how do you change out a circuit breaker



Changing a circuit breaker might sound like a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and tools, it can be a straightforward process. Whether you need to replace a faulty circuit breaker or upgrade to accommodate additional electrical needs, understanding how to change out a circuit breaker is a valuable skill for any homeowner or DIY enthusiast. In this article, we will guide you through the step-by-step process, providing helpful tips and precautions along the way. So, let's dive in and empower you to tackle this task with confidence!

Gather the Necessary Tools

Before diving into the process of changing out a circuit breaker, it is crucial to gather all the necessary tools. Here's a list of items you'll need:

1. Safety Gear: To ensure your well-being, put on a pair of safety goggles, work gloves, and non-conductive footwear before you begin. Electricity should always be handled with caution.

2. Circuit Breaker Finder: This tool helps you locate the circuit breaker that needs to be replaced. It is especially useful if your circuit breaker box is not labeled accurately.

3. Screwdriver: A screwdriver is a versatile tool that will be required to open the circuit breaker panel and remove the old circuit breaker.

4. Wire Strippers: Wire strippers allow you to remove the insulation from electrical wires without damaging the conductive portions.

5. Wire Cutter: Wire cutters are essential for carefully snipping wires when needed.

6. New Circuit Breaker: Purchase a new circuit breaker that matches the specifications of the old one. Make sure to check the amperage rating and type compatibility.

7. Electrical Tape: Electrical tape is used to insulate wires, providing protection against potential shorts.

Ensuring Safety First

Safety should always be a top priority when working with electrical components. Before you begin, make sure to follow these precautions:

- Turn Off the Power: Locate the main electrical panel and turn off the power supply. This step ensures that you won't be handling live wires while changing out the circuit breaker.

- Double-Check with a Circuit Tester: Use a circuit tester to verify that the power is indeed off. This small device can detect the presence of electrical energy and ensure a safe working environment.

- Inform Others: If there are other people in the building, inform them about the ongoing electrical work. This will prevent them from inadvertently turning the power back on while you are working.

- Avoid Wet Conditions: Do not attempt to change a circuit breaker in damp or wet conditions. Moisture increases the risk of electrical shocks and can damage the electrical components.

With these safety measures in mind, you can now proceed to change out the circuit breaker safely and efficiently.

Opening the Circuit Breaker Panel

To begin the process, you need to open the circuit breaker panel. Follow these steps:

1. Locate the Circuit Breaker Panel: The circuit breaker panel is usually found near the main electrical meter. It is a metal box with a door that contains multiple circuit breakers.

2. Remove the Cover Screws: Use a screwdriver to remove the screws that secure the panel cover. Set the screws aside in a secure location to avoid misplacing them.

3. Remove the Panel Cover: Carefully lift the panel cover and set it aside. The exposed circuit breaker panel will now be visible, comprising rows of circuit breakers.

Identifying the Problem Circuit Breaker

Before replacing the circuit breaker, it is important to identify the faulty one. Follow these steps:

1. Use a Circuit Breaker Finder: If your circuit breaker box is not labeled properly, a circuit breaker finder can be a real lifesaver. Plug the transmitter into an outlet connected to the circuit, and then scan the circuit breakers one by one with the receiver until it detects the correct one.

2. Manually Test with Appliances: If you have an idea of which circuit breaker is causing the issue, you can manually test it. Turn off all the devices connected to the circuit, then switch off the suspected circuit breaker. If all devices lose power, you have found the right one.

3. Inspect for Visual Clues: Examine the circuit breakers for any signs of damage, such as burn marks, tripped switches, or loose wires. These visual cues can help you pinpoint the faulty circuit breaker.

Once you have identified the problematic circuit breaker, you can proceed to replace it with a new one.

Removing the Old Circuit Breaker

Replacing a circuit breaker involves removing the old one first. Here's how to do it:

1. Inspect the Wiring: Before touching anything, it is crucial to inspect the wiring connected to the circuit breaker. Look for loose connections, frayed wires, or any signs of damage. If you notice any issues, consider consulting a licensed electrician for repairs before proceeding.

2. Turn Off the Problematic Circuit Breaker: Ensure the power to the circuit is switched off by turning off the problematic circuit breaker.

3. Loosen the Terminal Screws: Use a screwdriver to loosen the terminal screws that hold the wires connected to the circuit breaker. Avoid excessive force to prevent damaging the screws or wires.

4. Remove the Wires: Gently pull out the wires from the terminal screws of the old circuit breaker. If necessary, use wire strippers to remove any insulation from the wires for a clean connection to the new circuit breaker.

5. Remove the Old Circuit Breaker: Once the wires are detached, carefully remove the old circuit breaker from the panel. Some circuit breakers may be attached using screws, while others might have clips that need to be disengaged.

Installing the New Circuit Breaker

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

1. Check Compatibility: Before proceeding, double-check that the new circuit breaker matches the amperage rating and type compatibility of the old one. Installing an incompatible circuit breaker can lead to electrical problems and potential hazards.

2. Insert the New Circuit Breaker: Align the new circuit breaker with the panel's slots and carefully insert it until it is fully seated. Make sure the connection points align with the corresponding bus bar.

3. Secure the Circuit Breaker: Depending on the design of the panel, secure the circuit breaker using screws or by engaging the provided clips. Ensure that the circuit breaker is firmly in place and does not wobble.

4. Connect the Wires: Reattach the wires to the appropriate terminal screws of the new circuit breaker. Tighten the screws to establish a secure connection, but be cautious not to overtighten, which could damage the screws or wires.

5. Insulate the Connection: Once the wires are securely connected, use electrical tape to insulate the terminal screws and ensure there are no exposed portions.

Closing the Circuit Breaker Panel

After installing the new circuit breaker, it's time to close the circuit breaker panel and restore power. Follow these steps:

1. Replace the Panel Cover: Take the panel cover that was set aside earlier and position it over the circuit breaker panel. Align the screw holes and reinstall the screws to secure the cover in place.

2. Switch On the Main Breaker: Locate the main circuit breaker in the panel, typically located at the top or bottom. Flip the main breaker switch to the "On" position to restore power to the entire building.

3. Test the Circuit Breaker: Test the newly installed circuit breaker by turning on the devices or appliances connected to the circuit it controls. Ensure that the power is restored and that the circuit breaker does not trip.


Changing out a circuit breaker is a task that may seem intimidating at first but becomes more manageable with the right knowledge and precautions. By gathering the necessary tools, following safety measures, identifying the problem circuit breaker, removing the old one, installing the new circuit breaker, and closing the panel, you can successfully change out a circuit breaker. Remember to always prioritize safety and consult a qualified electrician if you have any doubts or concerns. Taking the time to learn this essential skill empowers you to maintain a safe and efficient electrical system in your home while potentially saving on repair costs.


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