Changing a Circuit Breaker: Your Comprehensive Guide

circuit breaker panel

Circuit breakers are an essential part of any electrical system, protecting you and your home from electrical hazards and potential fires. If you're experiencing issues with your electrical panel or need to replace a faulty circuit breaker, it's important to know how to do so safely and effectively. In this article, we'll provide you with a comprehensive guide on changing a circuit breaker, including safety precautions, troubleshooting tips, and step-by-step instructions.

Safety first

When it comes to electrical work, safety should always be a top priority. Before you even think about changing a circuit breaker, you need to make sure you take the necessary safety precautions to protect yourself from potential hazards. In this section, we'll go into full detail about the safety precautions you should take before you begin working on your electrical panel.

  • Turning Off the Power

    The first step to any electrical work is to turn off the power. This is a crucial step because it ensures that you won't be working with any live wires or circuits. Before you begin, locate your electrical panel and turn off the main power switch. This switch is usually located at the top or bottom of the panel and is typically labeled as the main breaker. Once you've flipped the switch to the off position, you should test the panel to make sure that the power is truly off.

  • Wearing Appropriate Safety Gear

    When working with electricity, it's important to wear appropriate safety gear. This includes gloves and safety glasses. Gloves will protect your hands from any potential electrical shocks or burns, while safety glasses will protect your eyes from any debris or sparks that may fly during the process. Make sure that you choose gloves that are specifically designed for electrical work and that they fit properly.

  • Using a Voltage Tester

    Before you start working on your electrical panel, you should always test for voltage to ensure that the power is completely off. A voltage tester is a simple tool that allows you to check if there is any voltage in the panel. Simply place the tester on the circuit or wire you'll be working on, and if it lights up or makes a sound, there is still power flowing to that circuit.

  • Avoiding Wet Conditions

    Water and electricity do not mix, so it's important to avoid working on your electrical panel in wet conditions. This includes working in areas with high humidity or working outside in the rain. Moisture can cause electrical shock, so make sure to work in a dry and well-ventilated area.

Steps to changing a circuit breaker

  1. Gather Your Tools and Materials To change a circuit breaker, you will need the following tools and materials:
    • Screwdriver (flat-head or Phillips, depending on the panel)
    • Circuit tester or multimeter
    • New circuit breaker (make sure it's the same type and amperage as the old one)
    • Wire nuts and electrical tape (if necessary)
    • Gloves
    • Rubber Boots
    • Plastic container for screws
  2. Remove the Panel Cover
  3. Using a screwdriver, remove the screws that hold the panel cover in place. Be sure to set the screws aside in a safe place where they won't get lost. You can use small plastic containers that can be found for cheap at places like Dollar Tree. I have been shopping more and more often at dollar tree lately as I have noticed that they carry many small items that can come in very handy.

  4. Identify the Circuit Breaker to be Replaced
  5. Locate the circuit breaker that needs to be replaced. Make sure to turn off the power to the circuit that you will be working on. Use a circuit tester or multimeter to ensure that the circuit is completely off.

  6. Remove the Old Circuit Breaker
  7. Using a screwdriver, remove the screws that hold the old circuit breaker in place. Be sure to set the screws aside in a safe place where they won't get lost. Once the screws are removed, gently pull the old circuit breaker out of the panel.

  8. Install the New Circuit Breaker
  9. Carefully slide the new circuit breaker into the same position as the old circuit breaker. Make sure that the breaker is securely in place and aligned with the other breakers in the panel. Use a screwdriver to secure the new circuit breaker with the screws that you previously set aside.

  10. Connect the Wires
  11. Connect the wires to the new circuit breaker. Make sure that the wires are properly connected and that there are no loose connections. Use wire nuts and electrical tape to secure the connections, if necessary.

  12. Test the New Circuit Breaker
  13. Once the new circuit breaker is installed and the wires are connected, turn the power back on to the electrical panel. Use a circuit tester or multimeter to ensure that the new circuit breaker is working properly and that there are no issues.

  14. Reattach the Panel Cover

Once you have confirmed that the new circuit breaker is working correctly, reattach the panel cover. Use the screws that you previously set aside to secure the cover in place.

Materials and Tools Needed to Change a Circuit Breaker

Materials Quantity
New Circuit Breaker 1
Wire Nuts 3-4
Electrical Tape 1 roll
Screwdriver (Flathead and Phillips Head) 1 each
Needle Nose Pliers 1
Circuit Tester or Multimeter 1
Gloves 1 pair


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Warnings to take note of

Warning Description
New breaker malfunction If the new breaker doesn't work properly or doesn't stay closed, turn off the power immediately and contact a licensed, competent, and insured electrician.
Unable to locate the main power cut off switch If you can't locate the main power cut off switch, do not attempt to remove a circuit breaker or work on the circuit panel. Contact an electrician for assistance.
Feeling uncomfortable, unsafe or unsure If you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or unsure at any point, stop what you're doing and call a licensed, competent, and insured electrician. Remember, safety is always more important than saving a little money.
Replacement of main breaker Do not attempt to replace the main breaker on your own. This is a job for a licensed, competent, and insured electrician.
Do not access power company's equipment Do not attempt to access the meter box, underground wiring/overhead cable, or any equipment owned and/or maintained by your power company. If you need service on their equipment, contact your power company for assistance.
Working alone Never work alone. Always have someone observe you in case of an emergency.
Live lugs Never touch the lugs that are adjacent to the main breaker and/or connected to the Service Entry Conductors. These are always live, even if the power is cut to the rest of the buss assembly.
Avoid using larger amperage breaker Never replace a circuit breaker with one of larger amperage as this can cause dangerous wiring overload.

