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Replace an Electrical Circuit Breaker in Six Easy Steps

Probably the one area of home repair that the average homeowner fears most is electrical problems, but a little knowledge about how electricity works will alleviate that fear. Replacing a burned-out light bulb doesn't cause much anxiety, but bigger problems, like no power to a couple of rooms, may mean it's time to head for the breaker panel. Resetting a breaker is no big deal, but if it won't reset, it may be time for a new breaker. Fortunately it's not a difficult task, but electrical safety is the watchword.

1. First, make absolutely certain that the breaker is the faulty component. Check for GFI (ground fault interrupt) outlets in the circuit and reset any you find. If there are none, or if this doesn't fix the problem, turn off or unplug every appliance or fixture in the circuit and see if the breaker resets. If it does, then plug in or turn on each item in turn to find the one with the short circuit. However, if there is still no power to the circuit, use a voltmeter to check for proper voltage on the load terminal. If there is no voltage, it's time for a new breaker.

2. Remove the breaker panel cover and determine the manufacturer, type, and ampere rating of the faulty breaker, so that you can get the correct replacement. Never replace a breaker with a higher rated one.

3. Have a battery-powered light handy before you start, especially if your breaker panel is in a dark area. Turn off all circuits in the panel, and then turn off the electricity at the main breaker. The panel should now have no power present, but check a couple of circuits with the voltmeter just to make sure.

4. Remove the old circuit breaker, which will probably be a "snap-in" or "press-in" unit. Disconnect the load wire and carefully pry the circuit breaker loose. Note how it locks into position.

5. Install the new circuit breaker, reversing the process of extracting old one. Re-attach the load wire. While you are in there, inspect all other circuits for loose wires or other potential problems, and fix as needed.

6. Turn the main breaker back on, and then turn all the branch circuits on one at a time. All breakers should stay on. Replace the panel cover.

Once you have successfully mastered this task, your fear of electricity will be greatly diminished, but a healthy respect for it will remain.