Removing a circuit breaker in your home wiring is not a difficult task. It only requires some basic tools and know-how. This article will guide you in safely removing a breaker quickly and efficiently.
It covers the tools you will need, the main reasons why you would want to remove a breaker, safety precautions, the actual steps to remove a breaker (in seven steps), and also, briefly, how to replace it with a new breaker.
The seven steps to remove a circuit breaker are:
- Turn the MAIN breaker off
- Remove the panel cover
- Turn the breaker off
- Pull the breaker out
- Pull it out completely
- Disconnect the wire
- Pull the wire out
The Tools and Other Things You Will Need
- Essential: screwdriver
- For extra safety: safety gloves
- If testing for a faulty breaker: a multimeter
- If replaced with a new breaker: the new circuit breaker
Reasons for Removing a Circuit Breaker
There are two main reasons why you may need to remove or replace a circuit breaker:
- The breaker is not allowing any power to go out.
- The breaker is tripping at a lower current than what it is rated for or which the appliance needs.
To test if the breaker is faulty (the first reason), set the multimeter to AC, switch the breaker to the on position, and place the neutral (black) probe on the neutral wire connection and the live (red) probe on the screw holding the wire in the breaker.
The reading should be more or less the voltage of your electricity supply. If it is, the breaker is working, but if the voltage is zero or very low, it needs replacing.
The second scenario is if, for example, the load requires up to 16 amps continuously, but the 20 amp breaker frequently trips even at 5 or 10 amps after a short period of use.
Before you start removing a circuit breaker, follow three important safety precautions:
- Are you confident enough? Only work on the main panel if you feel confident you can remove the breaker. Otherwise, call an electrician. Don’t risk doing a potentially dangerous but simple job if you are in any doubt.
- Turn off the power to the main panel. This can be done easily at the main panel if it’s a sub-panel. Otherwise, if the breaker to be removed is in the main panel, shut off the main breaker, but beware that the two main feeder wires to the main panel will remain live/hot.
- Treat the main panel wiring as if it is still live. Even after turning the main panel off, treat it as if it is still live. Only touch what you need to touch, and be careful while working. This is only an extra precautionary measure.
Removing a Circuit Breaker
The Steps in a Nutshell
Here are the steps in a nutshell:
- Turn the main breaker switch off.
- Remove the panel cover.
- Turn the breaker switch off.
- Pull the breaker out of position.
- Once the breaker is loose, you can easily pull it out.
- Disconnect the wire using a screwdriver.
- Pull the wire out.
The Same Steps in Detail
Here are the same seven steps again, but in more detail with illustrations:
Step 1: Turn the Main Breaker Off
Having identified the breaker to be removed and taking the necessary safety precautions, ensure the main breaker switch is turned off at the circuit breaker panel.
Step 2: Remove the Panel Cover
With the main breaker switch turned off, remove the main panel or sub-panel cover where the breaker to be removed is in place if there is one.
Step 3: Turn the Breaker Off
Now that you have access to the breaker to be removed turn this breaker off as well. Turn the switch to the off position.
Step 4: Dislodge the Breaker Out Of Position
You can now dislodge the breaker to be removed from its position. You will most likely need to grab the breaker lengthwise to pull it out of position.
Step 5: Pull the Breaker Out
Once the breaker to be removed is loose, you should be able to pull it out easily.
Step 6: Unscrew to Disconnect the Wire
Use a screwdriver to disconnect the attached wire with the breaker out of its secure position.
Step 7: Pull the Wire Out
After the screw holding the wire is loosened, pull the wire out. The breaker should now be completely free and ready to be replaced if necessary.
The breaker is now removed.
Replacing the Circuit Breaker
When the breaker is completely removed, you will notice a small hook and a flat bar (Figure 1). They hold the breaker firmly in place. The notch on the back of the breaker (see ‘Breaker now removed’ above) goes into the hook and the slot with a metal contact inside attaches on top of the flat bar (Figure 2).
Before inserting a new breaker, attach the wire and screw it firmly (not overly tight) (Figure 3). Ensure the clamp is not pinching the rubber insulation. Otherwise, it will create heat due to a bad connection.
When inserting the new breaker, align the notch to the hook and the slot to the bar (Figure 4). Inserting the notch into the hook first will be easier. Then, gently push the breaker into place until it clicks firmly into position.
Finally, you can turn the breaker and main panel switches back on. If you have a light display, it will light up to show that the new breaker is functioning (Figure 5).
Figure 1: Flat bar
Figure 2: Slot with a metal contact
Figure 3: Screwing wire firmly
Figure 4: Aligning slot to bar
Figure 5: Lights indicating functioning breakers
We showed you how to remove a circuit breaker and identify a faulty breaker, remove a breaker safely, and replace it with a new one. The seven removal steps are outlined above and explained in detail with illustrations.
Bill Newberry Second
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