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A Complete Guide on How to Replace a Circuit Breaker

Replacing a Circuit Breaker from a household electrical service panel doesn’t require a great deal of knowledge in electrical circuits. It takes just a few minutes to remove a damaged Circuit Breaker and put a new one in place of it. However, for people who are totally unaware of electrical systems, it might be a difficult task to accomplish. That’s why we are here to give you a complete overview on how to replace a Circuit Breaker.

Circuit Breakers are created with intentions of stopping power flow down a circuit in the event of excessive amperage drawing by the said circuit. After years of use, these lifesaving tools will go bad, thus requiring a replacement. Service panels carry a lethal voltage of electricity, making it very dangerous to tackle without proper knowledge. Keep reading this article, and you’ll get all the necessary information regarding how to replace a Circuit Breaker.

How to Replace a Circuit Breaker?

Replacing a circuit breaker can be done by following a couple of steps. First, you’ll have to investigate the circuit box to find out whether the issues are caused by the faulty circuit breaker or not. After that, you’ll have to remove the circuit breaker and replace it with a new one. We’ll get back to detailed instructions on completing these steps later. Before that, let us give you a configuration overview of a service panel. 

What’s Inside a Service Panel?

A typical household service panel consists of the main circuit breaker along with two to three branch circuit breakers. The main switch is generally located on the top of the whole panel and controls the electricity passing through the branch circuits. It gets power from a couple of utility cables coming in from the top or the bottom of the panel. The conjunction between the main breaker and power supplying cables remains live at all times, making the panel a risky thing to work with. 

The branch circuits get their supply from the main breaker. Each branch breaker controls electricity flow in different areas of a house. Branch circuit breakers are installed so that when you need to shut down power for a specific power outlet, you don’t have to shut down the power supply in your whole house. 

Tools Required for this job

To replace a circuit breaker, you need to possess a set of tools. Without which you won’t be able to perform the task precisely. Following is the complete list of tools you will need for circuit breaker removal. 

  • A new circuit breaker of same make and size as the existing one
  • A plywood or rubber mat to stand on
  • Independent light sources like a flashlight
  • Insulated screwdriver 
  • Insulated wire strippers
  • Voltage tester
How to Replace a Circuit Breaker
Tools Required

Step 1: Investigating the Circuit Breaker

  • Turn off the Main Breaker: Every electrical work begins with turning the main breaker off. Make sure your service panel is completely dry by checking it with a voltage tester. Stand to the side of the service panel while shutting the main breaker. It will save you from the extremely rare yet very dangerous arc flashes.
Replace a Circuit Breaker
  • Find the Right Breaker Box: Some houses have multiple circuit breaker boxes for different sources of connections. So first, you’ll have to find out the right circuit breaker box that deals with the power outlets currently facing issues.
  • Open the Panel Cover: Use a screwdriver or a cordless drill to unlatch the circuit breaker box’s outer cover. Support the box cover with one hand and unscrew it with the other hand to stop it from falling after all screws are opened. 
  • Inspect the Breaker Box: Faulty circuit breakers usually leave a mark in its surroundings. So, look for any type of signs like discoloration and rust. If you find such marks, it’s almost certain that a circuit breaker has malfunctioned. And, if you find an excessive amount of black marks, then it’s better to call an electrician. 
  • Locate the Faulty Breaker: If a circuit breaker gets damaged, it will have tripped already. So locating the defective circuit breaker is an easy task. Just look for the tripped circuit breaker. A tripped breaker’s switch will stay halfway between on and off position. 
How to Replace a Circuit Breaker
Locate the Faulty Breaker
  • Test the Defective Breaker: Most of the time, circuit breakers trip due to overloading of electricity. So, you need to make sure that you are dealing with an inoperative circuit breaker, not an overloaded one. 

For that, first, you will have to switch off all the connections originating from the particular breaker. Then, switch off the breaker completely and turn it back on again. Plug electrical equipment to test whether it is working or not. If not working, then it is evident that the circuit breaker is broken and needs to be replaced. 

  •  Test the Voltage: If you would like to have a specific result on how much current is flowing through a circuit breaker, you can use a voltage tester to measure. To do so, press one lead of the voltage breaker to the neutral line and press the other lead on the screw head of the circuit breaker. It will show a perfect reading. 

This is how you can identify whether you’re dealing with a broken circuit breaker or not. One thing you must always remember that you’re dealing with a life-taking force. So be sure to take all the precautions like wearing rubber gloves, rubber-soled shoes, and insulated tools. Now let’s move on to how to replace a circuit breaker. 

