there is clear evidence of a short circuit.
It can also occur due to other reasons, like:
- A broken or defective appliance
- Loose wire connections
- Fire hazard
If you suspect a short circuit, hire an electrician to fix the problem.
Your circuit breaker might be faulty, for which it is not resetting even after multiple tries.
It could be a manufacturing defect for which the breaker constantly trips despite no overloading or short circuits.
In that case, you must call an electrician to confirm the real cause and replace the breaker if it is faulty.
Is it safe to reset a breaker with the ‘test’ button?
Some types of breakers will have a testing button, like:
- Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
- Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)
- Combination of AFCI and GFCI
These breakers come with different features to detect electrical problems.
The breakers need to be manually reset at least every month.
It helps to understand the safety of the breakers.
So, it is completely safe to reset these breakers using the ‘test’ button.
However, you must also follow the right steps. Otherwise, the breaker won’t reset.
If you want to reset these breakers with the help of the ‘test’ button, here are the steps:
Plug in a good lamp
For testing the GFCI and AFCI breakers, you must plug in a good functional lamp.
It will help you see whether the circuit is working properly after performing the test and reset functions or not.
Press the reset button
The ‘test’ button is for the arc or ground faults in the breaker.
By pressing this button, the switch will go to the trip position.
So, the light will turn off when the breaker is tripped after pressing the ‘test’ button.
Reset the circuit breaker
Now, like the normal breakers, flip the switch of the GFCI or AFCI breakers to the ‘on’ position.
Once you flip it on, the light plugged into the breaker should light up.
A good breaker would be Square D by Schneider Electric HOM120CP.
When to call an electrician?
Suppose any of these steps mentioned above do not work for your breaker.
In that case, you need to hire a professional to let them identify the real cause and fix it soon.
Besides, some states do not allow laypersons to fix electrical issues.
But since it can be quite costly, house owners try fixing it independently.
But, if you cannot fix it, I recommend hiring an expert electrician.
They can identify the right problem and fix it soon.
It is safe to reset both normal breakers and GFCI and AFCI breakers. You need to follow the correct steps. You must follow the steps as explained in this article. Otherwise, your breaker won’t reset properly.
Call a professional if you cannot reset it despite following these steps. You will need them during short circuits, loose wirings, and faulty breakers.
To prevent tripping, avoid overloading, as it is the most common reason. Use low-power-consuming appliances like light fixtures. For heavy-duty appliances, you need a breaker with higher amps.
While resetting, unplug all the devices to speed up the resetting process.
Data Source: National Electrical Code, NEC Wire Table, Electrical wiring, Home wiring.