Have you ever been in the middle of cooking dinner when suddenly everything goes dark? Or maybe you’re taming your mane before work when your hair dryer abruptly shuts off? You might scratch your head wondering if you forgot to pay the electric bill, but chances are more likely that you’re dealing with a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse.
While scrambling around in the dark to find your electrical panel may be annoying, it’s actually a good thing. Your circuit breakers or fuses are helping to protect your electrical system from damage. And there’s no need to call an electrician every time this happens. We’re going to walk you through everything you need to know to tackle this pesky electrical problem like a pro!
Circuit Breaker vs. Fuse: What’s the Difference?
Before we dive into troubleshooting, let’s first understand the difference between a circuit breaker and a fuse. This will help you know how to handle the situation, because each one requires a different strategy.
Both circuit breakers and fuses are safety devices designed to regulate the electrical current in your home and protect your electrical system from overloading or short circuits. But they do this in very different ways.
What is a circuit breaker?
A circuit breaker is a switch that automatically turns off when it detects too much current or a short circuit. When you “trip” a circuit breaker, you’re basically cutting off the flow of electricity to that particular circuit to prevent damage to the wiring, appliances, or devices connected to it.
In a house, circuit breakers will generally be located in the main electrical panel, sometimes referred to as a “breaker box.” This is typically found in a utility closet, garage, or basement. Each breaker will be labeled to identify which circuit it controls.
To reset a tripped circuit breaker, you simply need to flip it back to its “on” position (see our more detailed directions).
What is a fuse?
If your home was constructed before 1965, you will probably find a fuse box containing fuses. Each of these fuses is composed of either glass or ceramic and contains a thin wire filament inside.
When the current flowing through the fuse exceeds its rated capacity, designated by its amperage rating, the wire melts or “fuses” and breaks the circuit, cutting off the electricity.
Fuse boxes are also found in low-traffic, discreet areas just like breaker boxes (utility closets, garages, basements, etc.).
Unlike a circuit breaker, a blown fuse can’t be switched back on. To fix it, you will need to replace the fuse with one of the same amperage rating (more on this below).
Why Do Circuit Breakers Trip and Fuses Blow in the First Place?
Have you ever heard the saying “too much of a good thing?” This is definitely the case with electricity. Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to protect your electrical system by preventing too much current from flowing through it.
While many homeowners are familiar with the frustration of dealing with a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse, few consider why these electrical issues occur in the first place.
There are several common causes:
- Overloading: Don’t overburden your electrical system! When you plug too many devices or appliances into one circuit, the power demand is likely to overwhelm it; resulting in a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker.
- Old Circuit Breakers or Fuses: Older circuit breakers and fuses are not able to handle the same amounts of current as modern models. And with all our digital devices and appliances, it’s no wonder the old equipment can’t keep up with demand!
- Faulty Wiring: Faulty wiring can be incredibly dangerous, causing fires or electrocution. Circuit breakers have the advantage of being able to sense a faulty wiring issue and will trip as a protective measure.
- Damage: From electrical outlets and switches, to appliances and the breaker box or fuse box itself, any physical damage to your wiring or equipment can cause breakers to trip and fuses to blow.
So whether you have an overloaded circuit, faulty wiring, or damaged or old equipment, understanding and pinpointing the primary issue is crucial for preventing future trips and blows.
How to Reset a Tripped Circuit Breaker in 5 Easy Steps
So you’ve successfully sleuthed out the source of the problem — a tripped circuit breaker. Nice work, Sherlock! Now it’s time to bring it back to life. As mentioned above, fixing a tripped circuit breaker is easy and straightforward.
Most breakers operate the same way; you’ll need to turn them all off before you can turn them back on again. Some brands might trip to the off position and not require a reset, but let’s focus on the majority here.
Here are 5 easy steps you’ll take to reset a circuit breaker:
- Locate your breaker box (it will likely be a large, gray, metal box mounted to a wall).
- Open the breaker box door.
- Find the breaker that has tripped by looking for one that is out of alignment with the rest (some models will be labeled “off” or “on” to indicate the position).
- Reset the breaker by flipping it all the way off.
- Wait 10 seconds, and then flip the breaker back to the “on” position.
Voila! Your power should be up and running like Usain Bolt!
Before you head back to your day-to-day routine, always remember to close the panel door. Safety first, folks.
Pro tip: Now if the breaker trips again immediately, don’t reset it. This won’t fix the real issue, and this issue could even be a dangerous one. Instead, it’s time to call a qualified electrician to help troubleshoot and repair the bigger electrical issue.
How to Replace a Blown Fuse
If you live in one of those charming older Tennessee homes (we love them too!), it’s likely you have a fuse-based electrical system. So you won’t be able to just flip a switch to reset it — you’ll have to replace the fuse.
This isn’t complicated, but it does require a little more effort, knowledge, and safety precautions.
Here’s how to replace a blown fuse:
- Locate your fuse box (it will likely be metal, gray, and fixed to a wall near your electric meter).
- Lay a rubber mat on the floor in front of the fuse box and stand on it to protect yourself from electric shock.