Step 2: Removing a Circuit Breaker

  • Turn off all the Individual Breakers: Before proceeding with any work on the service panel, you will have to ensure that all power going in and out of the branch breakers are turned off. First, turn off the main circuit breaker that supplies electricity in the branch breakers. Then carefully turn off all the branch breakers. Then only you can go on to work on the breaker box. 

A couple of things you should remember while working on an electric panel. 

  1. You should always remain cautious even after you turn off the power supply. Only touch the part which you need to touch. 
  2. Keep an additional light source with you as your usual lightings will not be working. It’s best to carry a rubber-padded torchlight. You can use your phone’s flashlight also. 
  • Unscrew the Faceplate: While the top portion of your circuit breaker panel will give you access to turn the breaker on and off, it will not allow you to remove a faulty circuit breaker. For that, you will have to remove the faceplate of the breaker box first. Only when the plate is removed, you can have access to the areas where the circuit breakers are bolted down in the panel. Here are a few tips on how to remove the faceplate safely. 
  1. In order to remove the faceplate, you will have to pull it towards yourself and then slide it out. Do not let it bump with internal parts while removing it.
  2. Put the plate and the screws that held it in a safe place from where you can find it later on. Chances of misplacing small objects like screws are high. So, it’s better to be organized from the beginning. 
  • Examine the Interiors for Damage: Before you start working in the internal parts of the service panel, you should have a thorough look at it. Search whether there are any signs of major damage or discoloration inside of the panel box. If you find one, you should call an expert electrician. Here is a list of signs you should look out for. 
    1. Any signs of rust, moisture, or discoloration
    2. Sign of pest presence inside
    3. Loose wires
    4. Melting and heat marking
    5. Damaged wiring
    6. One screw holding multiple wires
    7. Debris and broken tangled wires
  • Remove the Damaged Breaker: First, remove the screws holding it in the service panel. Place the screws carefully. Grasp the faulty circuit breaker with a firm grip in the middle portion. Then start pulling it towards you by grabbing in the side that faces directly to the center of the circuit breaker. Pull it while pivoting it anti-clockwise, and it will quickly come out of the panel. Once it is free from the panel, detach it from the panel hinge, and you are ready to go to the next step
Removing a Circuit Breaker
Removing a Circuit Breaker

Again we’re reminding you to touch only those areas of a service panel where you have to touch. Do not contact any unnecessary places as current input in the main breaker is still on. And if the main switch erroneously releases a bit of electricity, it can hurt you. 

  • Disconnect the Wires: There will be wires attached with the circuit breaker, connected by flathead screws on a side. Loosen those screws slightly with a well-insulated screwdriver without completely separating the screws. Now pull the wires from said circuit breaker once the wires become loose enough. 

Constantly keep track of these loose wires as they can still be quite dangerous sometimes. Lach the wire into the circuit box to keep them away from your body. Also, make sure you remember which wires you disconnected as you’ll have to reinsert them into the new circuit breaker. 

  • Note the Amperage & Type: In place of the current circuit breaker, you’ll have to insert a new one with the exact same make, model, type and amperage. Other types of circuit breakers may not fit perfectly in the vacated place, or if they get fit, then also they can create difficulties in the process of electricity transmission. 
Circuit Breaker
Note the Amperage & Type

So noting down the exact details of the existing circuit breaker is important to buy the same model of the circuit breaker. Also, note any number or codes mentioned in it. 

  • Dispose of the Damaged Circuit Breaker: Once removed from the service panel, the faulty breaker becomes useless. They have very little recycling values, and you can’t use the components in other places. So it is better to throw it in the garbage disposal. 

