How to Replace a Circuit Breaker

Step-by-Step Instructions for Replacing a Circuit Breaker

By Mark J. Donovan

Occasionally a circuit breaker can wear out and begin to trip easily, particularly if it has been frequently overloaded and tripped frequently. When this situation has occurred it often becomes necessary to replace the circuit breaker. You can either higher an electrician to replace the circuit breaker or you can do it yourself. If you prefer to do it yourself, it is important that you exercise extreme caution to avoid a life threatening electrical shock.

The first step in replacing a circuit breaker is writing down the information on the existing circuit breaker and finding its exact replacement.

It is important to always use the same circuit breaker style, voltage and current rating. Installing the wrong style or electrical rating circuit breaker could result in electrical fire or electrical shock.

After finding the replacement circuit breaker, I recommend turning power off to not only the individual circuit breaker you plan on replacing, but also to the entire circuit breaker panel. You can turn off power to the main circuit breaker panel by throwing the large circuit breaker switch at the top of the circuit breaker box. Keep a flashlight handy if you anticipate being in the dark after throwing the main circuit panel breaker.

After turning power off, remove the circuit panel cover. Whether you’ve powered down just the circuit breaker, or the entire circuit panel, proceed with extreme caution when pulling the circuit panel cover away from the circuit panel box. There is live electricity underneath the panel cover, so make sure you do not inadvertently tip the cover into the panel box when pulling it away.

After removing the cover, carefully remove the wire from the nut on the circuit breaker you plan to replace.

Gently move the wire to the side, and make sure the end of it does not touch anything else in or around the circuit panel box.

Here are circuit breakers in a main circuit panel box.

Now using your fingers, and preferably wearing a pair of leather gloves, pull the circuit breaker away from the inner part of the panel, thus freeing it from one of the main power buss bars. Note, if you only turned off power to the specific circuit breaker, the buss bar is live with power. Never touch the buss bar! Continue to pull the circuit breaker outward and toward the side of the circuit breaker box to remove it entirely from the box.

With the old circuit breaker removed, you can now install the new circuit breaker. Simply work in reverse. Place the back of the new circuit breaker into the back holder clip and then push the front half of the circuit breaker down over the buss bar tab until it snaps into place.

Next, attach the wire onto the nut of the new circuit breaker.

Reattach the circuit panel cover back onto the circuit breaker box, again taking extreme care not to tip the cover into the circuit breaker box.

Finally, turn on the circuit breaker. If you turned off power to the main circuit breaker turn it on as well. And with that, you have completed the process of replacing a circuit breaker.

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