How to Reset My Fuse Box

December 18, 2020
Updated January 2024

Your Seattle, WA, area home’s fuse box or circuit breaker is its electrical control panel. The fuse box or circuit breaker distributes the voltage delivered by the electricity company. It also contains the grounding wire. If a circuit or fuse trips or blows, it’s important to know what to do. If this problem happens repeatedly, it’s best to call an electrician to inspect the panel and investigate what’s making it cut the power to that portion of your home.

What Is a Fuse Box?

Homes that were built before 1960 may still have a fuse box. The box contains a series of threaded fuses that are screwed into the threaded sockets in order to provide protection from excess current. The purpose of the fuse is to melt if it has too much current flowing through it. A fuse can only be used once. If it blows, you have to install a new fuse into the thread.

What Happens When a Fuse Blows?

The fuse holds a thin strip of metal. The metal is designed to melt if too much current goes through it. Once the metal melts, no more current can flow. This disrupts the power to the circuit. Since the metal melts, the fuse can’t be reused. It must be replaced. A lot of current can pass through the fuse during the melting process, and anything that was plugged in could be severely damaged. The load of current could also damage the wiring within the walls.

How to Reset a Fuse Box

If you live in an older home that still uses fuses, begin by turning off all lights and unplugging anything that’s in the room or rooms controlled by the affected fuse. It’s important to unplug everything because an electrical problem could result in a surge of power being delivered when you reset the fuse. If you recently bought a new electronic item or appliance and were using it when the fuse blew, it’s the likely source of the problem. Make sure you unplug that item before resetting the fuse.

Locate your fuse box. Open its door. Use a flashlight to inspect the fuses. If you see one with discolored glass or what looks like a melted wire or filament inside, that’s the fuse that blew. Make sure your hands are dry and that you’re standing on a dry surface. Unscrew the broken fuse. You’ll need to bring it with you to the hardware or home supply store. You must replace it with the same style, size and amperage of the fuse.

Screw in the new fuse. Plug in one item. If it works, plug in and turn on another item. Continue doing this until you’ve plugged in all the items you had been using. However, if plugging in one item trips the fuse again, you’ll need to do more sleuthing. Try plugging that item into an outlet in a different room. If that fuse trips, it’s the item causing the problem. If any item trips the fuse that you just replaced, then your fuse box may have an issue. It’s also possible that the wiring between the fuse box and the outlets has a problem that requires a prompt electrical repair.

fuse box

What Is a Circuit Breaker?

Houses built after 1960 use a circuit breaker box. A circuit breaker has multiple circuits on a panel. Each circuit covers a particular outlet, area or appliance. If too much voltage passes through the circuit, the switch flips and cuts the circuit. A tripped circuit can be reset again and again, which is what makes it different from a fuse.

What Happens When a Circuit Trips?

When a circuit trips, a bimetallic strip in the panel gets hot. It bends, which trips the latch between the two loaded springs of the switch. The spring pulls the contacts away from each other. You can reset the breaker countless times. However, every time the breaker trips, some arcing occurs. This damages the contacts. Different circuits in your home have different amp capacities. The circuits for lights are usually rated for 20 amps. The clothes dryer typically requires a 30-amp breaker. Your oven should have a 40-amp breaker.

How to Reset the Circuit Breaker

Resetting a circuit breaker isn’t as complicated as replacing and resetting a fuse. You’ll still need to go through the process of unplugging everything and turning off the lights in the room served by the tripped circuit.

Locate the circuit breaker. Begin by making sure your hands are dry and that you’re standing on a dry surface. Open the box’s door. Look for a circuit that has moved from the “-on” position. It might have flipped to the “-off” position, or it might be in the middle.

Push that switch all the way to the “-off” position. Then push it all the way to the -on position. That should reset the circuit and restore power to it. If it trips again, you may have a problem with an outlet, a problem with an appliance or a wiring issue. It’s also possible that a new item you just started using is drawing too much current. If you’re using an old item for the first time in a while, its wiring or plug may be damaged. Stop using the item. You’ll need an electrician to take a look at the breaker and inspect the wiring and outlets.

Why Fuses Blow or Circuits Trip

There are many reasons why a fuse can blow or a circuit might trip. It’s possible that the circuit has too many outlets that are all in use at the same time. The wiring might not have the capacity to deliver the current those appliances demand. Simply replacing the circuit or fuse with one that has a higher capacity won’t solve this problem. The wires also have a maximum carrying capacity for current. You might need an electrician to switch which outlets are carried by each circuit, or you may need a wiring or panel upgrade.

Another reason why a fuse or circuit may cut power is when the item that’s plugged in has a problem. An electrical problem in the appliance may cause it to draw too much current. For example, a frayed wire or bent plug could do this. Old appliances are a common cause of this issue. If you recently unearthed your grandma’s fan out of the attic, that old appliance could be the cause of the blown fuse.

Plugging in an item that needs more current than the circuit can supply will also cause the fuse to blow or the breaker to trip. If you have an older home and attempt to plug in your new flat-screen television and sound system, the wiring in your living room might not be able to deliver enough current.

Brennan Electric is Seattle’s trusted provider of electrical panels. You can also turn to us for whole-home surge protection, electrical repairs, lighting installation, generators and hardwired carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. For more information about how to reset your fuse box or to get help with a fuse box problem, give us a call.

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