The circuit breaker is one of the most important home safety devices. Typically, an electrical box contains a main breaker for your entire house and rows of branch circuit breakers, each connected to individual circuits. Each breaker works the same way. The difference is the main circuit breaker can handle a larger amperage; modern residential devices may be rated for as much as 200-amps.


A circuit breaker automatically disrupts the flow of a current if there’s a short circuit or overload. In doing so, it can prevent damage to an electrical circuit and possibly appliances, electronics, and your home. Electrical overloads can generate high amounts of heat, potentially triggering sparks, burns, electrocutions, and fires.

When a circuit breaker trips, it may mean electrical repairs are needed. Some reasons a breaker can trip include:

  • Too much current is flowing through the circuit
  • The hot and neutral wires have fused together (due to an overheated/melted component)
  • A power line has ruptured, perhaps by driving a nail in the wall

How Does a Circuit Breaker Trip?

Breakers are designed to react when the current exceeds a certain threshold. Unlike a fuse, you can reset it after it trips (fuses must be replaced). There are many types of circuit breakers. The most basic is a switch that is attached to an electromagnet or bimetallic strip, as well as the circuit’s hot wire that connects on both ends.

In the ON position, the breaker allows electricity to flow through from one end to another. Its electromagnet is magnetized by electricity—the higher the current, the greater the magnetic force. If the current is strong enough, the electromagnet will pull the lever down, pulling the switch, shifting the linkage, and opening the circuit. Bimetallic strip breakers work the same way, except the metal strip is bent by high current to move the switch.

Circuit Breaker Tips

Knowing how to use a circuit breaker is important. The power may have been cut for a reason, so you want to be aware of potential overloads or electrical malfunctions. It’s important to know which branch circuit each breaker is connected to, so you can identify whether too many devices are connected in, for example, your kitchen or living room.

If you’re using the main breaker to shut off power to the whole house, switch off each individual breaker first, one at a time, and then flip the main circuit breaker off. To restore power, switch the main breaker on. Then reset each individual circuit breaker individually. Resetting them one at a time can avoid a sudden power surge.

Follow a similar procedure if the main circuit breaker trips. Whether this is due to a power surge, overload, or lightning strike, turn off all individual breakers so all circuits don’t turn on as soon as the main breaker is reset. When you do reset the main breaker, stand to the side, turn your head, and preferably wear safety glasses to protect yourself from potential sparks or flashes. Then turn one each circuit one at a time.

Contact Your Los Angeles Electrician

Always practice electrical safety around circuit breakers. But if you’re not sure of the problem or how to fix it, call an electrician near you. At Express Electrical Services, we’re the best electrician in Southern California to help. Our team is available in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Riverside County to help keep homes and families safe while also addressing reliability and energy efficiency. Call 855-324-5796 or request service today.