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Question DetailsAsked on 5/21/2013

how to change a fuse in my circuit breaker box

the power to one whole "I will call it a strand" of sockets in our home went out but the circuit breaker box in garage didn't show any flipped switches. I assume that some sort of fuse that feeds this "strand" of approximately 5 outlets which includes the door bell needs to be changed.

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2 Answers

Voted Best Answer

OK - the "strand" is called a circuit - for standard 110V wall/light circuit 3 wires (typically in one plastic sheathing) that, as you say, feeds a string of wall outlets or a set of lights. When you say sockets I presume you mean plug outlets. If you mean light sockets, different story - probably a circuit problem that an electrician needs to look at.

If you have circuit breakers (when you open the door of your indoors electrical panel, they show in your panel as a series of little tabs or switches, that can be switched on and off) then you do not have fuses. If your panel has a lot of visibly exposed wires and cylndrical brass-ended glass tubes, or a row or two of screw-in round thingies (about 1-2 inches in diameter) with a glass center, these are fuses - VERY old school. If you have that and do not know how to change them, call an electrician to do it for you, and (if you feel comfortable with it after watching him), have him show you how to shut off the power main breaker, change a fuse, then turn the power back on. I don't think fuses have been installed as new equipment in the US since about the 1960's, so you probably have breakers, from your description. If you have breakers, there should be no fuses inthe circuit.

Before turning the power back on, you (or the electrician) will need to identify the cause of the failure - fuses and breakers almost never fail without being overloaded. Think what you were doing when it blew (if you noticed the power go out when it happened). Could have been a defective household appliance, bad wiring, shorted outlet (commonly will have flashed, and usually have smoky appearance around one of the two plug openings). Maybe you overloaded it with a hair dryer (VERY common, especially if a new high-powered one, as newer houses have higher capacity bathroom circuits than old houses, so a lot of the new dryers will blow breakers/fuses in older houses) or multiple kitchen countertop appliances used at once (like toaster and microwave on same circuit, commonly). If you can get an idea of what caused it before calling an electrician, it should reduce his charges for tracking it down.

Four things could have happened in your case:

1) if fuse blew, you might not see the break in the wire clearly through the glass, and the wire inside could be broken and you do not think it is. Call electrician as noted above.

2) breaker tripped internally, but the connection lever or bar to the tab (called the breaker switch) failed, so while the breaker shut off, it did not flip the switch to the off location and does not look like it is off. This is pretty common in 25+ year old breakers. If that is the case, you should NOT try to reset the breaker as if you try to turn it on, it can short out internally - an electrician should change it out. If a brandname shows on the breakers themselves (not necessarily the same as on the panel) it would help the electrician to tell him this, if you can see it WITHOUT pulling off the protective breaker cover. If not visible, look for a name on the breaker panel - usually embossed on the outside or on a paper label inside of the door. He will also have to track what caused the overload, if you do not know what it was, as from in 1) above.

3) you could have had a wire come loose or short out (smoked) in one of the outlets, interrupting the circuit - again, call an electrician

4) you might be on a circuit with a GFCI - ground fault circuit interrupter - built into one of the outlets rather than in the breaker box (they can be done either a GFCI breaker, or as a retrofit in older houses, as a GFCI outlet that replaces a regular outlet in the wall). A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, though some old school electricians call it a Ground Fault Current Interrupter) detects a short from live wire or live current (either in wiring or within a plugged in device) to the ground wire, and shuts off the circuit in milliseconds in that event. All outdoors, garage, bathroom, wet utility rooms (washer/dryer area), and kitchens are required to have these, though depending on your house's age only some areas may actually have it. After checking to be sure no outlets are "smoked", look at each "dead' outlet and see if there is a pair of little pushbuttons in the center (between the two outlet plug openings) of any of them - should only be on one in a given circuit. If so, you may have tripped the GFCI. First, consider what you were doing when it tripped - if you were using some kind of household appliance (blender, coffee maker, toaster, mixer, hair dryer, etc) at the time the power went out, then that device is suspect and should be unplugged and checked out (or replaced, if cheaper) before using it again. If you were not using any appliances or plugged in devices when it went out, I would recommend calling an electrician to check everything out.

