All About Circuit Breaker Replacement

Circuit breaker replacement is most often completed by licensed professionals but can be done by competent home or business owners. Remember that electricity can be deadly, and you should approach this project with all applicable manuals and information.

Most circuit breakers in your home do not need to be replaced, but there are key signs of a worn-out circuit breaker that homeowners should be aware of. If your circuit breaker demonstrates any of the following issues, replace it:

  • Has a burning smell
  • Is hot to the touch
  • Frayed/worn out wires
  • Wires missing insulation
  • Black/burned material
  • Is not functioning properly

Safety Precautions

Consider that a 100-watt light bulb draws approximately 0.83 amps. Just 1/10 of an amp of electricity that passes through your body for two seconds is more than enough to kill you. If the electric shock crosses the heart, it can cause heart or breathing failure. If you don’t know what you are doing or you are not confident in your skills, call an expert.

Ensure that you and your work area are safe. Use insulated lineman’s gloves or other non-conductive gloves and clothing. You should be wearing rubber-soled shoes and use a rubber mat if possible. It is also recommended to wear safety glasses. Make sure there is no water or liquid in the area surrounding you and make sure you have plenty of clearance around the panel.


Upon locating the main breaker, check for any switches that are stuck between the “on” and “off” setting. These are the circuits that are broken or damaged. You should test the system and reset the breaker before you begin removal or replacement. You can use a multimeter to test the voltage in your home’s electrical system.

If the breaker is still not working after the reset or testing, you will need to turn off the branch breaker and the main power. When doing this, keep in mind the “left-hand rule” to avoid injury from an arc flash. An arc flash is a short circuit through the air and is one of the most dangerous parts in throwing a disconnect. The voltage is generally low in residential areas but there is still danger in throwing switches. These are electrical explosions that are like lightning, and you can be severely burned or even killed.

Turn off the branch breaker boxes and then the main power. This is generally the large flip switch either above or below the other switches. It is often labeled “main” and has the highest amperage rating. After turning off the main power, switch off the individual breakers as well.

Most disconnect handles are mounted on the right side of the switch, and the hinges are on the left. Follow the steps of the “left hand rule” to ensure you can protect yourself from an arc flash.

  • Stand to the right side of the switch, not in front of the box.
  • Grab the disconnect with your left hand.
  • Turn your body and face away from the switch.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take a deep breath, then hold it.
  • Throw the lever.

Remove the panel with a screwdriver, following the left-hand rule, and begin a visual-only inspection of the interior. Things to take notice of are:

  • Rust
  • Moisture
  • Loose wires
  • Melting insulation
  • Discoloration/charring
  • Heat markings
  • Aluminum wiring
  • Multiple wires under one screw
  • Debris
  • Multiple colored wires connected to one another


If any of the above conditions are found, loosen the screws that hold the wire on the broken breaker and remove the breaker. Before disposing of it, check the label on the main power switch. This will show you how many amps your breaker box has.

Your replacement breaker box must have the same amperage and be the same type as your previous breaker. Breakers are clearly named and classified according to the manufacturer, type, and amperage. Once you get the replacement breaker, you can snap it into the panel.

You must have to rewire and place the wires in the same place as the previous one. Many breakers come with manuals and guides so you don’t make a mistake and wire your breaker wrong. After the wires are placed correctly, tighten the screws slightly. You will need to replace the circuit panel’s faceplate as well. Finally, you can turn on the main power first, then switch on the individual circuit breakers. Ensure that you are again following the left-hand rule.

There are many inherent dangers when dealing with electricity, and it is important to follow all safety precautions and do thorough research. If you feel overwhelmed, you can easily call a licensed professional to safely finish the job for you.