Modern electrical systems have circuit breakers that trip in order to protect circuits from damage caused by overloading or short-circuiting. Usually, the fix is simple—just flip the tripped switch, and power is restored. But sometimes, the circuit breaker won’t reset or trips repeatedly. Here’s a look at what might be causing the problem and what you should do to fix it.
Why Do Circuit Breakers Trip?
There are several reasons a circuit breaker can trip. Understanding these causes can help you pinpoint why you’re unable to reset the breaker.
- Overloaded circuit: The most common reason for a breaker to trip is that the circuit becomes temporarily overloaded. This occurs when too many high-wattage appliances are plugged into outlets on the same circuit. Overloaded circuits are common in older kitchens and bathrooms, which weren’t designed to handle the high power needs of today’s modern appliances.
- Short circuit: When a circuit breaker won’t reset or trips immediately after resetting, a short circuit is a likely cause. This is when a hot wire carrying a current touches a neutral wire. The circuit breaker detects this problem and trips as a safety mechanism. Left unaddressed, short circuits can damage sensitive electronics, cause appliances to overheat, or even spark a fire. Because of these hazards, you should leave the breaker off and seek help from a licensed professional if you suspect this is why your circuit breaker keeps tripping.
- Open ground: An open ground occurs when a three-pronged outlet doesn’t connect to the home’s grounding system. This is unsafe because if a fault occurs, the surge could damage your electronics or cause electrocution instead of routing to the ground. Surges may also cause the circuit breaker to trip.
- Rodent damage: Mice and other critters that make their way into your walls may chew on the wiring, causing open electrical connections that result in a tripped circuit breaker.
- Bad outlet or switch connection: You tap into your home’s electrical system by using wall outlets and light switches. If the wiring at these terminals has gone bad, this could prevent the circuit breaker from resetting.
- Failing light fixture or appliance: A malfunctioning device could be the reason your circuit breaker won’t reset. If a light fixture or appliance cord is damaged, feels hot to the touch, or sparks when you unplug it, it’s probably the culprit.
- Faulty breaker: Although uncommon, it’s possible the breaker itself is faulty. If this is the case, you’ll need a licensed electrician’s help to resolve the issue.
How to Reset a Circuit Breaker
Human error can play a role in a breaker that seemingly won’t reset. Some switches are stiff and require a good amount of pressure to move, or you might be attempting to reset the wrong breaker.
When you open your circuit breaker box, look for a breaker that doesn’t line up with the rest. This is the tripped breaker you’re looking for. To reset it, first push it to the off position, or the opposite direction the other breakers are facing. Pause for a moment, and then flip the switch back to the on position.
If all goes well, the power should come back on. If the circuit breaker won’t reset, follow the troubleshooting tips below.
Avoid Overloading the Circuit
Does your circuit breaker trip every time you turn on the vacuum cleaner, microwave, or hairdryer? These high-load appliances could be overloading the circuit. You can try plugging them into a different outlet, but you may want to look into having new circuits added to your home if the problem occurs frequently.
Test Outlets and Switches on the Circuit
If your circuit breaker panel is labeled properly, you should be able to tell which outlets and switches are connected to the circuit that won’t reset. Once you know which ones are affected, you can identify the problem through the process of elimination.
Start by unplugging all the appliances and turning off the lights powered by the affected circuit. Then, try resetting the breaker again. If it trips with nothing drawing power, a faulty breaker or bad electrical connection is the likely cause. But if the circuit stays on, you can rule out these possibilities.
Now, begin plugging appliances and devices back in one at a time. Wait a minute between each addition to see if the circuit will trip again. Once it does, assess the equipment that triggered the trip for signs of problems. If it seems fine, reset the breaker and plug the equipment into a different outlet on the same circuit. If this doesn’t trip the breaker, then that specific outlet, not the appliance, could be to blame.
Test all the lights as well. If the breaker trips when you turn on a particular switch, the problem might be the switch, the light fixture it powers, or the wiring between the two.
Call an Electrician for Help
If you need help diagnosing the problem or implementing the required repair, reach out to a licensed electrician. A professional has the tools and know-how to test for bad connections, short circuits, open grounds, rodent damage, and other reasons a circuit breaker won’t reset. An electrician can even replace a faulty breaker and conduct other necessary repairs to get your electrical system working normally again.
If you’re looking for a reliable electrician in Fort Collins, turn to Allen Service. We have 60 years of experience repairing wiring, replacing circuit breaker panels, and performing electrical service upgrades. Your satisfaction is important to us, so we won’t deem the job complete until you’re thrilled with the results. To request an electrical service estimate, please call us at 970-484-4841 or contact us online today.