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Your breakers form a crucial link in the chain of your building’s electrical systems, both from the perspective of avoiding damage to property and, of course, keeping the people in that property safe.
Breakers, fuses, and RCDs all serve the same basic purpose of cutting the power to a specific part of your electrical system in the event that something goes wrong, and, in the case of breakers, you can cut the power intentionally by tripping the breaker manually.
There are many reasons why you might want to do this, such as cutting the electricity to a specific part of your home, or a specific appliance in the case of something substantial like an oven or shower. This could be because work is being undertaken or there is an electrical fault. You might also want to trip a breaker for diagnostic reasons, like isolating a part of your electrical systems to establish where a potential fault lies.
Whatever the reason you need to reset your circuit breakers, you need to know how to do it first, which is why we have put together this step-by-step guide, as well as some answers to the more commonly asked questions about this procedure.
Resetting your circuit breaker is necessary to get power back on when a breaker has tripped, and it is not a particularly complicated process, but, like many simple things, there are still steps that should be taken in a specific order to ensure nothing goes wrong.
#1 Unplug all appliances and turn off the lights.
The first thing to do is ensure any electrical appliances or fixtures whose power comes from the tripped breaker are switched off and unplugged as necessary.
If a breaker has tripped, it is a sign that there is something wrong, and if you just reset the breaker without changing anything, it will probably just trip off again.
#2 Go to your circuit breaker and open the cover.
Next, find your fuse board—it will usually be in a maintenance room or somewhere else out of the way—and remove or lift the cover.
#3 Switch the breaker to OFF position, wait for a few seconds then switch fully to ON position.
If the breaker is not already tripped, switch it to the off position. Once you are sure it has been off for a few seconds (giving any residual electrical charge chance to dissipate), switch it back to the on position.
#4 Check your appliances and fixtures.
There shouldn’t be anything plugged in or switched on by this point. Once you have carried out the above steps and your power is on again, you can start methodically trying all the appliances fed by that breaker. Try them one at a time, being sure to only try one thing at once. If any of the appliances trip the breaker again, you’ll know they are at fault.
If no individual appliance trips the breaker but having everything plugged back in and switched on does, you are probably overloading the circuit—drawing too much power into one part of the system. In that case, you could get your wiring upgraded, or you could just more evenly distribute your electronics so that they are not all drawing power into the same part of the building.
#5 Get help if needed.
If resetting your breaker didn’t help you solve the problem, it’s time to call in an expert. Getting a certified electrician to look over your problem will ensure everything is fixed and, more importantly, safe
As long as your fuse board is in good condition, and you are not going near any exposed wires, it should be perfectly safe to reset a breaker yourself. The housing of the fuse board and the breakers themselves should not be conductive, meaning you can’t get electrocuted by them if there is a fault (if your fuse board has a metal housing, it needs replacing).
You should be in no more danger than having to reset a digital clock or two, but it is a good idea to make sure nothing sensitive to sudden power loss is turned on. For example, computers are supposed to be properly shut down, and, while it is rare, suddenly cutting the power can lead to data loss.
As far as your own safety goes, however, stay away from exposed wires and appliances with exposed metal components, and you should be perfectly safe. However, if you are even a little unsure, we would recommend calling an expert to help.
If resetting the breaker does not bring the power back online, there are two likely scenarios. The first is that the cause of the power outage is further up the line than your breakers, such as the main breaker or RCD tripping, or a black-out in your area. The second is that the cause of the breaker tripping in the first place is still present, and is causing the breaker to immediately trip back off when you reset it.
If you check your breaker after resetting and see that it has tripped again, something still active is causing the problem. If you have ensured that everything is unplugged or powered off, it would indicate a more serious problem, such as with the wiring, and will need the attention of an electrician.
Alternatively, if the breaker has not tripped, but there is no power, check to see if any main breakers or RCDs have tripped. If not, check to see if there is power in your neighborhood, as it could be a power outage. If you’ve been a bit forgetful about paying your electricity bill, this could also be a problem.
If there is definitely power coming to your home but a specific part of it is getting no electricity even with the breaker on, it may be a faulty breaker.
A breaker immediately tripping back off after being reset is a sign that the problem that caused it to trip is still there. If you did not follow the steps above and unplugged all the relevant electronics, now would be the time to do that. If you did, however, that means you have a bigger problem.
Once you are sure none of your appliances or electrical fixtures are causing the breaker to trip, that leaves two possibilities; faulty wiring in your home or a faulty breaker itself. Neither of these problems is the kind of thing that a person who is not a qualified electrician should be attempting to fix.
Can you? Yes. Should you? Not so much.
The truth of the matter is that you should not be resetting your circuit breaker at all unless you have a good idea of what caused it to trip in the first place. Resetting it to help you identify the problem is one thing, but if you are just resetting it every time it trips in the hope that the problem will go away, then no, you should not keep resetting it.
The chances of something going wrong should be small—the whole point of a circuit breaker is to cut power the very instant that there is a problem. But every time you restore power to a faulty system, you run the risk of something getting damaged, someone getting hurt, or even starting an electrical fire. The risk may be small, but the more you reset your breaker without the problem being fixed, the greater that risk gets.
It is possible for a circuit breaker to explode, though “explode” sounds a bit more dramatic than it actually is—”burst” would be a more appropriate word. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying you wouldn’t have an unpleasant time if your face was a few inches from a breaker when it burst, but the breaker isn’t going to blow a hole in your wall by itself.
The main things that can cause a breaker to burst are an overloaded circuit—putting too much electrical load on the breaker—or the breaker being faulty itself. In either case, you will need a qualified electrician to replace the breaker, so they will be able to inspect the fault and determine the cause before installing a new one.
Resetting your circuit breaker is sometimes necessary, but it is important to remember that the breaker is a safety measure, and they rarely trip for no reason. If your breaker trips, it is an indication that there is a fault in your electrical systems, and that fault could potentially be dangerous, if not to your safety, then to your property.
As mentioned above, there are some things you can try to narrow down the cause of the problem, but you should not just keep resetting your breaker without establishing the cause of the problem, even if there are long intervals between the breaker tripping.
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