To reset the GFCI, there are usually 2 buttons - one labelled Reset or On, one labelled Test. After unplugging the suspect appliance, firmly but quickly press in on the reset button - do NOT hold it in. It should stay "in" - roughly flush with the plug surface. If it pops back out, then you have an electrical ground fault. If you unplug everything plugged in on that circuit and it will then reset, then one of the appliances has an electrical fault. If it will not stay in then you have a circuit problem or failed GFCI and need an electrician.

If it does stay in OK, then press the Test button. The Reset button should pop back out and the circuit should be dead again. This is how you test the GFCI to be sure it is working correctly. If the Reset / On button does not pop out immediately or the circuit is still live after pushing the Test button, then the GFCI has a problem. Do not use the circuit until an electrician tests it. If the test button does kill the circuit OK, then push the Reset button back in to turn the circuit back on and it should be OK.

Locate reviews on electricians using the Search Now button at left, then under the Home category look in the Electrical subcategory.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


A bit doubtful you need to change a breaker since they rarely fail unless repeatedly overloaded. Some breakers don't physically trip the visible lever when the internal trips. I've seen it a few times. First try flipping the breaker that controls those outlets or lights off and then back on. If you don't know which one it is make sure your electronics are off, including computers, and manually turn off and on each one. If power is restored to those outlets the breaker just wasn't showing externally as being tripped. Try to figure out what caused the breaker to trip. Check every receptacle and light on that circuit for burn marks or a smell. If you see anything keep the circuit off and call an electrician. Something overloaded or shorted in the circuit causing the breaker to trip. You need to find out what it was. If you can't pinpoint it call an electrician. Realize that each outlet is not capable of 15 or 20 amps (depending on breaker and wire size) when strung together in the circuit. The only way each individual outlet can carry that amperage is if none of the others in the circuit are in use. Otherwise you are overloading the wire and breaker that supplies them. Each outlet does not have it's own breaker but shares power from the circuit connected to the breaker.

Changing a breaker is not something to play with yourself if you aren't experienced with it. Depending on your setup there could be unprotected power in your panel that will electrocute you without tripping if you touch it. A fuse is easy enough to change in the old boxes but dangerous if you still have one since the wiring is not up to current standards and can't carry the loads of modern electrical demands. Very few of these old fuse boxes still exist so I highly doubt that is the case for you. You would have been required to change it long ago if you ever added anything electrical to the system such as a/c, electric range, or a remodel/addition if it was done legally.

Todd Shell

Todd's Home Services

San Antonio,TX

Answered 7 years ago by Todd's Home Services


Supplemental to what Todd Shell said -

There are several of breakers. One type is a tip-in type designed to be changed WITHOUT removing the protective metal cover over the breakers. This type is rare, and illegal in many jurisdictions. It is more common overseas.

The most common type cannot be changed out without removing the protective cover plate (shows when you open up the panel door) over the breakers. Unless you are qualified to do electrical work you should NOT do this yourself - call an electrician, as there iare a LOT of exposed live wires and bus strips inside the box, and if you do not turn off the master breaker and check with a volt ohm meter that BOTH phases are actually disconnected, you can easily electrocute yourself or start an electrical fire. This plate has (typically) two columns of rectangular cutouts that the breaker switches and a bit of the breaker, but not all of it, stick up through, and any unused slots are filled in with a solid metal plate. To change this type of breaker, one has to remove the cover plate, unscrew the retaining screws on the live feed wire to the breaker to be changed, then remove and replace the breaker, rewire it, replace the cover plate, and test the circuit.

Replacement by an electrician will probably be just the minimum trip charge (probably $70-125), IF he has the right brand and amperage of breaker in his truck, and the cause of the breaker tripping has already been located and removed (like a defective appliance). If he does not have the right breaker in his truck it may require than he pick one up from an electrical supply store, so he may charge for two trips. For that reason,the more brandname and amperage info you can give him on the phone the better chance he has of bringing the right replacement.

Tracing a fault, replacing a defective outlet, etc will of course cost more depending on how well the problem is hidden and how many appliances or devices he has to test - I would estimate generally up to another $150 unless really well hidden flaw in the wiring in the walls.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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