How To Test And Change a Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers trip as a safety feature, sometimes for one reason or another they just get over-loaded and the breaker will kick off. All you need to do is to go to the breaker box and turn it back on. But, what do you do when you turn it back on and there’s still no electricity?

I’m going to explain how you can test the circuit breaker to see if it’s the actual breaker that’s bad, or if it’s the wiring that has became faulty. To check the breaker you’ll need to turn off all of the power by throwing the main breaker to the home.

You will need to have easy access to the breaker to test it. Remove the screws in the breaker box panel and remove the entire front panel so that you can see the breakers. It’s very important to remember that even though you’ve turned off the main breaker to the home, there will still be electricity on the wire running to the main breaker. Keep your hands and tools away from the area where the main breaker is located at all times!

To check the breaker you’ll need a test meter called a ammeter. It will have two test leads attached to it, place one on the metal screw that is in the circuit breaker itself and the other one on the neutral bar that is inside the panel. To identify the neutral bar, make sure that it’s the one that has all white wires going into it.

Set the ammeter to voltage and position it on 250 volts to test the breaker. You should not see any reading on the meter when testing the breaker. Regular breakers are single width, if the breaker has a double width it’s a 220 volt breaker. In this case, you’ll need to place both test leads on the breaker. Attach one lead to each of the metal screws on the bottom of the circuit breaker. Again, there shouldn’t be any reading.

If the ammeter hasn’t shown a reading, it’s safe to remove the circuit breaker. You will need a flat screwdriver to loosen the screws to remove the wires from the breaker. The hot wire will usually be either black or red and located on the left side. Once you’ve got the wire loose, pull it to the out side of the panel just enough to keep it from falling down inside the wall.

Use the screwdriver to gently pry out the breaker. Just insert the screwdrivers end about 1/8″ behind the breaker. Don’t pry to hard or you will crack or damage the breaker next to the one your removing. You just need to pry it up enough so that you can get hold of it with your fingers and pull it out. Pull the breaker towards you and slightly tilt it to the left.

Once you’ve removed the breaker, push the switch all the way to the off position then all the way to the on position. If the switch remains in the on position without kicking off, the circuit breaker is good. If it kicks off, you’ll need to replace it with a new one.

You should take the breaker with you if you need to purchase a new one to make sure that you get the right size. Repeat the above steps in reverse to install the new breaker. Make sure that the breaker will slide back into place and the push firmly until it fits flush with the rest of the breakers in the box.