Step 3: Installing the Newly-bought Circuit Breaker

  • Buy a New One: The first thing you have to do is to buy a circuit breaker of the same model as the previous one. You should get a collection of circuit breakers in your local convenience store. You can search for the exact same model, or you can tell the storekeeper about your requirement. 
  • Attach the Loose Wires: First, unscrew the screws that hold the wires in the circuit breaker. Then get the loose wires that you previously removed from the faulty circuit breaker. Place the wires into this new circuit breaker and tighten the screws until they hold the wires securely. Here are a few tips for successfully completing this step. 
    1. If you have a couple of needle nose pliers in your home, you can use them to hold the wires while you tighten the screws. 
    2. Do not over tighten the screws as it may lead to a point where the wires may get damaged at one end. So tight the screws up to a certain extent. 
    3. Make sure your main circuit breaker is turned off while attaching the loose wire in the branch circuit breaker. 
  • Push the Circuit Breaker in its place: After attaching the wires, now it’s time for installation of the circuit breaker in the panel box. Firmly hold the circuit breaker and clip it in its place on the service panel. Push it until it clicks into the assigned place. Make sure you are placing the circuit breaker in the right place. Also, place it firmly so that it doesn’t fall off in the future. 
how to replace a circuit breaker
  • Attach the Faceplate: Once your job inside of the service panel gets done, you will have to reattach the service panel faceplate in its place. We told you earlier to place the screws in a secure location. Now get those screws and bolt the faceplate tightly so that no one, specially the children, can access the interior portion of the service panel easily. 
    1. If you lose those screws, then use other small-sized screws. Using longer screws can damage the inner portion of the breaker box. 
    2. After attaching the faceplate, pull it once or twice to check its stability and positioning. 
    3. Use insulated screwdrivers throughout the whole process. 
  • Turn the Main Breaker back on: This is the last step of the circuit breaker replacement process. At this point, you have done 99% of work, and what’s left is to turn the main circuit breaker back on to start the electricity flow to the branch circuit breakers. Then turn the branch breakers on one by one to access electricity on various power outlets of your home. 

When Should You Replace a Circuit Breaker?

Usually, a circuit breaker lasts for decades before being worn out. So if you are facing any electrical issue, it might not be related to your circuit breakers, but a fault in your electrical appliances may be the reason. However, if you really need a replacement for old circuit breakers, you can know it right away by looking in the right spot. 

Here’s how you can know when a circuit breaker needs replacement. 

  • If a circuit breaker is hot to touch
  • If it has a burning smell coming out of it
  • If the areas around a circuit breaker show black marks
  • If the wires inside of a circuit breaker is frayed 

If you’re not sure what is the root of the problem, consult a professional electrician. Taking unknown matters on your hand can lead to greater problems. 

Circuit Breaker Safety

when you blow a broken fuse or circuit breaker, do not just replace it & believe it is fixed. Try finding out the root of the problem and repair everything that is causing the trouble. Always replace a fuse or circuit breaker with the exact size as the existing one. If you’re upgrading it to a bigger size breaker with greater amps, then you have to rewire the whole breaker box in order to support the growth in power. You should stop using multiple high amperage appliances like irons, geysers, hair dryers & other heat-producing appliances at the same time in the same circuit. Multiple appliances running at the same time in the same connection can easily lead to an overload of the electrical circuit.

Circuit Breaker Safety
Circuit Breaker Safety

Do not cross the wattage limits on light bulbs and other appliances. If an electrical tool continues to turn off a fuse, then it has to be replaced or repaired immediately. An electrical short-circuit in a cord can be harmful to everyone present in your home.

Use every safety measure while replacing or repairing electrical equipment like circuit breakers, fuses, cords, and wires. If you don’t have enough knowledge about the procedures of electrical equipment repair, you must consult an expert professional. Don’t try to be the ultimate DIY guy — you will end up regretting your decisions.

Benefits of Replacing a Circuit Breaker

Circuit breaker replacements will provide an immediate boost in your house’s electrical safety & performance. Replacing a circuit breaker will also:

  • Protects your expensive electronic equipment, computers and other appliances from an electrical surge thus minimizing the risk of damage to your devices
  • Prevents any data loss from your PC when the supply of electricity is interrupted
  • Helps you avoid any interruption in your Internet connectivity and other vital connection to the outside world
  • Minimizes the risks of potential fire outbreak in case of your old circuit breaker getting overloaded
  • Allows you to say bye-bye to inconveniences of using only one or two electrical appliances at a time to avoid the circuit breaker tripping

Types of Circuit Breakers

There are mainly three types of circuit breakers available in the market. These are standard circuit breakers, GFCI and AFCI. Each one handles different amps and operates in specific locations in a house.

Standard Circuit Breakers

how to replace a circuit breaker
Standard Circuit Breakers

Standard circuit breakers scan the electricity flow as it gets into your home and passes through the electrical wiring systems in your home. In the event of a short circuit or overload caused when hot wires touch neutral wires, ground wires, or other hot wires, the breaker trips off breaking the current flow and preventing wires from any damage. Standard circuit breakers mainly of two types, single-pole, and double-pole.

