Circuit Breaker On But No Power? Here’s What To Check

If your circuit breaker is on, but no power is getting to your outlet, light, or appliance, there is a simple process to go through in order to find the culprit. We’ll walk you through it.

The most common reasons you may seem to not have power, even though the breaker is on, are as follows:

  1. The breaker is mislabeled and you’re looking at the wrong one
  2. The breaker might be tripped and only appears to be ON
  3. The load is faulty
  4. The load may be protected by a GFCI or AFCI, independent from the breaker
  5. There is a loose connection in the circuit
  6. There is damage to an electrical component
  7. The breaker is faulty

We’ll take a look at each of these potential problems in detail in this article.

Now before we get going, it’s important to realize that there are a few different types of loads which can be fed from a breaker.

By the term “load“, I am referring to any electrically-powered device, appliance, or equipment.
In other words, a microwave, light bulb, phone charger, welder, and heat pump are all loads. ANYTHING that requires electricity to operate is a load. Understanding this term will be very helpful as we go through this article.

So, I’ll address these loads, as needed, in three categories: Outlets, Lights, and Hard-wired Equipment.

testing circuit breaker on but no power

Circuit Breaker On But No Power

1. Mislabeled Breaker

This seems like a no-brainer, but it is an easy thing to overlook. Like I always say regarding troubleshooting, ALWAYS CHECK THE EASIEST, MOST OBVIOUS THING FIRST.

It’s easy to assume you’re dealing with the right breaker, and yet you might end up on a wild goose chase because the labeling is incorrect! Don’t trust the labels unless you know from experience they are accurate.

To save yourself time and frustration, make certain you’ve got the right breaker. Alternatively, you can just run through all the breakers and make sure they are all fully ON.

2. Tripped Breaker (even if it looks like it’s On)

Under normal circumstances, when a breaker trips, the breaker handle ends up in a center position, midway between ON and OFF. Many breakers also have red or orange indicator to show that the breaker has tripped.

However, in rare instances, a breaker handle might not move to the center position when it trips. The internal mechanism works just fine, but the handle simply doesn’t move. So there is no visual confirmation that the breaker is indeed in a tripped state.

Connect with an Appliance Repair Tech

Click here to use the chatbox to speak with one of our technicians.
No in-home service calls. No appointments.

As I said, this is an unusual situation. Nonetheless, I have experienced it myself a number of times over the course of my career. It especially happens with older breakers, but not exclusively so.

Simply flip the breaker handle to the fully OFF position and then back to ON. Then go check to see if you have power now.

If there is still no power, continue on to Step 3.

3. Faulty Load

The next thing to check is the particular load that is not working. It might simply be a bad appliance or device.

If it’s an appliance, try plugging it into a different outlet.

If it’s a light fixture or fan, see if other lights or outlets on that same circuit are working. If they are, it could be a problem with either the switch or the fixture.

If other loads on the circuit aren’t working, proceed to Step 4.

4. Load is Protected By A GFCI or AFCI

It’s possible that your load is on a circuit that is protected by either a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) or an AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter).

For a deeper explanation of how these work, see this page on the differences between AFCIs and GFCIs. These can be incorporated into either breakers or outlets.

Since we discuss breakers in other sections, we’ll focus here on outlets. AFCI outlets are much less common, so we’ll give our attention to GFCI outlets in this section.

GFCIs detect ground faults. These mostly concern water intrusion issues in a circuit. They are designed to trip when water bridges the gap between a live portion of the circuit and a grounded part.

A GFCI outlet employs a TEST button and a RESET button. When it senses water (or similar condition), it will trip and cut off power to the outlet.

Read: Why Is My GFCI Outlet Not Working?

So, even though the breaker is still on, you will not have power at the outlet. Once the issue is resolved, you can press the reset button to restore power.

But here is the cool, but tricky, part about a GFCI: it has the capability of protecting all outlets downstream from it, as well. This means, that if the GFCI outlet trips, and there are other outlets after it on the same circuit, those outlets will also lose power.

EXAMPLE:
In a kitchen, all of the outlets that serve countertops are required by code to be protected by a GFCI. In most cases, the electrician will install a GFCI outlet in the first outlet on the circuit, and wire it in such a way that it protects the rest of the outlets after it.


That way, all outlets are GFCI-protected, but only one GFCI outlet needs to be used to do the job. Otherwise, each outlet would have to be a GFCI – and that would get unnecessarily expensive!

