how to replace breaker in panelReplacing a circuit breaker is simple but potentially dangerous. However, with the proper precautions, the entire process can be completed safely in a few minutes, without the assistance of an electrician. For homeowners who don’t have much experience working with electricity, here is how to replace the breaker in the panel.

When to Replace Your Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are designed to trip whenever there is excessive power flowing into your home. (Overloaded circuits are a fire risk.) However, if a breaker trips frequently, even though you’ve lowered the amperage, it may be worn out. Worn breakers are sometimes difficult to reset as well, making it impossible for you to restore power after tripping one.

However, if they’re hot to the touch or emit a burning smell, call an electrician as soon as possible. Your breaker’s not worn out, it’s dangerous and needs to be replaced by a professional.

Buy the Right Equipment

Because you’ll be dealing with high voltage hardware, don’t attempt to replace the breaker in the panel without the right gear. You will need:

  • Rubber Soled Shoes
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Non-Contact Voltage Tester
  • Flashlight or Work Light
  • Replacement Breaker

Standing on a rubber mat will provide an extra layer of protection. If you can find insulated tools, use them as well. If you’re replacing the breaker on your own, a work light may be more useful than a flashlight because it leaves both hands free.

Replacement breakers are available at most hardware stores. However, breakers can’t be mixed and matched. The replacement has to be the exact make and model as your current one. If you don’t know your breaker’s make and model, it should be printed on the side. Always cut power to the breaker before removing the panel to inspect it.

Before You Start

Locate the faulty breaker and identify it with a bright marker or piece of tape, the brighter the better. Then cut the power. If you have a single breaker box, flip the main power switch before shutting off the rest of the breakers. However, some homes have multiple boxes: a main with several smaller ones branching off from it. If this is the case, go to the main box and cut the power to the branch box first, before shutting off the breakers in the branch box.

Remove the Breaker

Once the power’s been cut, unscrew the cover panel. The panel is heavy, so be careful. Start with the top screws, but don’t remove them entirely. Leave them 2-3 turns in, to help support the weight of the panel while you take out the bottom screws.

After the screws are out, set the panel aside and examine the breaker. If it’s rusted, discolored, charred, or has signs of moisture, stop and call an electrician. You’ve got bigger problems.

If there are no signs of damage, then you can move on and test the voltage. With the main power off, there shouldn’t be any electricity flowing through the circuit. However, if your voltage tester picks some up, stop and call an electrician. The breaker box may have a more serious fault.

After you’ve confirmed the circuit is dead, remove the breaker. Breakers aren’t held in place by screws or bolts. They’re friction fit, so pushing firmly back from the bus bar, toward the outer edge of the panel, will unsnap it.

Finally, unscrew the breaker wire. It’s held in place by a flathead screw. Don’t remove the screw entirely, (in many cases, the breaker’s design will prevent you) just enough to pull the wire loose. You may notice a wire connected to the bus bar and another connected to the ground bar. Leave these alone. They’re important components of the electrical circuit, but aren’t part of the breaker.

Replace the Breaker in the Panel

Connect the new breaker to the wire by placing the exposed tip between the terminal panels and screwing it into place. Be careful the jacket (the plastic coating around the wire) doesn’t touch the screw or the breaker. Otherwise it might melt.

Then snap the new breaker into place with the opposite motion you used to remove it. Lastly, screw the panel back over the breakers and flip the main power switch before activating the breakers one at a time. Breakers don’t contain any toxic or hazardous materials, so you can throw out the old one after removing it.

A Final Note on Safety

Even after you cut the power, the utility wires above the main switch will still be live. Do not touch them. They carry a dangerous amount of electricity.

Protect Your Electrical System

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