DIY Steps to Replace a Circuit Breaker
It’s happened to the best of us: We plug in one too many appliances—hair dryer, flat iron, iron iron, crockpot—on the same circuit and “pop” goes the breaker. (Yes, we said “crockpot,” and yes it was in the bathroom. It’s a long story.) Typically, a quick trip to the circuit panel to reset the offending breaker solves the problem. Occasionally, though, a tripped breaker flat-out refuses to stay reset, which means you may have bigger problems than just an aggressive multi-tasking habit.
When to Call a Dallas Electrician
We’re about to walk you through the steps for replacing a circuit breaker. But first a word of warning: Electricity is dangerous—and not just a little dangerous. Each year in the U.S., hundreds of people die as a result of electrical injuries, and home electrical fires “account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage.”
Circuit breakers help prevent you and your home from being included in those statistics by stopping electricity from flowing when they detect a problem. Quite literally, they break the electrical circuit so electricity can no longer flow.
For that reason, it’s critical to approach this project with the understanding that something isn’t working right, and that something has the power (pun intended) to cause life-threatening injury.
Please, if the breaker in question or your breaker box is hot to the touch, appears damp, is rusted, or looks or smells burned, stop what you’re doing and call a professional immediately. Otherwise, carefully follow these steps, but only if you feel completely comfortable doing so. (And even then, we recommend involving a licensed electrician. It’s just too easy for something to go horribly wrong—fast.)
7 Steps to Replace a Circuit Breaker
1. Gather your supplies.
To replace a circuit breaker, you’ll need:
- Rubber-soled shoes and insulated gloves
- A voltage tester
- A non-conductive surface to stand on while you work, such as a piece of plywood or a rubber mat
- New circuit breaker—the exact same as the one you’re replacing
- An insulated flashlight or other insulated, battery-powered light source
- Insulated tools: screwdriver, pliers, and wirestrippers
- Cable connectors to connect the new breaker to the panel
2. Verify the floor around the circuit panel is dry.
Water and electricity are a deadly combination. Do not attempt this repair if there’s any moisture around your circuit panel.
3. Cut power to the breakers.
- Unplug or turn off anything controlled by the circuit you’re about to work on.
- Let your family know they’re about to lose power. (OK, that’s an optional step, but it’s a nice thing to do.)
- Turn on your alternate light source.
- Flip every breaker to the OFF position, one at a time.
- Switch off the main breaker.
- Using your voltage tester, check each circuit to make sure it’s dead before you go on.
Keep in mind that there is still electricity coming from the power lines outside your house to the box itself.
4. Remove the circuit panel cover.
Carefully unscrew the panel cover, and then lift it toward you and away from the panel. Don’t let it touch anything inside as you remove it. Before proceeding, check for signs of damage or corrosion inside the circuit breaker box. If you find any, abort mission, and call a licensed electrician.
Don’t try to get access to the main breaker compartment. Again, there’s still live electricity coming in from your main service lines.
5. Disconnect and remove the old breaker.
- Notice how the breaker is positioned in the panel so you know how to insert the new one.
- Turn the terminal screw until the wires are loose and use your insulated pliers to gently pull the wires free.
- Carefully pop the old breaker out of the panel and discard it.
6. Insert the new breaker.
- With the new breaker in the OFF position, pop it into place.
- Connect the wires. You may need to strip a bit of insulation from them, and you may find it helpful to hold them in place with your pliers as you turn the terminal screw. The screw should be snug but not tight.
- While you have the cover off your circuit panel, you might as well inspect and tighten any loose terminals.
7. Replace the cover and restore power.
- Carefully re-install the circuit panel cover.
- Turn on the main breaker, and then flip every breaker back to the ON position.
- Use your voltage tester to verify each breaker is receiving power.
- Plug back in and switch on the items controlled by the circuit.
If you’ve successfully replaced a faulty circuit breaker, they’ll come on and the breaker won’t trip.
Dallas Electrician TopTech Electric Is Here to Help!
Most homeowners feel uncomfortable with electricity-related projects, and rightly so. We’re happy to help you diagnose and solve circuit breaker issues—or anything else you may need. We offer fair pricing and friendly service. Give us a call today!