Don’t panic over a circuit breaker trip
by Robert Yang | Dec. 19, 2021
As a child doing house chores, one of the most daunting tasks was vacuuming. I despised using the vacuum because it would often trip the circuit breaker. Resetting a tripped circuit was intimidating because the box had too many buttons, so I always asked my mom or dad to reset it. For safety reasons, children should always ask an adult to fix a tripped circuit.
It’s easy for me to handle this now that I’m an adult who understands the instructions and can safely maneuver through a circuit breaker box. There are many new homeowners who will experience a tripped circuit breaker. I’d like to share some tips to ensure your first time at resetting the circuit breaker is an easy and safe experience.
Before you begin, turn off and unplug any devices connected to the tripped circuit. A sudden surge of electricity could damage your devices when the circuit breaker gets reset. Circuit breaker boxes are often located in the laundry room, utility closet or basement. While high-powered devices can trip the circuit breaker, so can powerful storms when lightning strikes a power line or utility pole.
As you approach the breaker box, make sure the environment is dry. If a storm tripped the circuit, then the area could be wet due to flooding or water leakage. We all know that the combination of electricity and water is a major safety hazard. The box may also have exposed wires due to deterioration over a period of time so opening it up while the area is wet will only increase the risk of getting shocked.
If safe to do so, open the circuit box and search for switches that are stuck in a middle position. A middle position indicates the circuit has tripped. If the switch is leaning toward the complete opposite position in relation to the majority of switches in the column, that indicates the circuit is off. On my box, the switches in the left column lean right and on the right column, they lean left, to indicate power is on.
Most boxes have a directory on the inner panel to help you reference which switch connects to which circuit. If my vacuum tripped the circuit in the living room, then I would look for circuit labeled as “living room” on the directory, which would tell me that switch no. 3 connects to that area.
The final step is to reset the switch. Flip the switch off by pressing it in the opposite direction compared to the majority of switches in the column. Once the switch is off, press it fully in the opposite or “on” direction to turn it back on. There should be some resistance as you do this. Once you hear a click, then the circuit has been reset! It’s now safe to plug in and turn on your devices.
If a circuit keeps tripping in your home, you should contact a licensed electrician to investigate the issue since it may require replacing switches or updating your electrical wiring. Circuit breakers are designed to prevent electrical fires in your home so don’t get too frustrated when they trip. Remember to always be vigilant when working with electricity. Resetting circuit breakers is a relatively easy task, but be sure to leave the more challenging jobs for an electrician. You can also find circuit breaker tips in our Emergency Preparedness Handbook.
Robert Yang is a digital communications and social media specialist at Hawaiian Electric.