How to Replace a Circuit Breaker

Replacing a faulty circuit breaker is an important electrical task that homeowners should know how to do safely and correctly. With some basic tools and following proper precautions, you can swap out a bad breaker yourself, saving the cost of an electrician service call. We’ll walk through the full process step-by-step, from turning off power and removing the old breaker, to wiring and installing a new one.

Safety Tips for Replacing a Circuit Breaker

When working with electrical wiring, safety should always be your top concern. Take these precautions when replacing a circuit breaker:

  • Turn off power at the main breaker panel – This cuts electricity to the entire house and ensures circuits you’ll be working on are dead.
  • Use a non-contact voltage tester – Double-check wires are de-energized with a tester before touching.
  • Wear protective gear – insulated gloves, long sleeves and eye protection reduce injury risk.
  • Work carefully – Don’t rush or force circuit breaker connections to avoid mistakes.
  • Consult an electrician if unsure – Hire help if you lack experience with electrical systems.

Following safety procedures prevents electrical shocks, burns or other injuries when replacing circuit breakers.

Gather the Right Circuit Breaker Replacement Supplies

These basic supplies are needed to safely replace a faulty residential circuit breaker:

  • New circuit breaker – Match amperage and poles of old model. 20-amp single pole or 15-amp double pole common.
  • Voltage tester – Non-contact tester detects live power in wires.
  • Insulated screwdriver – For safely loosening and tightening breaker screws.
  • Needle nose pliers – Grips and twists wires when making connections.
  • Wire strippers – Removes breaker wire insulation.
  • Electrical tape – Covers stripped copper wires.
  • Safety gear – Insulated gloves, long sleeves, eye protection.

Having the right replacement breaker and basic hand tools allows you to safely swap out the old unit. Purchase gear if missing any items.

How to Turn Off Power to Circuit Breaker Panel

Before removing an old breaker or wiring a new one, power must be turned off at the main breaker panel. Follow these steps:

  1. Locate your main breaker panel – Typically in basement, garage or utility area. There may be a subpanel if main is outside.
  2. Open the panel cover – Main breakers have screw or latch securing cover. Remove to access inside.
  3. Locate the main breaker – Will be labeled and largest in panel. Often at top or side.
  4. Flip main breaker to “off” – Shuts off electricity to entire house. Make sure handle moves fully to off position.
  5. Check for power – Use a non-contact voltage tester to confirm wires are dead. Test hot and neutral.

With the main breaker shut off, there will be no power going to any of the branch circuits. You can now safely remove an old circuit breaker.

How to Remove the Old Circuit Breaker

Follow these steps to remove a single pole or double pole circuit breaker once power is confirmed off:

  1. Unscrew wire connections – Use an insulated screwdriver to loosen hot and neutral wires. Go slow to avoid damaging wires.
  2. Release breaker lock – Press tab or pull down handle to release from clips. May be stiff requiring force.
  3. Pull breaker from panel – With locks released, pull straight out. Have a firm grip as you extract it.
  4. Inspect the panel – Check for any signs of damage, burn marks or issues around opening.
  5. Label wires – Use tape to ID hot and neutral wires for easier re-installation.
  6. Clean opening if needed – Remove any dirt or dust with a brush and rag if present.

The space should now be clear to install a new circuit breaker of the same amperage rating.

Choosing the Right Replacement Circuit Breaker

When selecting a new circuit breaker, a few key factors must match:

  • Amp rating – Replacement matches circuit load (ex: 15 amp). Do not exceed.
  • Poles – Single or double pole to match removed breaker.
  • Voltage – 120V or 240V models depending on home wiring.
  • Type/Brand – Prefer same manufacturer. Avoid mixing.
  • Physical size – Breaker dimensions fit panel opening.

Having the exact replacement ensures proper operation and safety. Refer to labels on removed breaker or inside panel cover to identify specifications if unsure.

How to Install a New Circuit Breaker

Once you have the correctly rated replacement breaker, follow these steps to install:

  1. Position the breaker – Orient hot side wire terminal on left if labeled.
  2. Insert into opening – Hold level and firmly push into place until secured by clips. Should not be loose.
  3. Reconnect wires – Hot to brass terminal, neutral to silver. Tighten with insulated screwdriver.
  4. Double check connections – Wires should have no exposed copper and be secure.
  5. Return panel cover – Screw cover back in place now that wiring is complete.

With the new breaker installed securely, you can restore power and test operation.

Restoring Power and Testing the New Circuit Breaker

Follow these final steps once a replacement circuit breaker is installed:

  1. Flip main breaker on – Return the main breaker handle to on position to restore power.
  2. Check for voltage – Use non-contact voltage tester to confirm hot and neutral wires of new breaker are energized.
  3. Turn breaker on – Flip handle of new breaker on to allow power to circuit.
  4. Test appliances – Plug in or switch on devices on the circuit to verify normal operation.
  5. Mark breaker – Label new breaker clearly for future reference.
  6. Close panel – Securely screw cover back in place now that the job is complete.

With power on and appliances confirmed working, you can be assured the new circuit breaker was installed correctly. Enjoy having safe, reliable electricity.

FAQs About Replacing a Circuit Breaker

What are signs a circuit breaker is bad and needs replacement?

Common signs of a faulty circuit breaker include:

  • Breaker frequently trips with no overcurrent
  • Breaker does not trip when overloaded
  • Breaker feels hot to the touch
  • Scorch marks or melted plastic on breaker
  • Green corrosion on breaker terminals
  • Singed wires connected to circuit breaker

Any of these issues indicate replacement is needed.

Can I upgrade an old 60 amp circuit breaker to 100 amps?

No, you should always replace with a new circuit breaker of the same amperage rating. Upgrading to a higher amperage capacity requires thicker wires and could overload the circuit. Check your electrical panel labeling for the correct replacement rating.

Why does my new circuit breaker trip immediately when I turn it on?

If a new breaker connected to an existing circuit trips instantly when you switch it on, it likely indicates a short circuit or other downstream wiring fault. The issue on the circuit will need to be diagnosed and repaired before installing a replacement breaker. Leaving a tripping breaker on can damage wiring.

Do I need to turn off all breakers or just the main when replacing a breaker?

Turning off just the main breaker disconnects all power, so individual branch breakers do not need to be switched off. The main breaker shuts electricity to the entire panel. Test wires before touching as a precaution.

Can I use a different brand circuit breaker than existing ones in my panel?

It’s recommended to use the same brand and model circuit breaker as others in your panel. Mixing brands is possible but can cause compatibility issues. Use caution and consult an electrician if unsure.

Is it safe to replace a 240 volt double pole breaker myself?

240 volt circuits require extra precautions, but a trained DIYer can safely replace a double pole breaker. Ensure you use appropriately rated tools and PPE. Understand multi-wire branch circuits if present. Consult an electrician if uncertain.


Replacing worn or faulty residential circuit breakers is a task many homeowners can tackle themselves. By following proper safety procedures and using the correct replacement breaker, you can save on electrician service fees with a DIY install. Just be sure to fully shut off power at the main breaker panel and double check wires are de-energized before swapping breakers. With adequate knowledge of home electrical systems or help from an expert if needed, the project can be completed safely. Take your time and you’ll have reliable power restored in no time.