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How to replace circuit breaker

Replace circuit breaker

General instructions:

Turn off electricity > > remove wire from breaker > pull old breaker off busbar > grab switch and jiggle breaker back-and-forth sideways to loosen from busbar > use small flat tip screwdrive between breakers to gently pry up breaker> rotate breaker up from busbar > remove other end of breaker off cleat or bar or metal rod > buy matching brand breaker > check busbar for damage > Connect wire to new breaker > make sure no insulation is under the screw > install new breaker onto cleat or bar > rotate breaker down to busbar > push new breaker firmly onto busbar > tighten screw very tight against copper wire
Read detailed steps below:

Install QP push-down circuit breaker
Place against rail and then push down onto raised busbar
Circuit breaker
Circut breaker pushes down onto busbar

Close-up photo

Push down

single-pole breaker
1" wide Push down breaker
Plug-in breaker
Buy single-pole:
Choose from 15 to 60 amp
Eaton CL series circuit breaker
Siemens circuit breaker

Push down

double-pole breaker
2" wide Push down breaker
Plug-in breakers
Buy double-pole:
Choose from 15 to 125 amp
Choose from 15 amp to 200 amp
Eaton CL series circuit breaker
Siemens circuit breaker
QO type

QO circuit breaker snaps down onto flat busbar
Fits QO type panesl and subpanel
Larger image

Snap on

single-pole breaker
1" wide Push down breaker
Snap-down breaker
Buy single-pole:
20 amp single-pole
QO circuit breakers at Amazon

Snap on

double-pole breaker
2" wide Push down breaker
Snao-down breakers
Buy double-pole:
20 amp double-pole
QO circuit breakers at Amazon
Install circuit breaker
Hook against rail or snap down onto rail, and then snap down onto flat busbar
Larger image

Hook on

single-pole CH breaker
CH cutler Hammer
Buy single-pole:
20 amp single-pole
CH circuit breakers at Amazon

Hook on

double-pole breaker
CH cutler Hammer
Buy double-pole:
20 amp double-pole
CH circuit breakers at Amazon
Square D / schneider circuit breaker
Square D circuit breaker
schneider circuit breaker

Sqare D homeline
homeline circuit breaker

Murray MP breaker
murray circuit breaker

Federal Pacific

GE Breakers
Thin series fits GE panels
Federal Pacific circuit breaker

GE thin

GE Breakers
Thin series fits GE panels
GE circuit breakers at Amazon

How to replace circuit breaker/ step by step

1. Tools needed: Flat tip screwdriver, ordinary electrical tester and sometimes, needle-nose pliers

 See inside breaker box

2. Find main shut-off > it is largest breaker > the number 60, 100, 150 or 200 is printed on main breaker to show total Amps of service <> label all breakers before starting (look ahead to 32-37 below)

3. Mark bad breaker before removing cover <> buy matching brand breaker with identical Amp rating at electric supply or home center or hardware store <> identify brand by manufacture name on breaker box cover


4. No main shut off? 
Or replacing main breaker, you need to pull meter to turn off electricity <> call electric company

5. A license might be required for a ‘meter pull’ or a ‘smart-meter turn-off’

6. If no license is required, electric company will remove locked collar from around electric meter, for a charge

7. Before pulling meter, turn off all circuit breakers in main breaker box

8. Pull meter out to turn off all electricity to house <> the meter has 4 prongs that stab into meter box, similar to an extension cord plugging into a wall socket <> the meter is held in place by friction, there are no screws

9. Pulling meter requires a stout pull downward and then upward <> usually you pull downward on top of meter and then push up, going up & down to loosen and remove meter > removing meter will turn off electricity to whole house including breaker box <> however meter box will still have live electricity <> stand on dry boards when pulling meter <> turn off all circuit breakers in main breaker box before pulling or re-installing meter

10. Do not put hand or screwdriver inside meter box > meter box still has live electricity > if kids are around, they will play with meter box after you go inside to change breaker > for safety around kids, turn the meter upside down and push it back into place.

