How can I restore power after a switch was shorted with scissors?

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4

Ok, so I'm a 15 year old kid and my parents werent home, my house is under construction and I wanted to see what would happen if I put scissors to my light switches, so I took the pair of scissors and I put it to the light switch on the hot side and It sparked really big and really loud, and now I can't get the light to turn back on or any of the other outlets in the bedroom. What do I do now? Also, there are little marks by where I touched it with the scissors that are very black

Josh

Posted 2018-01-19T04:45:20.530

Reputation: 199

47This question is now being advertised across the network by the automated "Hot Network Questions" system. Keep your parents off the internet for a few days. – wizzwizz4 – 2018-01-19T06:43:05.420

17@wizzwizz4 I await the inevitable follow-up question from following your advice: "How can I restore an internet connection after a router was shorted with scissors?" – Zach Lipton – 2018-01-19T09:54:45.323

17Congratulations you just leaned why we ground devices and fixtures and why we are turning to more and more to GFCI and AFCI protection. Also a similar situation started me on my long road to a very rewarding career as an electrician. In the meantime try and not injure yourself or burn something to the ground. Meaning don't do it again. – Retired Master Electrician – 2018-01-19T13:48:49.867

4You say you put scissors to the hot side of a switch. What else did you put the scissors to? Did you put one point of the scissors to a hot screw of a switch and the other to the ground screw? – Jim Stewart – 2018-01-19T14:08:48.870

2@JimStewart - based on the large spark and something tripping (Fuse? Breaker? AFCI?), I think it's safe to assume that the scissors bridged hot to neutral or ground (maybe a metal box) and it doesn't really change the answer to the question. – Johnny – 2018-01-19T17:01:14.807

14Josh, DO NOT flip any breakers, someone working on the house could be depending on certain breakers being off, and that could kill them. Just suck it up, we all do dumb things. – Jim W – 2018-01-19T18:54:44.420

2@eaglei22 Seriously and honestly, you can't put away the joy of discovery from a curious boy. That's not how the world works. – yo' – 2018-01-19T22:49:04.907

4I just wanted to repeat this in bold: Flipping breakers is a bad idea because the house is under construction. I apparently missed that detail the first time I read the question. If the house was not under construction, it would be sensible to just turn the breaker back on. But since it is, as other people have said, you might turn on a different breaker, and then someone who thought it was still off could electrocute themselves while working on the wiring. – immibis – 2018-01-20T11:22:15.140

1Experience - something you get five minutes after you needed it. – Bob Jarvis – 2018-01-20T15:47:16.170

It’s worrying me that none of the outlets work... that could be coincidence - maybe they weren’t turned on before - but shouldn’t light switches and electrical outlets be on different circuits? – Tim – 2018-01-21T04:31:14.133

Haven't heard more from "Josh", have we? – Jim Stewart – 2018-01-21T16:18:11.723

@JimStewart "Last seen 2 days ago" I suspect he's confessed and been grounded by his parents at this point. – Dan Neely – 2018-01-21T20:22:16.973

I hope you now understand why we don't play with electricity like this. Thank you for giving us the kind of question to which we can refer when people who know nothing about electricity ask questions and our stock answer is "Call an electrician" cause this ** can KILL YOU – The Evil Greebo – 2018-01-23T19:26:15.677

Answers

49

Only possible answer: Fess up to your parents. And make sure you're very, very sorry when you do.

They will be angry with you, and rightly so. You're worried about what damage you've done to the socket and the house wiring, and that certainly is an issue. That's why fessing up is the right thing to do, because the black marks round the socket suggest your house wiring didn't have proper protection on it, and it all needs checking. If it isn't checked, this could result in a house fire and your entire family dying. (This is NOT an exaggeration - house fires are the reason we have electrical safety codes.) We've already established that you aren't safe around mains electricity, so really don't try flipping breakers or anything. If the house is still being built, it shouldn't be a major issue to get this sorted.

But more than that, you've been stupid enough to put your life in danger, and you are really lucky to still be alive. This will freak your parents out. Brace yourself for some grief, driven by the fact that they're relieved you're still alive.