Now, a kitchen is not the only place GFCIs are required. Bathrooms, garages, outside outlets, laundry rooms, and other places near water need to have GFCI protection, as well.

That being the case, a tripped GFCI outlet in one room could potentially affect outlets in other rooms. And not just outlets; it can affect lights and fans, too.

So look around the room (and even nearby rooms) for a GFCI outlet. If you find one, press the reset button firmly. Then you can go back to the original outlet and see if it is working again.

Sometimes it takes quite a hunt to find the tripped GFCI outlet. This is especially true if it happens to be behind a shelf or a bookcase. Therefore, be thorough in your search, and leave no stone unturned.

Read: Outdoor Power Outlet Not Working?

5. Loose Connection

In most any circuit, there are many connection points throughout its length. Each of these points has a potential to become either loose or even totally disconnected.

A loose connection mainly happens due to one of three conditions: improper installation, damaged components, or faulty equipment.

The big danger with a loose connection, is arcing – which can lead to a fire. Intense heat is generated during an arc and this can melt wire nuts, wire insulation, and ignite anything nearby that is combustible.

If you suspect you might have a loose connection, make it a top priority to get it fixed ASAP. Though most wiring connections are housed in electrical boxes or compartments, you don’t want to assume that the arcing will be contained.

Photo courtesy of DIY Chatroom

A loose connection can be one of the hardest problems to troubleshoot because they are oftentimes intermittent. Sometimes they only misbehave briefly or every once in a while.

Try to pay close attention to everything that is going on at the moment you notice the power loss. Make a mental note of what time of day, day of the week, which lights were on, etc.

The more you can establish behavioral patterns, the better your chances are at finding the culprit quickly.

Now we’ll break it down a bit and get into the details. Let’s first look at a circuit in general, and then at each of the three categories mentioned at the beginning of this article.

Circuit:

Within a circuit, the first point of connection (beginning at the source) is between the circuit breaker and the panel busbar. If the breaker jaw tension is too weak, a loose connection can result, inhibiting current flow.

The next point is the screw terminal on the breaker, where the wire is secured. That needs to be tight.

After that, each junction along the circuit has multiple connections, whether at an outlet, light fixture, switch, etc. If any one of these connections becomes loose, power can be interrupted.

A connection can become loose a few different ways:

  • Poorly installed connectors can be a culprit.
  • Excessive vibration can loosen terminations.
  • Large temperature swings can create expansion and contraction over time and cause connections to fail.
  • Water intrusion into the connection can cause failure.

One way to tell that your problem is likely caused by a loose connection, is when only part of a circuit is functioning. That indicates that there is a break in the circuit between the last working load and the first non-working load. It’s not a 100% certain diagnosis, but still a good bet.

Outlets:

Connections at outlets are simple, yet can easily be improperly executed by inexperienced folks. I’ve been on many service calls where smoke was coming out of an outlet, only to find that the screw terminals were loose and therefore arcing.

There are three ways a wire might be connected to a receptacle outlet:

  • Wire curled around a terminal screw (preferred)
  • Wire clamped under a compression screw terminal (commercial or industrial grade)
  • Wire stabbed into the tension jaws in the back of the outlet (least preferred)

The first two options have screws that can be checked and tightened, if needed. The stab-in style of connection can’t be adjusted. If it is weak, the outlet must be replaced.

Lights and Fans:

A loose connection for a light or fan circuit could be at the fixture, or at the switch.

Switches can have the same three types of connections as receptacle outlets.

Lights and fans typically connect via wire nuts (screw-on wire connectors). To make a good connection, the wire nuts must be tight and the wires should be twisted together for at least three wraps (visible outside the connector).

Find these at Amazon
Note: We may earn a small commission on some purchases, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support!

Hardwired appliances:

Any appliance that is hardwired is usually connected via either wire nuts, split bolts, or terminal screws.

We discussed wire nuts under Lights and Fans above. Split bolts are used for larger wires and/or copper-to-aluminum connections. This would be typical for electric ovens, ranges, and cooktops.

Terminal screws are used on many hardwired appliances such as downdraft fans, hood fans, etc. Also, slide-in ranges and dryers have terminal screws that attach the pig tail to the unit.

Any of these connection points could become loose if they were improperly installed, or have been disturbed since installation.

Related: Multiple Electrical Outlets Not Working?

6. Damaged Circuit Component

Damage to electrical components is not very common because most parts of a circuit are hidden within walls, floors, and ceilings. However, if you have had any remodeling work done (or the previous owner did), the chances grow substantially.