11. After work is finished, stab meter back into box and household electricity will resume. Electric company drops by later and puts collar back on [do not tamper with meter, they will find out and put your brother-in-law in jail] 


Meter and box
Latch on back of electric meter
Latch on back of meter must be closed before meter can read Kwh Kilowatt-hours
How to install meter on electric water heater
Tamper with electric meter
Avoid unnecessary investigation
Do not tamper with electric meter
Read more

12. If the breaker box has a main shut off, a meter pull is not necessary. Turn off main breaker and remove front panel to reveal breakers

13. Do not stand on bare soil or damp surface of any kind when working with electricity

14. Lay plywood or boards down so you do not contact any possible ground surface

15. Wear dry clothes and dry shoes <> read these instructions carefully <> and don't sweat

16. Do not lean against or touch washing machine or any metal pipe, metal duct or metal object, do not put metal screwdriver in mouth.

Larger image

17. Use extreme caution inside breaker box <> the big wires that attach to main breaker are still hot unless meter was pulled > do not touch or get near the main breaker see image

MAIN BREAKER STILL HAS HOT ELECTRICITY even when main breaker is turned off. Stay away from main breaker unless meter is pulled.

18. Notice there are two vertical rows of breakers

19. Behind each breaker is a busbar > there are two busbars, one for each row of breakers 

20. Busbars carry electricity from main breaker to the individual breakers

21. No screws hold breaker to breaker box. Breaker attaches by friction <> breaker end with a wire snaps onto a cleat or metal rod, the other breaker end ‘stabs’ onto busbar.

22. Breakers have one or two wires attached with a screw <> these are hot wires <> 120 Volt breakers have one hot wire <> 240 Volt breakers have two hot wires <> notice that white wires and bare copper wires attach to exposed metal bar called the neutral busbar <> it is safe to touch neutral busbar assuming white and ground wires are not loose. 
See image of breaker box and busbars

23. Main breaker is OFF, but double-check electricity is turned off to small breakers. To do this, leave individual breakers turned on

24. Put tester on breaker screw where wire attaches and touch other prong of tester to neutral busbar where white wires attach <> or test between screw on breaker and nearby copper ground wire or bare metal part of breaker box.

25. Test several breakers to check electricity is off

26. If electricity is on, you can proceed at high risk: be careful not to touch hot busbars <> for safety, turn off all individual breakers

Main breaker

27. Replace the breaker: mark bad breaker before removing cover <> use digital camera to record images if necessary

28. Remove wire(s) attached to breaker (this is the end of breaker that is attached to a metal rod or a cleat) 

29. Breakers are held in place at both ends <> one end locks into a cleat -or- snaps onto metal rod <> other end of breaker rotates to busbar and then 'stabs' onto the busbar see image

30.Remove breaker <> start removal at end with no wire <> remember this end of breaker is stabbed onto the busbar and it is usually pretty tight <> put a small flat-tip screwdriver between breakers and gently pry breaker up and off busbar

31. Once breaker is loose, it will rotate out > sometimes old breakers fall into pieces > make sure these pieces don’t drop behind other breakers > use insulated needle nose pliers to remove all pieces > if main breaker is turned off, and you checked with a tester, then busbar carries no electricity and is safe to touch while removing broken circuit breaker. Or use insulated needle nose pliers.

Breaker stabs on busbar

32. Burned and damaged busbar? Look at busbar where bad breaker was connected > if busbar is burned and broken, then new breaker will have to fit into another slot

33. If you do not have another slot available, then there are three solutions: 
        A. Buy: a tandem breaker with same Amp rating as replaced breaker 
        B. Double up on another breaker with same Amp rating
        C. Install a subpanel* Read more at bottom
Busbar is burned

34. When no extra slot is available, easiest solution is tandem breaker. If no tandem breaker is available, then you can double up on another breaker and that breaker will now serve 2 circuits. Doubling up is ok for 120V circuits when you double up two lightly-used circuits. For example attic lights and spare bedroom. This will buy time until you can install subpanel.

34a. Note the difference between 120V and 240V: Doubling a burned out 240 breaker invites more problems. For 240V breakers, a subpanel is best idea since each 240V appliance is given its own dedicated breaker to meet specific amp draw of that appliance. So don't double up 240V breakers. How to install a subpanel

35. If you double up 120V, then double on same size breaker as being replaced > for example, if bad breaker was 20 Amp, select another 20 Amp breaker. Do not attach wire to breaker rated for more amps than original <> for example, damaged breaker was 20 amp, do not double on 30 Amp breaker <> connecting wire to oversized breaker is clear fire hazard especially since replaced breaker burned up most likely from heavy use.

