Your Service Panel

Take a few minutes to look at your home's fuse box or circuit panel (usually located in a metal box on an outside wall near the electric meter).

Each fuse or switch controls the electricity flowing through a specific area of your home. If too much electricity flows into a circuit, the fuse or breaker automatically creates a gap in the circuit to help prevent damage to the entire system.

But keep in mind that fuses and circuit breakers are designed to protect your home’s electrical wiring – NOT to prevent electrical shocks and injuries.

Make sure all breakers or fuses are labeled clearly so you know which circuits they control. If you're not sure, turn off the breakers or remove the fuses and have a helper find which outlets are affected. A handy gadget called a circuit tracer can make this task a breeze.

To reset a circuit breaker, turn off and unplug the lights and appliances you were using. Then flip the breaker switch "off" first, then back to "on." If you have push-button breakers, push it all the way in to reset.

Frequent problems

A blown fuse or tripped breaker is a signal that something went wrong. The problem could be from outside your home, such as a power surge during a lightning storm, or it could be from inside, if too many devices were used in a single circuit or if the wiring was done incorrectly.

If you're experiencing any off these problems, call a certified electrician to inspect the entire system:

Frequent tripped breakers or blown fuses
Power "blinks" (momentary interruptions)
Dimming or flickering lights
Sizzling or buzzing noises
Loose or damaged outlets
Overheating of the circuit panel or any outlets or switches

Replacing a blown fuse

Turn off the appliances and lights you were using.
Turn off the main switch on the fuse box and check to see which one has blown.
Be sure the replacement fuse is the proper size; using a fuse that's too large for the circuit can cause an electrical fire.
Never substitute an object, such as a coin or a paper clip for a fuse.
If it's dark, use a flashlight - not a candle.

Circuit tracers

Have you ever wasted frustrating minutes trying to find the right fuse or breaker? With a handy new gadget called a circuit tracer, you can pinpoint the right circuit in just a few seconds.

The tracer works by sending signals through the electrical wires in your home. Just plug the small transmitter into the outlet you're working on. Then take the receiver unit to the service panel and run it slowly up and down the row of fuses or breakers.

When the receiver nears the correct circuit, you'll hear a beeping noise - the louder it gets, the closer you are. When you locate the circuit, remove the fuse or flip the breaker and try the receiver again; if you have the right one, the beeping will stop.

You can find a circuit tracer at your local home center or hardware store.

Don't forget: Before starting on your electrical project, be sure to test the outlet or switch with a circuit tester first.