If you're a good liar, you could make up a cover story. Like perhaps the plug wasn't in all the way, and you just happened to drop the scissors so they touched the plug prongs. This isn't possible with UK mains plugs (there's insulation around the plug prongs except at the end where they make contact with the socket) but it may be possible with plugs wherever you live. Or maybe you saw some dirt in the socket and thought you'd poke it out, but didn't think about the consequences. (A guy in my class actually did this in the physics lab during a boring lesson. Took out all the power in the lab for a day while they got the fuses changed, and that socket was permanently disconnected because it was cheaper than replacing it.)

Graham

Posted 2018-01-19T04:45:20.530

Reputation: 728

13Marks are pretty likely after a short circuit even with proper protection. – Peter Green – 2018-01-19T16:39:09.210

7

While he was incredibly stupid it's not so easy to kill yourself with 110V or many of us would not be here ;-). If I read e.g. the NSC report, p.21 correctly, about 300 people die each year from accidental electrocution; I understand this includes work related accidents, which leaves few private ones. Compare that to car accidents (tens of thousands) or drowning (thousands).

– Peter A. Schneider – 2018-01-19T17:45:47.897

3Just because other things are dangerous doesn't mean that electricity isn't just as dangerous, or more so. How many hours do people spend in a car or driving compared to hours working with electrical circuits? Exposure + danger = death rate. – Adonalsium – 2018-01-19T17:53:28.903

1@Graham Are you thinking that AFCI/GFCI would prevent any arcing? I'm under the impression (possibly wrong) that arcing will occur with either circuit protection, but will stop when the protective circuitry detects it - you still get a short duration arc regardless of protection. Again, I am an amateur and may be wrong. – Adonalsium – 2018-01-19T17:55:26.387

@Adonalsium If you get an arc long enough to leave smoke marks, I'd say something's gone wrong. I'm also thinking that the OP is saying the house is still under construction. As such, we've no way of knowing what state the wiring is currently in. It's possible that they've run wires round the walls, but just twisted the whole lot together at the mains entry point until they can get proper breakers. Hell, if it's a build-it-yourself job then there's no guarantee there would ever be proper breakers. – Graham – 2018-01-19T18:32:54.360

5@PeterA.Schneider Sure, I've survived a few 230V shocks, and I'm still here. I can't say they were anything I want to repeat, and the state of me afterwards, I was never under any illusion about how lucky I was to get away with it. It's playing with matches or running with scissors - mostly you'll get away with it, but not everyone does. But the fire risk is the big one. If we don't know what state the wiring is currently in, it may need checking. Lots of people die in house fires, and in pre-electrical-code days, many were started from electrics. – Graham – 2018-01-19T18:41:16.003

1A circuit breaker can't trip in 0.000000 seconds, so there will always be some mark left from shorting the hot to ground. – Brad Gilbert – 2018-01-20T16:31:56.317

15

  1. Be glad you're still alive. Even if the scissors have plastic handles, that tiny bit of plastic may not provide sufficient isolation to prevent current flowing through you.
    You're still alive. You're lucky.
  2. If the scissors are still in contact with the light switch, knock them loose with something non-conducting, such as wood or plastic. A stick will do, but it should be larger than a popsicle stick or a pencil.
    While it is likely that a breaker has been tripped and there no longer is any current running through that switch, you don't know for sure. You survived, so stay alive.
  3. Only now you go look for the circuit breaker that likely has been tripped. Don't touch anything yet, just check if you can see which one it is.
    Only if you can find the one breaker that has tripped, restore power to that circuit. But since you're in a house that's still under construction, other circuits may have been switched off. You do not want to switch those on. Most modern circuit breakers look like switches, sometimes with a two-piece switch (more on those later) but old fuses look like a small round window.

    1. Old fuses
      fuses
      Fuses. The left one has popped.
      Your fuse box may look like this. If so, look for the one that has popped. The small metal circle in the middle of the fuse will be missing. Sometimes it will be visible, as in this image.
      You will need to unscrew its housing, find one of the same amperage, replace it and screw it back in.