- Open the fuse box door.
- Inspect each fuse using a flashlight to find the one that is burned or melted (the working fuses will have a clear glass casing but the blown one will look cloudy or blackened).
- If your fuses aren’t labeled, figure out which circuit is affected by turning lights on and off around your house until you find the area without power.
- Unplug everything and turn off all the lights in that area before replacing the fuse.
- Cut the power to your entire house by pulling out the handle on the main fuse block from its spot at the top of the panel (it could be hot, so use caution).
- Carefully unscrew the damaged fuse, avoiding contact with its metal threads (it could shock or burn you).
- Look for the amperage rating on the fuse (it will likely be stamped or printed on the side of the fuse).
- Purchase a replacement fuse with the same amperage rating. Never replace it with a higher one — this could put your wiring and appliances at risk of overload.
- Gently twist the new fuse into place in the empty socket.
- Turn your power back on at the main switch by pushing the handle back into its spot.
- Test your lights and appliances to make sure everything is working properly
- Close up the fuse box door, and there you have it!
Great job, you electrician, you! You’ve replaced a blown fuse successfully!
Pro tip: If you find that after replacing the fuse, your circuit trips or blows again, there’s probably a larger problem at play. Contact a professional electrician to help troubleshoot and repair the issue.
Should You Replace Your Electrical Panel?
Tripped breakers and blown fuses can be annoying, but they can also be a warning sign that your electrical panel is struggling to keep up with your energy needs.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your panel? Here are some things to consider:
- Your home is more than 30 years old and still has the original electrical panel.
- Your panel is a brand that has been recalled, such as Federal Pacific Electric or Zinsco.
- Your panel frequently trips breakers or blows fuses.
- Your panel has signs of rust or corrosion, indicating water damage.
- You’ve recently added new appliances or devices to your home (like an electric vehicle charging station), and your panel is struggling to keep up with the increased demand for power.
- You’re planning a home renovation or addition that will require additional electrical capacity.
Replacing your electrical panel may seem like a hefty expense, but it’s worth every penny! This upgrade means:
- Better safety and reliability of a totally up-to-code electrical system.
- Preventing future issues with tripped breakers and blown fuses.
- Increased resale value of your home.
Not only that, but the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act offers homeowners up to $4,000 in rebates to retrofit older homes with new electrical panels and up to $2,500 for new wiring! That’s a great incentive to make sure your home is up-to-date and safe.
Pro tip: Tennessee homeowners can learn more about current tax credits and rebates from the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program.
What to Do if the Problem Keeps Happening
Got a tripping circuit breaker or a blown fuse that just won’t quit? Ugh, we feel your frustration! It’s normal for this to happen from time to time, but if breakers are tripping or fuses are blowing on a regular basis, then there’s probably a bigger issue brewing…
Here are some tips to help you get to the root of the problem:
Check your appliances and devices
- Are any of them faulty or damaged?
- Are you overloading any circuits?
Unplug or replace any appliances or devices that may be causing the problem.
Check your electrical
- Are there any signs of burning or discoloration around the outlets or switches?
- Do you smell any burning or smoke?
- Are any of your wires frayed or exposed?
If you suspect any issues with your wiring or outlets, you’ll need to call a professional electrician who can assess and repair the problem.
Check for pests
Rats, mice, chipmunks, and other pests are known for chewing through electrical wires. If you suspect that rodents may be making their home in your walls or attic, don’t let those pesky pests cause a power outage or, worse, a fire hazard in your home! Contact an exterminator to…well, eradicate the issue.
Check your breaker box
- Is the correct size breaker being used for the circuit?
- Do all of the breakers seem secure in their spots?
- Are there any sparks or signs of burning?
If you notice anything wrong with your breaker box, contact a licensed electrician to make the necessary repairs.
Remember to always prioritize safety — we may sound like a broken record, but don’t attempt to handle electrical work if you’re unfamiliar with the process or if you don’t have the right tools. It’s always best to invest in a professional electrician who is trained to handle a wide range of electrical problems.
Some Tips on Preventing Future Trips and Blown Fuses
When it comes to preventing future trips or blown fuses, the most important thing is to be proactive. Proactive steps include:
- Routinely checking your electrical panel for any signs of damage or wear and tear.
- Making sure you don’t overload outlets with too many devices.
- Unplugging devices that you’re not using.
- Replacing electrical cords that are frayed or cracked.
- Use surge protectors to protect your appliances and devices from power surges.
- Don’t DIY electrical work if you’re not experienced or trained in electrical work.
Know When to Call in the Electrical Pros
When it comes to taking care of electrical issues in your home, let the professionals handle it! At Lee Company, our team of certified electricians is ready to diagnose and fix any issue with your home’s circuit breakers, fuses, electrical panels, or wiring.
We stay up-to-date with the latest technology, products, and practices to ensure your electrical system is safe, reliable, and energy-efficient.
Don’t let electrical problems stress you out. Give Lee Company a call today for all your residential electrical needs!
Need a qualified electrician?CALL US NOW AT 615.567.1000