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Does a Circuit Breaker Wear Out? (And Prevention Tips)

Did you know that the average lifespan of a circuit breaker is around 30 to 40 years? That may seem like a typo, but it’s true!

Circuit breakers are mechanically operated devices that play a vital role in electrical safety. They provide your appliances with the protection they need from electrical surges, short circuits, and overloads. Usually, they trip and cut off the electricity supply whenever a fault arises.

Nevertheless, the question arises as to whether your home’s circuit breaker can last that long in practice. Does a circuit breaker wear out eventually, what should you do if it does, and what can you do to prevent it from happening often? Let’s find out!

Although generally reliable, a circuit breaker can and may wear out depending on the situation under which it is used. It can happen quickly, for example, if misused or overloaded regularly. Melting or burn marks, for example, indicate that it has worn out and needs replacing. One preventive tool you can use is an AFCI with your circuit breakers.

The Lifespan of Household Circuit Breakers

Most circuit breakers last longer than many items you may have purchased even a decade ago. However, depending on the situation under which it is used, it might wear out, for example, if frequently misused or overloaded.

Under various circumstances, where a circuit breaker trips frequently, it will fail suddenly if you keep switching it on and off continuously. It is better to fix the underlying problem before it fails altogether! If you don’t do that, it could lead to a more serious problem, such as the circuit breaker becoming noisy, overheating, giving off a burning smell or smoke, or even catching fire.

WARNING sign

Warning: A damaged or poorly operating circuit breaker can affect your house and cause the circuit to catch fire, cause a power outage, cause mild electric shocks, or create the risk of being electrocuted.

Therefore, it is necessary to take vital steps to prevent this from happening. For this purpose, it is crucial to know when to change or replace a worn-out circuit breaker.


Warning Signs of a Circuit Breaker Wearing Out

a worn out circuit breaker

Below are various warning signs you should look out for that may indicate a circuit breaker is worn out, has some issue, or is faulty. In these cases, you might need to get it fixed or replaced by a professional electrician.

A circuit breaker may be worn out and need replacing if…

  • Any visible signs of damage, melting, or blackened marks clearly show that the circuit breaker is faulty and a hazard. Before replacing the circuit breaker, completely unplug all the devices and appliances on its circuit.
  • If you notice a burning odor or burn marks on a circuit breaker, this can also point to a worn-out circuit breaker. If you see a burn mark, it may be caused by various factors, but follow the advice given above for a damaged or melting circuit breaker.
  • If you notice any light sparks or an appliance causes an electric shock, in this situation, don’t try to fix it yourself if you are not fully confident in your ability to do so, as there is a risk of electrocution.
  • Suppose your appliance performs poorly or shuts down while functioning; the circuit breaker might be worn out. For example, the circuit breaker might cause a bulb to flicker or a machine too noisy. To avoid such inconveniences, replace the circuit breaker for proper operation.
  • When a circuit breaker keeps tripping, it might be due to a circuit overload. If not, it might mean the breaker is worn out and needs replacing.
  • There is an upsurge in electric current, as this can also cause a circuit breaker to wear out. It might cause unexpected sparks. This situation can be prevented by using a surge diverter, which can be used as an extra layer of protection.
  • The circuit breaker does not trip when it is supposed to, such as when the current is too high for an appliance to handle.
  • If your house switchboard contains the old type of ceramic fuses, they should be upgraded. These fuses are not suitable for modern homes, as they cannot handle new and advanced types of appliances that need to handle occasional surges in the flow of electric current.
  • A ground surge fault or a short circuit occurs.
  • An overheated circuit breaker may need to be replaced. This can be caused by overloading the circuit, in which case you should remove extra appliances.


What to Do if a Circuit Breaker Has Worn Out

an electrician checking a circuit breaker panel

You may be wondering what to do before calling a professional electrician to check if there is a problem with a circuit breaker.

Unless you can check and replace a worn-out circuit breaker yourself, you will need to follow these steps:

  • Shut down all appliances on the circuit connected to the worn-out circuit breaker.
  • Unplug all other devices that are attached to the worn-out circuit breaker.
  • If a breaker frequently trips after you plug something in and turn it on, the problem may be due to overload or a short circuit, which must be fixed.
  • When a circuit breaker is on but does not provide any power, look for AFCI and GFCI outlets, and try pushing the reset button, as it might help the power come back on.


Keeping a Circuit Breaker from Wearing Out Quickly

We listed some common warning signs above and explained what to do if a circuit breaker wears out. But what can you do to prevent them from wearing out too soon?

There are certain things you can do and tools you can use to protect your appliances and house from the hazards of worn-out circuit breakers.

I will discuss some important preventive measures below.

Don’t Overload Circuits

First and foremost, don’t overload circuit breakers or use multiple high-powered appliances simultaneously. If your circuit breaker is not often overloaded, this measure may help prevent it from wearing out too soon.

Use Other Protective Devices

You can use other protective devices in combination with circuit breakers.

AFCI

One protective device you can use is an AFCI (Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter), designed to protect against defective current paths that could lead to arcing, flickering, or sparking. The detective sensors on an AFCI help detect an electrical arc. If one is detected, it breaks the circuit and helps avoid an electrical fire hazard.

Surge protectors are used to stop high flows of current before they reach the appliances on the circuits protected by circuit breakers. Without a surge protector, a voltage spike or high current flow would get to the appliances and potentially cause greater damage. In short, surge protectors:

  • Protect your appliances and devices from high-voltage spikes.
  • They are used mostly in areas with a risk of lightning.

To protect against electrocution, GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) are also used as interrupters. They sense whenever a person is exposed to high current flows. A GFCI shuts down the power before a person is injured. They are mostly used in those areas where water can accidentally come into contact with the high current.

These protection layers are an extra shield that keeps circuit breakers functioning optimally for long periods. If you use them, you will ensure that your circuit breakers will not wear out quickly.


Wrapping Up

This article covered various aspects of whether a circuit breaker wears out.

It can and does eventually wear out, but how quickly that happens depends on how the circuit breaker is used. One of the main reasons a circuit breaker wears out too quickly is using too many appliances simultaneously. In this case, it will likely trip frequently, and consequently, it might not last long.

Several more signs of a worn-out circuit breaker were identified in this article, which a person can look for to know whether it is worn out and needs to be replaced. For example, visible signs of damage, melting, or blackened marks on a circuit breaker are serious signs that indicate a risk of fire. Electrical current surges can also cause unexpected electrical sparks.

We then highlighted some necessary things you can do yourself before calling a professional electrician, like unplugging all the devices and appliances on the circuit of a faulty circuit breaker.

Finally, we talked about prevention methods and tools that we can use to keep our house safe from dangerous hazards. This included the use of AFCI and GFCI in supporting circuit breakers.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.

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About Sam Orlovsky

AvatarCertifications: B.E.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Electric Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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