A few lights go out or an appliance turns off
When a few electrical appliances suddenly turn off but others keep working,
it is usually an indication of a safety mechanism coming into play to protect
you and your appliances from an overload or fault in part of the wiring system
in your house. Go to the fuse box (usually on the wall in a hallway) and look
inside. You might have a modern circuit-breaker system or an old ceramic fuse
Each of these fuses or circuit-breakers represents a weak or sensitive point
in the wiring system, designed to fail first, to prevent damage to other wires.
If a temporary overload has caused the fault, restoring them (as described below)
will probably return the system to normal.
All the wiring in the house runs through a central circuit-breaker
panel (or fuse box panel). Typically, a central panel includes about a
dozen circuit-breaker switches leading to various circuits in the house. One
circuit might include all of the outlets in the living room, and another might
include all of the downstairs lighting. Larger appliances, such as a central
air-conditioning system, a stove or the hot water cylinder, usually have their
A circuit-breaker is designed to be reset or switched back on to bring the system back to normal.
Turn off all light switches and appliances that have failed.
At the circuit-breaker panel, all the switches on the panel should be ON. If
one has tripped to OFF, just turn it back on. Be aware, though, that some
circuit-breakers have reset switches that trip to RESET when a fault occurs. The
switch has to be pushed to OFF and then to ON after the circuit trips.
If the power is restored to the lights or appliances and the circuit-breaker
remains on, you’ll know that it was a temporary overload that caused the power loss.
If the circuit-breaker trips to OFF again, call an electrician.
In an older house, if all the circuit-breaker switches are on when you first
check, you might find that the appliance you were using is controlled by an
earth leakage breaker or RCD on a separate circuit (see below).
Residual current device
An RCD is a special kind of switch socket that is installed in a bathroom, in
the garage or in outside locations to prevent electric shock. It is easily
recognisable as a wall switch with an indicator light on the front plate
alongside a TEST and a RESET button. The indicator light is on when the RCD is working.
If there's a leakage of current, or ‘ground fault’, the RCD opens the circuit
instantly, cutting off the electricity. Pressing RESET will restore the circuit.
Unfortunately it’s not always as easy as this. Often an RCD switch can control two or more outlets. In other words, if your non-working appliance is in the garage, you might find that you have to check the RCD switch in the bathroom to see if the indicator light is working. If the light isn’t shining, resetting the bathroom switch will probably fix the problem in the garage.
If resetting the circuit-breakers and the RCD switches doesn’t work, call an electrician.
The RCD has a TEST button. For safety’s sake it is a good idea to press this
button each month, then press the RESET (light on) to make sure the RCD is fully functional.
In modern houses the RCDs are all located in the main circuit-breaker box so
there is less confusion in resetting circuits. (See Safety with an RCD on an extension lead.)
It is much safer to have a fuse box removed and replaced with a modern
circuit-breaker system. (See 'Electricity supply'.)
But if you still have a fuse box, you need to know how to reset a blown fuse.
The wire in a ceramic fuse must be replaced to bring the system back to normal.
Before you do anything, turn off the wall switches of the failed lights or
appliances, then turn off the mains.
How to turn off the mains
To turn off the mains (i.e. switch off all power going to all lights and appliances) go to the fuse- or circuit-breaker box (probably high on the wall in a hallway). Turn OFF the largest switch (labelled MAIN). If you’re unsure, also turn off the main switch in the meter box on the outside wall.Go inside and check that the oven clock and light switches in several rooms are not working to make sure you’ve turned off the mains switch.
Pull out one ceramic fuse at a time (some need a good sharp pull to remove
them). Check to see if the wire running through it has broken. If not, put it
back in the same place and check another. If a wire is broken, the fuse has
blown. You’ll need to replace the wire using the correct amp size of wire (which is usually written on the fuse, e.g. 20A, 8A). Often you’ll find an old pack of fuse wire inside the fuse-box door. If not, buy some from your hardware store or supermarket.
You might need to undo a screw at each end of the fuse to remove and replace the wire, which passes through the middle of the ceramic to the other end. Some fuses require you to slip the wire between two copper lugs on each end.
Never use anything other than a fuse or fuse wire of the proper rating for the circuit.
Cut the wire to fit with wire cutters or scissors to the right length as shown.
Replace the fuse. Turn on the mains. Turn on one appliance at a time. If the
fuse blows again, call an electrician.
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