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Circuit Breaker Sparks When Turned On – Here’s Why

Written by Edwin Jones / Fact checked by Andrew Wright

circuit breaker sparks when turned on

Usually, a circuit breaker sparks when turned on because it can’t receive the right electrical flow through the whole circuit. It can be because the contacts inside the breaker aren’t making optimal contact with the metal bars on the panel’s busbar or there’s a damaged wire somewhere in your circuit. Another common cause is a short circuit (click here to learn more how to fix short circuits, especially if the breaker trips as well when the sparks occur.

A breaker sparking is considered a serious issue, especially if it continues to happen, because it can damage the entire panel and may even cause fires and electrocution. It’s best left in the expert hands of electricians if that’s the case.

I’ll expound more on this topic below. If you want to learn everything you need about this issue and its other possible causes and solutions, then please continue reading.

Short Circuits Are the Most Plausible Culprit


The specificity of the issue convinces me that this is the likely problem. Keep in mind that breakers tend to spark too when you’re trying to turn them off. If that’s the case, it’s usually not because of a short. It may be due to an overloaded circuit or a contact bounce.

The same can be said if the sparking on the breaker or panel itself is continuous, and not only when you turn it on. You’re probably dealing with this issue if you see that the breaker isn’t set on the busbar correctly. It can also be because certain metal points on your circuit aren’t making contact where they’re supposed to or probably connecting with another metal.

In this specific case, the sparking only happens when you’re turning on the breaker, which is enough to make it a separate issue on its own. If the breaker sparks when trying to reset and it also trips in the process, you most likely probably have a short circuit problem.

Know the Exact Cause of the Short Circuit and Address It

Nonetheless, if you’ve ruled out other possible causes and can confirm that it’s happening because of a short circuit, then you need to identify what’s causing the short. It may be because a specific receptacle on the circuit is touching ground or the ground making contact with a wire, thereby triggering the short and tripping the breaker.

In most cases, once you’ve determined and solved the issue behind the short, the sparking will cease. You can check for a short on your circuits by using a multimeter. All the better if you can test continuity with it, which is a feature found in most voltmeters nowadays. Please watch this video as it explains how to do this in detail:

On the other hand, if it happens every time you turn on a certain appliance, refrain from turning it on until after the issue has been solved.

Of course, confirming the cause of the short is just half of the equation. You need to solve it, and this requires technical knowledge. You’ll need adequate know-how in handling wires and entire circuits and wires. If you’re not confident with your skills in working on an electrical system, don’t delay hiring an electrician to do it properly for you.

What Should You Do if Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Sparking?

To me, the best step to take if you encounter this problem is to rely on professional help. Knowing that it is the issue is one thing, but solving it is a completely different thing. This isn’t exactly a minor issue that can be handled by any DIYer with marginal knowledge of how electrical panels, circuits, and breakers work, after all.

  • Just ask any experienced electrician about continuous sparking inside the breaker box, and they’ll surely say that it’s one of the most common, serious problems homeowners report. Once you confirm that it’s the whole panel that’s sparking, it’s high time to contact an electrician as soon as possible. You’ll only also be able to verify the exact cause of the sparks this way.
  • What if it’s a wiring issue, like the insulation getting damaged, thereby causing shorts and sparks? You’ll need to pinpoint the damaged wire and replace it.

Do Take Note It Could Just Have Been a Harmless, One-Time Occurrence, Too

After all, when a breaker sparks when reset, it may have just been how it’s designed. If your case is an isolated incident, and you can confidently say that it didn’t occur again, then it may have been a completely innocuous incident. Even so, I tend to question the quality of any circuit breaker that isn’t able to suppress these sparks, even if it’s just a little.

One way to check whether it’s being caused by any of the appliances on the circuit is to turn them all off. Afterward, do a breaker reset then gradually turn each appliance on. If a short and another spark happens, you’ll have to consider the possibility that you’re dealing with a serious issue with your breaker or panel. It may require replacing altogether.


There are numerous reasons why circuit breaker sparks when turned on. However, if they’re only occurring every time a breaker is turned on or reset, it’s not unlikely that a short circuit is the main reason behind it.

  • Look for and take care of the cause of the short, and you take care of the sparking issue as well.
  • If that doesn’t solve the problem, it automatically warrants a deeper inspection of the breaker as well as the panel and its circuits by a professional electrician.
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