A circuit breaker switch won't turn back on. Do I call an electrician?
April 29, 2014 2:13 PM   Subscribe

One of our circuit breakers tripped, and it won't return to its "on" position. I push it toward "on," but it doesn't stay, just returns to a middle position between on and off. It serves only a single hallway in the home, and nothing is plugged in there. Does the breaker need to be replaced? Should I call an electrician?
posted by jackypaper to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, call an electrician. Maybe the breaker is faulty, but maybe there's a short in the circuit.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:16 PM on April 29

Sometimes if a breaker is tripped, it clicks off to the middle neutral space, that's not really the 'off' side. Try clicking it firmly into the off position, then again into the on position.

If that fails, I would call an electrician. Electrical matters aren't to be messed around with.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:16 PM on April 29 [13 favorites]

I seem to recall that with circuit breakers in the middle position, you first have to move them to Off before moving them to On. Or, on preview, what the comment before this one says.
posted by DanSachs at 2:17 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Move it to off, then back to on.

The middle position is so you can pick out which one tripped if it is with some that should be off for some reason. Moving it to off should reset the trip and you can turn it back on then.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:20 PM on April 29

I turned it off, then pushed it back to on, and it returned immediately to the middle position.
posted by jackypaper at 2:27 PM on April 29

Something is blowing it. It's good that it's blown, because that's your warning to call an electrician. Your other warning could well be a house fire.
posted by Solomon at 2:28 PM on April 29 [7 favorites]

If you've moved it firmly to off (and I mean FIRMLY, if you've shoved that sucker over to off as hard as you can) and it's still not going on, it's electrician time.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:48 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

I recommend not testing this, but perhaps you can remember-- did it seem to buzz under your fingertip at the on position when you tried to turn it back on?

That was the tip-off for me once when I had an actual short rather than a bad breaker.
posted by jamjam at 2:53 PM on April 29

I have often had to move it to the off position and back to on a few times before it "took". Although I do not know if that is safe or not.
posted by Vaike at 2:54 PM on April 29

Circuit breakers don't last forever (though they do last a long time). A failure is not a huge surprise.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:29 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]

There might be a a safer way to test for a bad breaker if you have a whole house breaker and are willing to turn it off.

First turn off all the individual breakers one by one, then turn the whole house breaker off, then turn the tripping breaker on; if it won't stay on in that circumstance it is certainly bad. Then turn the tripping breaker back off, then turn the whole house breaker back on, then turn the individual breakers back on one by one except for the tripping breaker, which you should leave off.

Unfortunately, even if this test shows you have a bad breaker, you could still have a short, because breakers often fail as they trip when there's a short.

But if you are correct that nothing is plugged into that circuit, and the breaker stays on during the test, I think you probably do have a short.
posted by jamjam at 3:31 PM on April 29

Changing a breaker is really not that hard, as long as you have a whole house shutoff, an assistant who will hold a flashlight, and a bit of common sense. THAT SAID, the fact that this breaker is tripping randomly on an outlet into which nothing is actually plugged indicates you may have other issues. So yeah, adding to the chorus: electrician time. For safety's sake.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:40 PM on April 29

Thanks for all of these tips and insights. I called the electrician. It's probably something simple that I could have fixed myself, but I'm not going to get all DIY crazy when it comes to electricity.
posted by jackypaper at 4:43 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]

Nope, this happened to us and it was a short in the circuit. Totally electrician territory.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:56 PM on April 29

It's probably something simple that I could have fixed myself, but I'm not going to get all DIY crazy when it comes to electricity.

I work with electricity all day long but I will never touch the electrical or gas systems in my own home. It's a lot easier to explain to my insurance agent which bonded technician burned my house down than to say "oops, my bad".
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:04 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]

I know this is too late, but there could be a tripped ground-fault interrupter on that circuit. I'm not sure whether leaving it tripped would prevent the circuit breaker from being reset.
posted by Don_K at 8:43 AM on April 30

Not unless the GFCI device itself was somehow defective.
posted by Mitheral at 8:09 PM on May 1

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