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How To Test And Replace A Faulty Electrical Breaker

by April Carlson

Most homes in the United States have breaker panels and a series of breakers that protect the home from electrical fires. While breakers will often last for years without any issues, you may find yourself in a situation where a breaker needs to be replaced. If you do not know much about the electrical system in your home, then you may be afraid to change the breaker yourself. Fortunately, the task is fairly simple. Keep reading to learn about breakers, some signs that indicate they have gone bad, and how to change them.

What Are The Signs That A Breaker Has Gone Bad?

The breakers that are in the breaker box in your basement or utility closet are electrical switches. In most cases, the electrical switches are closed and electricity runs through the circuit attached to the breaker. If you look through your circuit breaker panel, you will likely see breakers that are labeled with a 15 or 20. This means that 15 or 20 amps of electricity can move through the circuit and the breaker at one time. If the amperage exceeds this amount, then the breaker will trip. An electromagnet will sit inside the breaker. An excess of electrical current through the breaker will create a pull on this magnet and it will force a small lever downward. This activates the switch linkage that flips the breaker and opens the circuit.

Over time, the lever and switch linkage in the breaker can become weak. This typically happens when the breaker has tripped many times. A weak breaker will trip much more easily and you may notice breakers tripping when your electrical usage is normal. Also, the breaker may seem a bit warm when it does trip. This heat will be coming from the wires within the breaker. This can happen when the insulation that covers the wiring starts to wear away. A buzzing or sizzling sound coming from the breaker is also an indication that this has happened. In this case, electricity may be jumping between wires that are no longer covered with insulation, and this may be causing the sounds. Sparking within the breaker can cause similar noises.

How To Test A Breaker?

If you think that one of your breakers may have gone bad, then you can complete a simple test to see if you need to replace it. The easiest way to complete the testing is with a multimeter. You want to set your multimeter to read voltage, so set it first and then open the breaker panel door. Make sure the suspected bad breaker is in the on or closed circuit position. If you need to flip the breaker to the on position and it immediately flips back to the off position, then you know it is weak and a replacement is needed. To make sure, try to flip the breaker on a few more times to see if it keeps tripping. 

If the breaker does stay on, then look for a screw on one side of the breaker that is connected to a black wire. You should touch the red end of the multimeter probe to this screw. Place the black probe against the metal door of the breaker panel box. 

Look at the reading on the multimeter. A normal or properly working breaker will provide a voltage reading that matches the voltage listed on the breaker. The voltage will be the number with a V before it. If the voltage reads zero, then the breaker is not working and you will need a replacement.

How To Replace A Breaker?

If you have discovered that the breaker is bad, then you will need to shut off the bad breaker as well at the main breaker for the home. Locate the red wire attached to the breaker and remove it. Gently pull on the breaker to release it from the breaker panel. If the breaker does not come loose, then use a screwdriver to gently force it out of position.

There are a wide variety of breaker brands and styles, so take the breaker with you to your local home store and ask for an exact replacement. Once you have the new breaker, gently push it into place and reattach the red wire. Turn on the main for the house first and then flip the new breaker to the on position. 

For more help with replacing a faulty breaker, contact an electrician from a company like CEI Electrical & Mechanical.