How to Fix Circuit Breakers
Most people flip lights on and off or plug and unplug various appliances and devices all day long without giving it a second thought. Most of the time, using a building’s electrical system isn’t something people need to consider. All of that changes as soon as it doesn’t work correctly though. Not only is a faulty electrical system inconvenient, but it’s also dangerous. That’s why circuit breakers are installed as a part of the system–to monitor the electric current and interrupt the flow of electricity when it reaches dangerous thresholds. Of course, a circuit breaker can only do its job if it’s working correctly. If it stops working, knowing how to fix circuit breakers is critical knowledge.
Finding the Problem Breaker
If you suspect a circuit breaker needs to be fixed, start by finding the problem breaker. Go to the electrical panel and open it up. You should see columns or rows of breakers, each of which should be in the on, off, or tripped position. While it’s sometimes very easy to identify which breaker has tripped, that’s not always the case. Look for breakers in the tripped position. This is often in between the on and off positions. Despite not being in the off position, a tripped breaker shouldn’t have any power flowing through it. The handle will likely have a spongy or springy feeling to it in comparison to the handles in the on or off positions. Keep in mind that some breakers may trip to the off position, depending on the manufacturer. Check the instructions for your circuit breaker if you aren’t sure what position your breakers trip to.
Resetting a Tripped Circuit Breaker
Sometimes the only thing that needs to happen is to reset a tripped circuit breaker. To reset a tripped circuit breaker, start by turning off every device connected to that breaker’s circuit, from the device that caused the breaker to trip to everything that was plugged in before then. Next, locate the electrical panel and open it. Find the problem breaker either visually or by feel. Once you’ve found the tripped breaker, move the handle completely to the firm off position toward the outer edge of the panel. After moving the handle to the firm off position, move it to the firm on position toward the panel’s center. You should hear a click and feel the handle move firmly into place. The last thing to do is to test the breaker. Start by turning on a device with a low power draw, especially if you think the breaker may have tripped because you overloaded the circuit. Light fixtures are a good first choice. Turn one device on at a time to avoid tripping the breaker again.
Replacing a Circuit Breaker
Unfortunately, problems with circuit breakers aren’t always solved simply by resetting them. Sometimes they need to be replaced. If you notice that the same circuit breaker trips over and over again, that’s a sign that your circuit breaker needs to be replaced.
To replace a circuit breaker, start by gathering your supplies. You’ll need rubber-soled shoes and insulated gloves, a voltage tester, a non-conductive surface to stand on (think plywood or rubber mat), an insulated light source, insulated tools, cable connectors to connect the new breaker to the panel, and the exact same circuit breaker as the one you’re replacing.
Once you have all your supplies gathered, you can start the process of replacing the breaker. Make sure the ground you’re working on is completely dry. Next, cut the power to the breakers. Nothing should be plugged into the circuit you’re working on. After that, move every breaker to the firm off position, one by one before switching off the main breaker. Using the voltage tester, make sure each circuit is dead. Next, carefully unscrew and remove the circuit panel cover and check for signs of damage in the box.
Before removing the damaged breaker, take note of how it’s positioned in the panel. The new one should be placed the same way. Once you’re sure how it should be positioned, disconnect and remove the old breaker by turning the terminal screw until the wires are loose, gently pulling the wires free using your insulated pliers, and carefully popping out the old breaker before discarding it.
Replace the old breaker with the new one after making sure it is in the firm off position. Pop it into place, connect the wires, and turn the terminal screw until it is snug, but not tight. Then, carefully replace the circuit panel cover. After that, you can turn each breaker back to the firm on position one at a time. Make sure each breaker is getting power using your voltage tester again. Lastly, plug things back into the circuit and switch them on. If all has gone well, they should power on without tripping the breaker.
Circuit breakers have a critical role to play. They’re an essential safety feature in any electrical system. Make sure they are working properly by doing a routine trip test every 3-5 years, and 1-3 years for low-voltage circuit breakers. Replace circuit breakers as needed. That will reduce the risk of a problem in the electrical current causing serious property damage or injury.