Easy, Illustrated Instructions on How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

Most people discover the circuit breaker when half of their power goes out.

As a kid, at my parent's house, power in the kitchen would occasionally shut off if someone turned on the computer, the microwave and the toaster all at the same time.

This was when I learned about the circuit breaker box. It is also when I learned to save my game work every 12 minutes.

The breaker box is where all the electricity for your home is divided into separate paths of wire or circuits. If one circuit is using too much power, one of the switches inside here is thrown open, breaking the circuit. The idea is that you want to keep the wires inside your walls from ever getting hot. Too much power, and the wires heat up, which can lead to fires.

To the right is a photograph of the breaker box on our house, in the backyard, directly underneath where the power lines drop down from a power pole. The round electricity meter is joined with the breaker box.

The breaker box is always on a wall, about 5 feet up. Sometimes it is in the garage or laundry room. It could also be in that little room under the stairs. In an apartment building, there might just be 2 or 3 breakers for the apartment, behind a little metal door.


In ye olde days, before circuit breakers were invented, protection against overheating wire was performed by fuses. Fuses have a quick-melt thread of metal inside. If too much energy was running through this wire, the thread would melt, opening the circuit, turning off the power. This was also known as blowing the fuse.

Fuses suck because they only work one time, then they have a melted center and you have to replace them. They were cheap, but if you ran out, you might have to wait until morning to get a new one at the hardware store. Plus, if it was Sunday, Old Man Bonnaville would be in church until noon, and you'd miss out on most of the good Karate movies.

Anyway, things are better now. Most household electrical circuits have an array of breakers instead.

At our house, we've got 15 circuit breakers. I don't really know what these all do, but one switch probably controls the power in the garage, one probably controls power in the kitchen, and one controls the power for the electric stove. A 15 Amp fuse, as shown here, will only allow about 1800 Watts of power to pull from that circuit before it will blow (15 Amps x 120 Volts = 1800 Watts).

These are pretty much like sideways light switches and they work the same way, with a minor addition. They've got a "tripped" position in the middle, between ON and OFF.

To reset the circuit breaker, flip the switch OFF, then ON. Easy. That is it. It is reset.

Once the breaker is switched back to ON, check to see if all of that did the trick and turned the lights back on. If you have a few high-power devices still plugged in, the circuit breaker might click open again in just a second or two.

If the lights come back on, your circuit breaker problems are solved!

You will most likely have to develop a power-using work-around, such as waiting until the iron is off before cranking up your space heater. If the breaking circuit includes a refrigerator, be aware that 'fridge motors kick on at unpredicatble intervals.

If the problem doesn't go away, and you are still tripping the breaker with little or no relation to energy use, You may have other high-energy usage problems, such as a short at the electrical outlet, or a crossed wire in one of the appliances plugged in to that circuit.



More than one person has written to let me know that in many cold-weather areas, the circuit breaker box is not on the outside of the house..ever. This makes a lot of sense.

Both locations have a disadvantage. If the breakers are indoors, a seperate meter box has to be constructed, which can be viewed from outside. If the breakers are outside, you have to put your pants on to switch the breaker back on.. and your neighbors can sneak over and switch off your power if your snooze alarm is keeping them awake.

Also, a couple of people have written to let me know that there should be a back plate within my breaker box, concealing the electrified vertical bars and the wired connections.

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January 29th, 2009 

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