Circuit breakers are a modern marvel that we truly take for granted. Prior to them, the best we had were fuses. Every single time there was a short or surge, you had to replace them.
That said, circuit breakers are not perfect technology. Sometimes they may fail to switch back on, or automatically reset for no apparent reason. Be thankful; that circuit breaker is protecting you from potentially serious issues.
What do you do if a tripped circuit breaker won’t reset? It’s important not to force it back into position out of frustration. Before resetting a circuit breaker, there’s very well an underlying issue to address.
Read on as we discuss how to solve the problem in a safe, responsible manner.
What Are Circuit Breakers?
All a circuit breaker is doing is preventing electrical damage. At normal voltage levels, electricity is perfectly safe. When there’s too much of it, though, wires melt, leading to permanent damage and fires.
So, think of a circuit breaker as an emergency shutoff valve on the electricity. If too much comes through, it detects the overcurrent and shuts off instantly. It becomes near impossible for a surge to harm you or your property.
In your home or building, there are multiple circuits for electricity. There may be one for lights, one for specific appliances, and one for entire sections of a home. This makes it easier for electricians in Philadelphia to isolate problems.
How Do They Work?
Each circuit breaker has a built-in amp rating. Once electricity exceeds this amperage, it “trips” the breaker. That is, it temporarily severs the circuit so no electricity can flow.
You’ll know when a breaker has tripped because the electricity will go out. It may shut off in the entire house, or only one region.
Always double-check by heading to your breaker box with a flashlight. Either the main circuit breaker will trip, or one specific breaker will. It’s rare to see multiple breakers trip at once.
What if a Tripped Circuit Breaker Won’t Reset?
Again, never force a circuit breaker back into the “on” position. If it won’t reset, that means it’s likely preventing a potentially serious problem. Things such as the following may occur:
- The breaker won’t reset with nothing plugged in
- The breaker keeps tripping with nothing plugged in
- The breaker trips every time you turn it on
Here are some ways to diagnose the issue before resetting a circuit breaker or replacing it.
Breakers Have Incorrect Labels
There’s a very good chance the electrician on duty mislabeled the breaker’s assigned location. The breaker keeps tripping simply because you assume it’s for the wrong part of the house. So, verify the electrician’s handiwork.
Get a friend on the phone to walk through the home as you switch off breakers one by one on the other end. Verify that they all go to the places that they say they do. There’s a chance the breaker you were working with requires you to re-label it.
Look for Overloads
Remember, a circuit breaker only shuts off when it detects too many amps. The easiest solution–and most common–is that the circuit is overwhelmed.
Take for example a breaker for an office. Go into the office and turn off appliances or electronics one by one, leaving the rest on. There’s a very good chance you have one high-voltage appliance that’s too much for the circuit.
High-voltage appliances can include the following:
- Blow dryers
- Curling irons
- Servers or computers
- Washing machines
- Drying machines
Relocate the offending item to another circuit that offers more breathing room.
Find Faulty Components
Broken or malfunctioning electrical components can be the cause of a breaker that keeps tripping. This could be a busted lighting fixture. Or, a device with compromised voltage self-regulation.
Make sure everything on the circuit is working as it should. Using the technique above, try to isolate the offending component. It may seem to work properly at first glance, but it’s actually damaged.
Look for a Missing Ground
A “ground” is an additional safety element in home circuits. If an abnormal amount of electricity gets trapped in the system, it can escape into the ground, literally. That’s why a ground wire must, somewhere on the circuit, enter the earth.
Grounds are essential for high-voltage appliances. Without them, the system may struggle to self-regulate–thus tripping breakers. Identify appliances that are missing their ground plug prong or wire.
Check for Wire Damage or Leaks
The wires themselves may be at fault. There could be a wire with old insulation. Faulty insulation may overheat the wire and trip the breaker. The metal itself may have corrosion damage or be brittle.
There might also be fluid pooling around the uninsulated wiring. Rodents, such as rats, may have chewed through the wire.
Fix a Tripped Breaker That Won’t Reset
There may be other problems, as electrical circuits are complicated things. You should call an electrician if you suspect there’s an issue that you can’t identify.
Otherwise, the solution may be simple: you need to replace the circuit breaker. Circuit breakers themselves can break, despite the confusing name. The “break” refers to the action of severing a current, not damaging itself.
Signs the Breaker Is the Problem
Sometimes, the breaker will have very clear signs that it’s the problem:
- The switch seizes up
- The breaker looks very old
- There’s visible corrosion or rust
If that’s the case, it may be time to replace the breaker itself.
How to Replace a Broken Breaker
Do your due diligence before you decide to replace the breaker. If you do need to, follow these steps:
- Switch off the main breaker
- Unscrew the breakers’ screws
- Remove the wires
- Pop out the old breaker
- Slot in the new breaker
- Re-insert the wires
- Tighten the screws over them
- Switch on the main breaker
If that doesn’t fix it, definitely call an electrician. Don’t risk your life to save money. One small mistake could put you in the hospital, or kill you.
Fix Busted Breakers Today
If I tripped circuit breaker won’t reset, it’s time to diagnose. You may have an overloaded circuit, faulty electrical components, or issues with your home wiring. If your diagnosis reveals nothing wrong with the circuit, then the breaker itself may require replacement.
Follow our blog for other essential home maintenance tips.