How to Turn on a Circuit Breaker

Close up of a labeled electrical panel

Christina Reid / Getty Images

At one time or another, you've had to turn on a circuit breaker. It's also likely you've had to turn one off to replace a switch or outlet, or possibly to put up a new light or ceiling fan.

Circuit breakers vary from brand to brand but have the same amperage ratings. In any case, turning a circuit breaker on is so easy that, as the Geico commercial touts, a caveman could do it.

Circuit Breakers and Electrical Safety

Electrical safety always begins with turning a circuit breaker off before performing any electrical work on a circuit or device connected to it. You may say it ends when the project is completed and the circuit breaker is once again re-energized by turning the circuit breaker back on.

You can usually see right away if there is a problem ​by going to the electrical panel and checking for a tripped circuit breaker. Simply open the electrical panel door and search the breakers one by one from top to bottom in both rows of breakers, until you find the troubled circuit.

Once located, tape it off so that no one else tries turning on the circuit while you're working on it. It's just another safety move that works.

Using a Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are no more than a specialized single-pole switch. The difference being it has three states it can be in: off, on, or tripped (a sort of neutral position). Unlike a switch that is either on or off, the breakers tripped position is a state that allows the homeowner to see that a circuit error has occurred.

To turn on a circuit breaker, simply locate the circuit breaker panel in your home or office. On the face of the panel, you'll see a door. Open that door and there will be many circuit breakers with switch handles. These breakers will look wider than taller and most of them are black in color, though many companies are now making breakers in various colors.

The switches will be stacked in two rows from top to bottom. With some breaker brands, on each breaker there may be a small window that will show red if the circuit breaker trips. The window is clear when all is well, but it will show red when the breaker has tripped. 

The breaker switch handles are in the "on" position when the handles are towards the center of the breaker panel. If they are positioned toward the outside of the panel, they are in the off position. The tripped state will be somewhere in the middle for most breakers, with the window showing red on certain brands of breaker.

With a small number of brands, the on and off position are the same. To reset this state, you'll need to switch off the breaker before turning it back on.

Be sure to find out what caused the tripped state before resetting the breaker. After fixing the problem, you are ready to check the circuit out by resetting the breaker. If the fault clears, you have indeed corrected the problem. If not, you'll have to find out where the problem is and continue the steps.

Turning them on is no big deal, but you may want to practice a time or two just in the event you ever have to either reset a tripped breaker or turn one on. That way, you'll be familiar with what a circuit breaker does and how they function as a disconnect switch.