Although many homeowners are reluctant to delve into the mechanics of their homes' circuit breaker boxes (referred to as a service panel by professionals), adding or replacing a circuit breaker in a standard service panel is one of simplest home repairs possible. The process can take just a few minutes but requires some prep work before attempting.
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Things you need
- Circuit breaker
Make sure the circuit breaker actually needs to be replaced. Circuit breakers are resilient mechanisms and rarely fail on their own. Most problems with electrical circuits involve overloads or short circuits outside the service panel. Before wasting time and expense replacing a perfectly good breaker, troubleshoot the circuit by checking for an overload by unplugging appliances one at a time or examining switches and receptacles for worn or loose wires that can cause a short.
Turn off the main power to the service panel. This will also kill all electricity flowing to your house, so make sure you have a flashlight handy.
Remove the breaker from the service panel. Breakers are clipped to one or more of the hot bus bars–essentially a metal pole that carries the electrical current. Simply pull on the breaker to release it. Normal household circuits attach to one bus bar while heavy-duty circuits for dryers or electric ovens attach to both bus bars.
Disconnect the hot wire connected to the old breaker and slip the stripped end into the new breaker.
Clip the new breaker into place and restore power to the panel.
Make sure your service panel can accept a new circuit by calculating the total number of amperes flowing into the house and comparing this number to the rating on the front of the panel. Do not exceed the panel’s rating.
Turn off the main power to the panel. Because this kills power to the entire house, have a flashlight handy.
Remove the metal piece covering the slot for the new breaker. These covers can be easily pried out with a screwdriver.
Connect the hot (black) wire from the new circuit to the breaker by inserting the stripped end into the breaker. The neutral wire for the new circuit should already be connected to the neutral bus bar.
Snap the breaker into place and restore power to the service panel.
Tips and warnings
- Consider using a ground-fault interrupter breaker for circuits in bathrooms, kitchens or other areas that might be exposed to water.
- Never replace a breaker with one of a different amperage rating. Increasing the breaker’s amperage can cause overheated wires that are not rated for the increased power.
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