Try to think about any work that may have been done in the recent past – even things that don’t seem to be related to electrical. If only I had a nickel for every time another tradesman accidentally damaged a wire that I had to come fix… 😉

Another opportunity for damage is in the attic or crawlspace. This is where wiring can be exposed to physical touch, and therefore be inadvertently disrupted. This is also where rodents can chew the sheathing and insulation off of the wires, causing shorts and breaks in the circuit.

But even in your house proper, during the course of everyday living, outlets can get bumped and tweaked or pushed into the wall too far. This can cause connection failure behind the outlet. The same thing can happen to a switch or timer.

Appliance cords can get pinched, cut, or frayed, causing a break in one of the conductors. Many times, the damage is not visible to the eye, as the break is inside the cord sheathing.

So, in reality, it is possible for any part of the circuit to be damaged somehow, though some parts are more likely than others. So make sure to inspect every portion that you are able to, and don’t leave anything out.

7. Faulty Breaker

Last, but not least, you could have a bad breaker. This is fairly uncommon in modern homes, yet it is still a possibility. More than once, I’ve had breakers that were defective right out of the package.

However, of the thousands of new breakers I’ve installed, I would wager that only a handful were faulty. And most, if not all, of them were either AFCI or GFCI breakers. These are much more sensitive than regular breakers and contain more fragile internal components.

Read this article if you suspect your circuit breaker might be bad.

FAQs

Here are some concise answers to specific common questions. Many of these points are discussed in more detail above.

Why Is My Circuit Breaker On But No Power To a Room?

If you have no power to part or all of a room, yet other portions of the circuit are working, here are the possibilities (in order of likelihood):

  1. Tripped GFCI outlet: Look for a GFCI outlet in the room or nearby, probably in a place where water is used (bathroom, laundry room, etc.).
  2. Switched outlets: Check the room for outlets that are controlled by a wall switch.
  3. Loose connection at an outlet or switch: Check the connections of the outlets first. Check switches next, as these are less likely to be the problem.

Why Is My Circuit Breaker On But No Power To An Outlet?

If only one outlet is lacking power, and it’s on a circuit with other working outlets, check the following things:

  • Switched outlet: See if there is a switch for that outlet. Sounds too simple, but you’d kick yourself if you find it only after hours of troubleshooting everything else.
  • Loose connection at outlet or previous device: Check behind the non-working outlet first. Then check the nearest devices (other outlets or switches) to that outlet. Remember that the nearest device could be on the opposite side of the wall (in another room).

If only one outlet is lacking power, and it is on its own dedicated circuit, check these things:

  • Loose connection behind the outlet: First, check the connections into the outlet AND the wire connectors (if any) in the outlet box.
  • No power to outlet: Using a multimeter, test for power on the wires feeding the outlet. If there is no power, you have a circuit or breaker issue. See Steps 6 & 7 above.

Why Is My circuit Breaker On but No Power To Lights?

If you discover that a light fixture is no longer working, there are several things to look at, in this order:

  1. Burned-out bulb: Always check this first, as it’s the easiest to access.
  2. Bad connection at light fixture: One of the wire connectors behind the fixture could be loose. Heat from the fixture can cause temperature swings which facilitate expansion and contraction.
    If you have multiple lights on one switch, but only one light stops working, this is almost certainly the culprit. But the problem could be either behind the non-working fixture OR the working fixture.
  3. Bad connection behind switch: There could be a loose connection at the switch, or in the make-up wiring behind the switch. Check all wire connectors in the box, as well as the connection to the switch itself.
    While you have the switch hanging out, use a multimeter to test for voltage on the live wire. Always test between the hot and neutral to be certain.
  4. Bad Switch: If you’ve got voltage, the switch has probably failed. Like anything with moving parts, they wear out eventually. You can test it with a multimeter, or by swapping it with another known good switch.
  5. Lost connection at nearby outlet: If you don’t have voltage at the switch box, the circuit might be disrupted by a loose connection at the outlet or switch just upstream from it. Check the nearest outlets and switches. This includes devices on the opposite side of the wall (in another room).

Final Thoughts

Investigating a loss of power can be a daunting task. But through taking the right steps and following a logical, methodical procedure, it’s actually quite easy to narrow down the possible culprits.

Remember to check the easiest, most obvious things first. This will inevitably save you time in the long run.