36. When you double up, refer to your panel door where all breakers are labeled and find which nearby breaker is not being used heavily > then attach wire from bad breaker to the chosen double up breaker. It may be necessary to add additional length to wire to reach double-up breaker <> use same gauge wire. See standard wire gauges 
See how to twist wire together 

37. Avoid doubling up on 'dedicated' breaker <> for example a microwave oven usually draws so much wattage that a single breaker is dedicated to that appliance. Avoid refrigerator breaker for same reason. When in doubt, simply add up wattage of each item drawing power from breaker <> take total wattage and divide by 120 V <> this gives total Amps on that circuit <> if the Amp draw is lower than your 20 Amp breaker, then the circuit should be safe until you install subpanel. Read about Volts, Amps, Watts

Tandem breaker
Tandem breaker
2 breakers in 1 slot

How to install a subpanel

Install subpanel

38. If busbar is OK > then new breaker goes back in same slot where bad breaker was

39. A matching brand breaker with same amp rating is necessary <> do not get creative and put in larger amp breaker

40. Attach wire(s) to breaker before pushing breaker in place see image <> tighten screw(s) very tight against copper wire

41. The wire-end of breaker attaches first.

42. Once wire-end of breaker is seated, rotate breaker down onto busbar <> firmly push new breaker down on busbar <> push hard and make sure new breaker sits even with all other breakers

43. To prevent later problems, tighten screws on other breakers <> DO NOT touch main breaker or wires going to main breaker

44. Tighten screws on neutral busbar where the white and bare copper wires attach <> be very careful around main breaker <> don’t let your screwdriver slip

44. After screws are tight, re-attach front cover panel temporarily with 2 screws

45. Turn on main breaker and check new circuit

46, If circuit is working, then finish by putting all screws on cover panel > wiggle panel around so screws go in > extra panel screws available at home center

46. Cover must be tight to prevent sparks from exiting breaker confine

* How to install a subpanel (see line 33)
Subpanel lets you add more breakers and circuits to existing breaker box.
Subpanel is a breaker box without a main breaker. It is usually added next to main breaker box.

Just like main breaker box, subpanel has 2 hot busbars and 1 neutral busbar.
Subpanel receives power from main breaker box through a 240V breaker inside main box.
For example, remove any 240 breaker in main box, and install 60 amp breaker in its place.
Then run 6 gauge wire from new 60 Amp breaker over to the subpanel. see wire gauge chart.
The #6 wire connects to busbars in the subpanel.
This will power additional breakers, and give added circuits.

How to figure breaker size and wire size
Typical household breakers

240Volt breaker is twice as wide as 120Volt breaker
Tandem breaker can replace single 120Volt breaker
3-pole breakers 3-pole breakers

Use for 3-phase circuits

3-phase breakers at Amazon

Read about 3-phase
Quad breaker Quad breaker
240Volt and two-120volt

Quadplex breaker at Amazon
Quadplex breaker Quadplex breaker
Two 240Volt

Quadplex breakers at Amazon
Square D breaker in subpanel

Ordinary 2-pole 240Volt breaker

Example showing 240Volt QO type breaker snapped down onto flat busbar
Two Hot busbars in residential single-phase service

Breaker snapped onto rail, and then pushed down onto the hot busbars

2 pole breakers at Amazon

Single pole breaker in 3-phase box

3-phase box has Three Hot busbars, instead of Two Hot busbars
Example shows QO breaker that snaps down onto flat busbar
How to wire 3-phase
GFCI breakers

GFCI breakers

Many local areas require arc fault.
Arc-fault Wiring identical to GFCI, but Arc-fault helps guard against arcing that can cause fire.

GFCI breakers at Amazon
Arc fault breaker

Wiring Ordinary circuit breaker (no GFCI or Arc fault)

GFCI breakers at Amazon
Arc fault breakers at Amazon

How to wire GFCI outlets and combo-switches

CH Type 120Volt Arc fault breaker

GFCI protection +
Also mitigates damage from arcing fault

Breaker stabs onto busbar.
Hot connects to breaker in typical fashion.
White Neutral connects to breaker.
Coiled White connects to Neutral busbar.

GFCI breakers at Amazon
Arc fault breakers at Amazon
AFCI-GFCI circuit breaker installation and troubleshoot/ pdf
Eaton AFCI-GFCI/ pdf
How to Install a Ground Fault Circuit Breaker/ pdf
Installation Instructions for G-Frame Ground Fault Circuit Breaker/ pdf
Arc fault breaker troubleshoot/ pdf

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