The main breaker in your electrical panel controls the flow of current to every circuit in your home. You shouldn’t get shocked if it isn’t on. Right? Not exactly; you can still be injured if the breaker has tripped. We’ll explain why you can get electrocuted even if the main breaker is off.
Why Is This Possible?
There are a few reasons you can get shocked or electrocuted if the main breaker is turned off:
- The Breaker Is Mislabeled: You may think you turned off the correct breaker. But if the circuit is incorrectly labeled, the one you’re working on may still be live. Know the difference between the main breaker and the branch circuit breakers. The main breaker looks and works the same as the others, except it’s usually larger and located near the top of the panel.
- There’s a Short Circuit: If the main breaker has a short circuit, shock or electrocution is possible even if it’s off. A short circuit means the hot wire and neutral or ground wire become connected. Current will still be flowing. You could be severely injured by touching the ground wire, so call an electrician to manage the problem.
- A Wire Connection Is Loose: A loose wire connection can cause a current leak even if the main breaker is off. As a result, you can get a shock from another breaker. A loose terminal screw, damaged wiring, or a faulty breaker may be the reason. Regardless of the source of the problem, hire an electrician to fix it.
- Electricity Spills Over from an Adjacent Apartment: If you live in an apartment building, the main breaker can be off yet still be slightly energized. The lines across the units in a building are often connected. Only an experienced professional can disconnect the line, check the voltage, and find a solution to the problem.
- The Breaker Is Defective: You can get shocked or electrocuted if the main breaker is defective. A manufacturing defect cannot be fixed; the breaker must be replaced. A fault can also occur if the breaker is old or has worn out. Your only option in these cases is to have a professional service your electrical panel.
How to Prevent a Shock When the Main Breaker Is Off
If you’re uncertain as to how to proceed, hire a qualified electrician to address the issue. This is the easiest way to prevent an electric shock. But if you need to work around the main breaker, you can avoid a serious shock by:
- Ensuring there are no exposed live wires.
- Checking that the work area is dry.
- Wearing goggles and thick nitrile gloves.
Do not shut off only the main circuit breaker. First, turn off each branch breaker one by one. Once all of them are off, then switch off the main breaker. To verify there’s no electricity flowing, use a voltage tester/multimeter. A non-contact voltage tester can detect electricity in wires or terminals without touching them. If it doesn’t beep or light up, then it’s safe to work with wires, breakers, terminals, and screws.
The tester detects voltage by sensing electromagnetic fields. It may indicate the presence of current but not the specific location. If this happens, contact a licensed professional to assess the problem.
How to Safely Reset a Tripped Main Circuit Breaker
An external surge or a faulty branch breaker can cause the main breaker to trip. Knowing you can get electrocuted if the main breaker is off, you must follow the right steps to safely reset it. First, put on safety goggles and gloves, and then turn off all the branch breakers. If they are still on, flipping the main switch can result in a damaging power surge.
To restore power, switch the main breaker back on. Then slowly turn on the individual branch breakers, one at a time. The power should be restored to each circuit as its breaker is turned on. Call an electrician if the main switch trips again, as this can mean there’s a serious electrical problem in your home.
Contact Sky Heating & Air Conditioning
Our team is committed to meeting high standards when it comes to providing electrical services in the Portland area. Highly trained and well-equipped, our electricians can repair circuit breakers and replace electrical panels as well as install and repair any electrical component, device, or appliance. We’re available 24/7 to address emergencies. To request service, call 888-627-1257 today.