Should You Go DIY or Professional electrician?

Deciding whether to perform an electrical task yourself or hire a professional electrician is a common dilemma for homeowners. While DIY electrical work can save money, it also poses potential safety risks and may result in improper installation that can lead to further expenses in the future. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to go DIY or hire a professional electrician.

Pros and Cons of DIY Electrical Work:

Pros Cons
Cost savings: Performing electrical work yourself can save you money on labor costs. Safety risks: Working with electricity can be dangerous and can lead to injury or even death if proper precautions are not taken.
Learning experience: Tackling an electrical project can be a great learning experience and may give you a sense of accomplishment. Code violations: Electrical work must meet local and national codes. DIY work may not meet these requirements and can result in fines or problems when selling your home.
Convenience: DIY electrical work can be done on your schedule. Lack of expertise: Professional electricians are trained and licensed to handle electrical work. DIYers may lack the knowledge or experience to do the job properly, which can lead to further expenses in the future.
Insurance concerns: Home insurance policies may not cover damages resulting from DIY electrical work.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Professional Electrician:

Pros Cons
Safety: Professional electricians are trained to handle electrical work safely and efficiently. Cost: Hiring a professional electrician can be more expensive than doing the work yourself.
Expertise: Electricians are knowledgeable about local and national codes and can ensure that work meets these requirements. Scheduling: Electricians may not be able to work on your schedule and may require appointments in advance.
Time savings: Electricians can complete work quickly and efficiently, saving you time and hassle. Communication: Miscommunications can occur between the homeowner and electrician, which may result in unsatisfactory work.
Guarantees: Many electricians offer warranties or guarantees on their work, giving you peace of mind.

When to Go DIY:

  • For minor electrical tasks, such as replacing a light switch or light fixture.
  • For tasks that do not require new wiring or electrical panels.
  • When you have the knowledge and experience to perform the task safely and efficiently.

When to Hire a Professional Electrician:

  • For major electrical tasks, such as installing new electrical panels or wiring.
  • For tasks that require a permit and inspection by the local government.
  • When the task is beyond your level of expertise.
  • When the task requires specialized tools or equipment.

Troubleshooting tips for a faulty circuit breaker

If you are experiencing problems with a faulty circuit breaker, here are some troubleshooting tips to help identify and fix the issue:

  1. Identify the problem:
  2. First, you need to determine what the problem is. A faulty circuit breaker can manifest in several ways, including:

    • Tripping frequently or repeatedly
    • Failing to trip when it should
    • Humming or buzzing noises coming from the panel
    • The breaker feels loose or wobbly
  3. Check for overloading:
  4. Overloading is one of the most common reasons for a tripped circuit breaker. If you have too many devices or appliances connected to a single circuit, it can cause the breaker to trip. Try unplugging some of the devices and see if the problem persists.

  5. Look for a short circuit:
  6. If you have ruled out overloading as the issue, you may have a short circuit. A short circuit occurs when a hot wire comes in contact with a neutral wire, causing an electrical current to flow to the ground. This can cause the breaker to trip. Look for damaged wires, frayed insulation, or loose connections that may be causing the short circuit.

  7. Test the circuit breaker:
  8. If you are unsure if the circuit breaker is the problem, you can test it with a multimeter. Set the multimeter to measure resistance and touch the probes to the two terminals on the breaker. A good breaker should show a reading of 0 or close to 0 ohms. If the reading is infinite or significantly higher, the breaker may be faulty and need to be replaced.

  9. Reset the breaker:
  10. If you have determined that the problem is with the circuit breaker, try resetting it. To reset the breaker, turn it off and then back on. If it stays on and does not trip, the problem may have been a temporary overload. If it trips again immediately or soon after being reset, the problem may be a short circuit or a faulty breaker.

  11. Replace the breaker:

  12. If you have ruled out all other causes and the breaker is still faulty, it may be time to replace it. Just follow the steps we outlined earlier or let a qualified electrician do the job.

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Circuit breakers are an essential component of your home's electrical system, and knowing how to troubleshoot and replace them is important for maintaining the safety and functionality of your home. By following the steps and precautions outlined in this guide, you can safely and effectively troubleshoot and replace a faulty circuit breaker. Remember to always prioritize safety, and to seek the help of a licensed, competent, and insured electrician if you feel unsure or uncomfortable at any point during the process. With proper knowledge and precautions, you can ensure the reliable and safe operation of your home's electrical system.

About Author:

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Hi, I'm Kevin Pommells, a lover of camping and the great outdoors as everyone says nowadays. I'm also a passionate soccer fan and the proud owner of, a website dedicated to helping campers and outdoor enthusiasts make the most of their adventures. With years of experience exploring the wilderness and a deep love for the sport of soccer, I'm always looking for new ways to combine my two passions and share my knowledge with others. Follow me for tips, tricks, and insights on all things camping and outdoor recreation.

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