If you overload a circuit and your circuit breaker trips, all you need to do is push the breaker switch back into the "on" position. However, what happens if you don't hear the reassuring click that indicates that the breaker has been reset?

Circuit breakers can eventually fail if they have been tripped and reset too many times. This may occur if the issues that are causing the circuit to overload are not addressed.

While replacing a circuit breaker may seem to be a job for an electrical repair service technician, you can do it yourself with only flat head and Philips head screwdrivers, a flashlight, and the confidence to work inside a circuit breaker box

Buying the correct circuit breaker

You will need to check two things before going to the home improvement store to buy your new breaker.

  1. The amp rating of the circuit. You can find this by looking at the old breaker. You will see either the number "15" or "20" stamped on the breaker, indicating that it controls either a 15 or 20 amp line. The amp rating of the breaker is very important to the effectiveness of the breaker in shutting down an overloaded circuit before overheating and the possibility of fire occurs.
  2. The manufacturer of the circuit breaker box. Unfortunately, all breakers don't fit all boxes, so you must buy a breaker made by the manufacturer of your breaker box. If the box is very old and the manufacturer no longer makes the breaker, ask a store employee or look online for a suitable aftermarket replacement. 

Replacing the circuit breaker

This is the moment of truth. You will need to remove the cover from the inside panel of the breaker box. However, before you can begin, you must shut off the main breakers to the house. They may be located at the top of the breaker panel or in a separate location inside or outside the home.

Failure to turn off the main breakers can lead to electrocution and death. Keep your flashlight handy because when you turn off the main breakers, you will likely be plunged into darkness. Set your flashlight in place (or use a helper to hold it) so that it shines on the breaker, because you will need both hands to replace the breaker.

When the house power is off, use your flat head screwdriver to remove the breaker panel cover. You will then place the tip of the screwdriver under the outer edge of the breaker (where the wire is connected) and pry it out of the breaker slot.

Disconnect the wire by loosening the terminal screw with your Philips head screwdriver. You will then loop the wire under the terminal screw of the new breaker and tighten the terminal screw until it is secure.

Push the inner edge (opposite the wire) of the breaker into the slot first, then push the outer edge in until the breaker clicks into place. Replace the panel, turn on the breaker, and you're finished your breaker replacement.

If your breaker had become worn by frequent overloads, you must find a way to ease the burden on the line.You may have a new appliance that draws too much power or two many power strips with too many appliances plugged into them.

You must move some portable appliances to other circuits in the home or add an additional line from the breaker box to handle the additional load. Circuit breakers are not infallible, and overheated wiring can eventually start a fire that can destroy your home and endanger your family.

For more information, contact an electrical repair service in your area.