how do you change a circuit breaker



Changing a circuit breaker is an essential skill for any homeowner or DIY enthusiast. A circuit breaker, also known as a fuse box, controls the flow of electricity within your home and protects your electrical system from overload or short circuits. Over time, circuit breakers can become worn out or faulty and may need to be replaced. While the process of changing a circuit breaker may seem daunting, it is actually quite manageable with the right knowledge and tools. In this article, we will guide you through the steps to change a circuit breaker safely and efficiently.

Why Should You Change a Circuit Breaker?

Before diving into the process, let's understand why you might need to change a circuit breaker. There are several reasons why you might consider replacing a circuit breaker:

1. Age and Wear: Circuit breakers have a lifespan, and as they age, they may become less effective at detecting overloads or short circuits. Replacing an old circuit breaker ensures the safety and reliability of your electrical system.

2. Frequent Tripping: If your circuit breaker trips frequently, it could be a sign of an overloaded circuit or a faulty breaker. Replacing the circuit breaker can help address this issue.

3. Faulty Breakers: Sometimes, circuit breakers can develop faults or defects. This can result in inconsistent performance or even a complete failure to trip during an overload or short circuit. Replacing a faulty breaker is crucial to maintaining electrical safety.

4. Upgrading Electrical System: If you are adding new appliances or making significant electrical upgrades in your home, you might need to install larger or specialized circuit breakers to accommodate the increased load.

Now that we understand the importance of changing a circuit breaker, let's move on to the step-by-step process.

Gathering the Required Tools and Materials:

Before starting any electrical work, it is essential to gather the necessary tools and materials. Here are the items you will need:

1. Safety Gear: To ensure your safety, use safety glasses, insulated gloves, and protective clothing.

2. Screwdriver Set: A set of flathead and Phillips screwdrivers will be required to remove the panel cover and disconnect the wires.

3. Circuit Tester: A circuit tester is necessary to ensure that the power is completely shut off before working on the circuit breaker.

4. New Circuit Breaker: Purchase a replacement circuit breaker that matches the specifications of the existing one. It is crucial to choose the right amperage and type (e.g., single-pole or double-pole) for your electrical system.

5. Marker Pen or Labels: Use a marker pen or labels to mark the wires connected to the old circuit breaker. This will help in reconnecting them correctly later.

6. Flashlight: A flashlight will come in handy if the electrical panel is in a dimly lit area.

Now that you have all the necessary tools and materials, let's proceed to the step-by-step process of changing a circuit breaker.

Step 1: Safety First

Before beginning any electrical work, always prioritize safety. Follow these safety precautions:

- Turn off the main power supply: Locate your main electrical panel and switch off the main power supply by turning off the main disconnect or flipping the main breaker.

- Inform others: Inform family members or anyone else in the vicinity that you will be working on the electrical panel to avoid accidents or mishaps.

- Use safety gear: Put on safety glasses and insulated gloves to protect yourself from potential electrical hazards.

Step 2: Locating the Faulty Circuit Breaker

Upon opening the electrical panel, you will notice rows of circuit breakers. Identify the specific circuit breaker that needs to be replaced. Here's how:

1. Inspect the circuit breakers: Visually inspect each circuit breaker for any obvious signs of damage, such as discoloration, burnt smell, or a tripped position.

2. Refer to the panel schedule: If your electrical panel has a panel schedule, refer to it to identify the circuit breaker that corresponds to the specific area or appliance experiencing issues. If you don't have a panel schedule, create one by manually testing each breaker and labeling them.

Step 3: Testing the Circuit

Before working on the circuit breaker, it is crucial to verify that there is no electrical current flowing through the circuit. Follow these steps to test the circuit:

1. Check the Panel: Double-check that the main power supply is turned off and there is no voltage present in the electrical panel. Use a non-contact voltage tester or a circuit tester to test for the absence of electrical current.

2. Test the Circuit: Remove the panel cover and use the circuit tester to check if there is any voltage present in the circuit. Touch the tester to the terminal screws of the circuit breaker in question. If the tester doesn't light up or beep, the circuit is safe to work on. If it does, double-check that the main power supply is turned off.

Step 4: Removing the Faulty Circuit Breaker

With the circuit de-energized and properly tested, it's time to remove the faulty circuit breaker. Follow these steps:

1. Take Note of Wire Connections: Note down or label the wires connected to the faulty circuit breaker. Labeling is especially helpful when there are multiple wires connected to the same breaker.

2. Disconnect the Wires: Use a screwdriver to loosen the terminal screws and gently pull the wires away from the circuit breaker.

3. Remove the Circuit Breaker: Unscrew the mounting screws securing the faulty circuit breaker to the panel and carefully lift it out.

Step 5: Installing the New Circuit Breaker

Now that the old circuit breaker is removed, it's time to install the new one. Follow these steps:

1. Match the Specifications: Ensure that the new circuit breaker matches the specifications of the old one, including the amperage rating and type (single-pole or double-pole).

2. Align the Breaker: Slide the new circuit breaker onto the bus bar in the same position from which you removed the old one. Align the mounting holes with the panel and make sure it sits flush.

3. Secure the Breaker: Insert and tighten the mounting screws to secure the new circuit breaker to the panel.

4. Connect the Wires: Reconnect the wires to the appropriate terminal screws on the new circuit breaker. Tighten the screws to ensure a secure connection.

5. Verify Connections: Double-check that the wires are connected to the correct terminals based on your earlier notes or labels.

Step 6: Testing the New Circuit Breaker

Now that the new circuit breaker is installed, it's time to test its functionality. Follow these steps:

1. Close the Panel: Replace the panel cover and screw it securely back into place.

2. Switch On the Main Power Supply: Turn on the main power supply by flipping the main breaker or restoring the main disconnect.

3. Test the Circuit: Test the circuit by turning on the breaker that you replaced. If everything is properly connected and functioning, the circuit should remain stable without tripping. Use the circuit tester to verify the presence of voltage in the circuit.

Step 7: Final Checks and Safety Precautions

After testing the new circuit breaker, it's important to conduct some final checks and safety measures:

1. Ensure Proper Labeling: Label the new breaker correctly with its corresponding circuit or appliance to make future identification easier.

2. Replace the Panel Cover: Securely reattach the panel cover with the appropriate screws to protect the circuits from dust and physical damage.

3. Inspect the Surroundings: Conduct a visual inspection of the panel and its surroundings to ensure no loose wires, exposed conductors, or other potential safety hazards are present.


Changing a circuit breaker is a task that requires caution and knowledge of electrical systems. By following the step-by-step process outlined above, you can safely replace a faulty circuit breaker in your home. Always prioritize safety, use the correct tools, and double-check your connections before restoring power. Remember, if you are uncomfortable or unsure about performing electrical work, it is best to consult a licensed electrician for assistance.


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