    2. Modern breakers
      breakers
      Breakers. Up is on, down is off.
      If your breakers have a two-part switch, you will see one with a small part of the switch down, while the rest of the switch is still up. If you find more than one switch in this position, keep your hands off because you don't know which one has tripped.
      If they're one part switches, the entire switch will be down. There may be a "trip" position that's different from "off". Again, if you find more than one switch down, don't touch them, since you don't know why they're down.

     
    Only if you can find the one switch that has tripped, you can switch it back on.

    Now check if the lights are back on. If they're still off, switch that circuit back off.

  4. I can understand why you might think this optional, but you need to tell. The switch needs to be checked for damage and replaced if needed. Better tell now than have the house burn down later.

SQB

Posted 2018-01-19T04:45:20.530

Reputation: 267

2Small comment, the lower picture at least in your answer looks European but the OPs terminology use strongly suggests they are american. Don't assume that details (such as which direction is on/off) are the same throughout the world. – Peter Green – 2018-01-19T16:40:54.833

1Yep, north american circuit breakers largely mount horizontally on a split-phase busbar and look completely different to DIN mounted european breakers. NA fuses are also quite different, being heavy, flat-top glass bulbs with the fuse ribbon visible through the flat top window. – J... – 2018-01-19T17:06:16.543

7@PeterGreen Ironic, since at least 3 quarters of what's on SE is heavily USA oriented. Tolerate it a bit if it goes the other way, please. – Mast – 2018-01-19T20:45:03.007

Most circuit breakers (in the USA) will leave the handle halfway between on and off if tripped; which means you can tell if it was tripped or turned off. (A lazy electrician could have just shorted a circuit so they don't have to figure out which circuit it is) – Brad Gilbert – 2018-01-20T16:38:02.727

Please change your answer to something that is potentially less dangerous than a wooden ruler. Some wooden rulers have a metal strip along one of the sides to help with straight edges: Ruler with metal.

– Blerg – 2018-01-21T09:37:19.440

@Blerg good point. Do you have a suggestion? A wooden ruler was the first thing of the appropriate size I could come up with. – SQB – 2018-01-21T09:47:51.053

Wooden or plastic handle from a plunger comes to mind. Some mops/brooms come with aluminum handles, so I can't really recommend those. – Blerg – 2018-01-22T23:53:05.787

11

Find the electrical panel. In there you will find the breakers. They control all the power going to the house. One of those is tripped. find one that looks out of position. Push it hard into the off position then into the on position. That should take care of it. (We all learn the important things in life the hard way)

Paul Logan

Posted 2018-01-19T04:45:20.530

Reputation: 4 387

12Just waiting for the comment about when he turned on the wrong breaker (or more than one) and Uncle Grandpa who was working on the wiring in the under construction house gets electrocuted when he inevitably forgets to check if the breaker he turned off on purpose was still off. – Matti Virkkunen – 2018-01-19T11:14:11.100

6This should be self-evident, I hope, but make sure the scissors are no longer shorting the circuit before you reset the circuit. – Alchymist – 2018-01-19T11:20:48.063

34You should avoid toggling the breakers while somebody is working on your house – Myself – 2018-01-19T11:58:51.923

11Dude. While a minor certainly can understand a breaker cabinet, and most breaker cabinets are child proof to a certain extent, this is bad advice. Do not do anything, wait for the parents to come home. If you insist on giving this advice, at minimum you have to include unsocketing the light that he cut. Don't make him burn down the house as well as put himself at risk. – Stian Yttervik – 2018-01-19T12:44:48.233

14The house is under construction! The best advice for a kid who is lucky to have not killed themselves by electrocution is to stop touching things until they fully understand the repercussions of their actions. Turning on the wrong breaker in a house under construction could literally kill someone who is working in an area where they expect to have the power disconnected. – J... – 2018-01-19T13:40:05.390

12At very least, it should be made clear that any breaker that is fully in the OFF position should not be turned ON. The breaker that got tripped will be in the center "TRIP" position. If more than one breaker is in the "TRIP" position - stop, and don't touch anything else. If one, and only one, breaker is in the "TRIP" position it should be reasonably safe to turn that one OFF and then ON again, but absent any certainty here the safest thing to do is to just leave it and wait for someone more experienced to look at. – J... – 2018-01-19T13:45:32.203