GFCI Circuit Breakers

replace a circuit breaker
GFCI Circuit Breakers

GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters cut the power supply in the circuit when a current overload, a line fault, or a short circuit trips them. Every GFCI circuit breaker has a test button on its face. This type of breaker is built for wet places like bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor areas. 

AFCI Circuit Breakers

circuit breaker
AFCI Circuit Breakers

AFCI or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter is a type of circuit breaker that protects against unintentional electricity discharge in wiring or cord, which can start a fire. Once the circuit breaker feels a sudden electrical jump, it disconnects the defective circuit almost instantly, way before the arc can build enough heat to create a fire. 

There is another new type of breaker coming up in the market. It is the dual function GFCI/CAFCI circuit breaker. It protects against both the ground faults and the arc faults. However, it is yet to reach a mass-market level due to high pricing. 

Do’s and Don’ts of Electrical Safety

Do’s

  • Do cover every electrical outlet and wall switch with cover plates. Quickly replace one when it gets damaged.
  • Do use extension cables on a temporary basis only
  • Do make sure your electrical appliances are in good shape. Inspect them regularly to identify any internal faults. And damaged apparatus should be repaired or replaced
  • Do keep water away from power outlets and electrical devices
  • Do install multiple breakers for different parts of your house

Don’ts

  • Don’t try to be overconfident when you are repairing electrical faults in your house. Take expert’s advice whenever needed
  • Don’t keep a power outlet or electric appliance running for a long time. It generates heat and can lead to a fire
  • Don’t damage any electrical cord without knowing their significance. If you see a cut wire, get it fixed immediately
  • Don’t ever touch any electric panel without turning the main breaker off

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why does my circuit breaker keep on tripping?

Circuit breakers are designed to trip in special circumstances. It is their job to let you know something wrong is happening on your home’s electric circuit. Most of the time, circuit breakers keep on tripping when there is a constant surge in your electricity inlet. Thus they save your appliances by physically stopping the power supply. 

However, there are many other reasons why it continues to trip. One of which is, it might be faulty and can’t do the job properly. Whatever the reason may be, you should take care of it at once. Book an electrician’s visit to your home. 

How many breakers can I attach in my breaker box?

That depends on the capacity of your breaker box. You can see metal punch-out panels on one side of the breaker box. Those blank panels can be removed to accommodate extra circuit breakers. The number of such blank spaces you see, the number of circuit breakers you can install in your breaker box. 

However, if you have no space left in your breaker box, you can place a sub-panel beside the breaker box. This sub-panel will be connected to your main breaker box by wires, and you can install additional circuit breakers.

What should I do if the place near my breaker box is flooded?

If you are having flood damages and the water is slowly piling up to touch the breaker box, then it’s a critical scenario to handle. If you don’t have any access to a qualified electrician, here’s what you can do.

  • Do not touch any circuit breaker while standing on the water
  • Use well-insulated rubber gloves while turning off all the individual circuit breakers
  • Don’t use any gas-powered light source or candles. Use battery-powered torch lights
  • If the room, where the main breaker is situated, is flooded with standing water, use a wooden pole or stick to turn the main breaker off

In case of flooding, safety demands you to shut down the power supply immediately. Be extremely cautious while doing so.  

Can a 20 amp breaker be replaced with a 25 amp breaker?

No. It will defeat the actual purpose of having a circuit breaker in your electrical circuit. If your circuit is designed to carry 25 amp of electricity, then you can use a 25 amp circuit breaker. But, if you are having a 20 amp circuit breaker, that means your circuit is designed to carry 20 amp or less electricity. 

In this scenario, installing a 25 amp circuit breaker can be harmful to your circuit. It will not trip until the amperage of power input goes 25 amp. And, if your circuit can carry up to 20 amp, then having more amperage through your circuit can damage the circuit as well as any appliance attached with it. 

How can I replace the main circuit breaker of my house?

To replace the main circuit breaker of your home, you’ll have to cut the power supply to the main breaker. For that, you will need to get in touch with the power corporation. They will shut down the line supplying electricity to your home. Then only you can start working on your main breaker.

Also, it is better to hire a professional electrician for this purpose. Main circuit breakers have multiple complicated connections and wires inside of them. If you lack proper knowledge, you can end up damaging those connections and further increasing the complications. 

EndNote

We hope you’ve got all the information regarding how to replace a circuit breaker. If you are in this portion of the blog, you already know that replacing a circuit breaker is not a difficult task to accomplish. You just have to follow the instructions carefully and take all the safety measures. Our best wishes to you for this mission. See you in our next article. 

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