Related: Washing Machine Has No Power And No Lights? What To Check

Reader Comments (18)

  1. Hello.
    I just painted my second bedroom and replaced all the outlets and light switches and now when I turn on the breaker, I have no power to all the outlets in my second bedroom and no power to the lights in the bathroom (next to the second bedroom). I checked the output of the breaker once and all the wires have power. Where should I check please?
    Thanks!

  2. The outlet behind my dishwasher isn’t working. The breaker isn’t tripped and I changed out the outlet with a new one and it’s still not working. What else could it be

  3. I have a power outage in the about half the house, I checked the breakers and they are not tripped, tried resetting them nothing. I used a non contact voltage tester and determined that three breakers are not getting power and seems the lines going into them aren’t hot(no power) Two of the breakers are fairly new, maybe four years since installation. I also have a breaker box under the house with two bussmen fuses one green And one red, the red shows it receiving power while the green shows nothing. Any idea what I’m dealing with?

    • Hi, I have (2) 20 amp outlets on a single circuit that both don’t work. There is power at the panel to that circuit and in the line leaving the panel. I used a voltage tester to determine this. When the voltage tester was used at the outlet end, there is no power. The path of the wire from panel to outlet involves an inside corner 90 degree turn. We’re talking about 20′ of wire. Is it possible there is a break in the line as it went through the corner studs? Wiring is 20 years old. Thank you. Greg

  4. So if the breaker is not tripped and power is coming to plugs but nothing works when plugged in what would be the issue?

  5. One side of kitchen wall power is not working, circuit breaker is not tripped I have turned it off an on several times but I still have no power, could it still be my breaker?

    • I would check wire connection inside the receptacle, after turning power OFF, of course. And also on the breaker side.

    • You may already be aware of this but some breakers have a middle position and people sometimes think the breaker is off when it’s actually in the middle position. Then they turn the breaker back on and it still doesn’t work, possibly because it was never actually turned off. In the following video, it appears that only one of the breaker switches in this example has a middle position and the homeowner wasn’t turning the breaker all the way off because he wasn’t aware of this and this happened to be the breaker that was causing the problem. I hope this helps though I realize you’ve probably already have fixed your problem but maybe this will be useful to someone else: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf-m1QisJ6c

  6. Eugene

    My smoke detector kept going off. The panel box did not identify which switch was for the alarm breaker so I switched them all off and then all on. No electrical power whatsoever now. I switched all off and then on and again no power. Switched the main off and on twice….no power. Any ideas?

    Thanks

    Brian

  7. BREAKER IS hot and MY GFI in bathroom works but the outlet to the porch went out and I tested it and it’s not hot. (BOTH ARE ON SAME 15 AMP BREAKER)

  8. all breakers hot in panel however 2 3way switches have no power. I realize there must be an open somewhere. 3or4 j boxes in attic also many wires going in and out of them; a real mess.evenworse breakers are not marked. I know this is difficult am hoping you may have some troubleshooting ideas that might help me out. would appreicate it very much. thank you,

  9. I tested an outlet/switch combo and got 5 or less volts, pulled the outlet from the wall, tested the hot leads with a multimeter, not the outlet’s terminals but the wires going into the outlet, and also got about 5 or less volts whereas, just to test the meter, I checked and got full voltage on the other outlets. I tripped and reset all the breakers, then tested the outlet and wires again, still getting about 5 or less volts. Then I removed the cover from the breaker panel and tested all the breakers and they were all reading full voltage at the output screws, which were all tight. I assumed that if the hot wires going into the outlet are reading the same low voltage as the outlet, the outlet must be ok, so I thought maybe a junction box existed between the breaker panel and the outlet in which junction box the wire going from that wire nut in the junction box to this outlet had maybe been the fourth wire in a three-wire wire nut and the extreme cold weather the last two days contracted the wire enough to pull it away from the other and leave it with only the voltage from the magnetic field around the other wires that are in better contact with each other, giving me the low voltage in the outlet. Before we moved in to this house previous owner put a small addition above the garage and the stairwell leading up to that is actually along the garage side of what was the wall between the garage and the house originally, and this outlet with low voltage is on that wall, so maybe the previous owner, a builder, didn’t do such a great job of wiring that wall to the outlet/switch, which also turns on the ceiling light in the garage. Thanks for any tips I’ve forgotten to check.

    • For me it sounds like not proper wire connection between breaker and the outlet. You need to figure which outlets on the same circuit. As you know, they are all in parallel. I can not give any tips more than you already did.

Comments are closed.

DMCA.com Protection Status