5@J... Depending on where you are, the breakers may not have a trip position at all (so it's either on or off). – Bob – 2018-01-19T14:43:56.443

1If you can't locate the tripped circuit breaker and are going to give up, you can try turning all of the circuit breakers that are on, to the off position, and back on one at a time. Sometimes it is hard to tell which one is tripped, so resetting all of them can be the next easiest fix.Like someone said above, a home under construction may have breakers turned off for a reason, so turning those on can be dangerous. – Dotes – 2018-01-19T15:16:57.690

@Bob Which would be all the more reason to wait until a safe course of action can be determined. – J... – 2018-01-19T15:55:27.693

@J... They may even be old fashioned D fuses, in which case you can (often, not 100% of the time) find the fuse by checking their backs. Replacing those is quite safe. – Mast – 2018-01-19T17:45:01.613

@Mast Yeah, perfectly safe if you can keep yourself from sticking scissors (fingers...etc) into the fuse socket... sure. – J... – 2018-01-19T18:19:59.583

6Sorry -1 because this is how people get electrocuted. – Jim W – 2018-01-19T18:49:47.900

7This is the correct answer for a responsible adult in a normal home. It's absolutely the wrong answer for a kid who did something stupid, or for anyone other than the people working on the electrical system at a construction site. – Dan Neely – 2018-01-19T19:39:59.457

I always try and move the handles that are already on or tripped towards on. If it is springy, I know that it has tripped. This can be handy if the distance between on and tripped is small. – Brad Gilbert – 2018-01-20T16:42:20.240

Ok, I'll take my lumps, bad advice, bad timing. Hey kid, I'm behind you but you need to talk to your parents. Tell them what you did. They will know what to do. They may flip but only because they don't want you hurt. Electricity can be dangerous. – Paul Logan – 2018-01-20T18:11:56.277

This answer is a bad idea because following it can increase the likelihood of someone else getting electrocuted, but it's also wrong to put that much blame on a kid who does take this course of action. You should never assume a breaker is off when working on mains voltage. Use a non-contact voltage tester or (my preference to be absolutely sure) short it with an insulated-handle tool before touching it. – R.. – 2018-01-21T16:38:14.757

@R.. Sure... so you diligently do your test, verify with the probe that the power is off, you start your work, and in the middle of twisting your hots together some kid flips the breaker on back at the panel. Did your expert electrician mind have a plan for this? – J... – 2018-01-22T13:06:34.163

@J...: That situation is not even comparable and your condescending comment does not deserve further response. – R.. – 2018-01-22T17:38:46.147

@R.. This is exactly the situation. You're saying a proper, professional, workman should take responsibility for their own safety and always check that the lines they are working on are de-energized. The critical point here is that, even doing so, there remains the risk that someone flips the breaker back on while you are working and after you have done your checks. A reasonable counterargument here might be that it should be good practice to lock out the panel while work is ongoing - that way the kid could not get into the panel even if they wanted to. I apologize for the tone. – J... – 2018-01-22T17:45:21.680

@J...: There's a huge difference between failing to do a safety check when you start working, assuming everything is the way you left it (the previous day, or before lunch, or whatever), and having somebody flip a breaker on while your hands are touching exposed wires. – R.. – 2018-01-22T17:48:07.920

@R.. Yes, there is. Your point, however, was that it's wrong to blame the kid for doing just that. If that's your point, then what I'm saying is that checking the circuit with a probe or short-testing it before starting work is not sufficient. If the electrical worker is to take responsibility for this situation then the only correct action is to lock out the breaker for the circuit they are working on and keep the lockout key with them. – J... – 2018-01-22T22:32:38.307

@J...: I'm assuming the kid (OP) was/is playing around with this stuff after workers have gone home, not right in front of them. I don't think it's wrong to blame OP if they do something that creates a higher risk of someone else messing up, but assuming the above, the blame should be proportionate. It's not like "OMG you just set a death trap for someone!" level of fault. – R.. – 2018-01-22T23:07:35.133