How to Install a New Circuit Breaker and the Costs

Thomas McMurchie

Changing a circuit breaker in your main panel is not as daunting a task as you might think. In most cases, you can do it yourself with a few safety precautions and save the cost of paying an electrician. However, working with electricity always involves some risk. Be alert for danger signs. Make sure you fully understand the process before attempting to make repairs yourself, and call a professional if you run into any difficulty.

New circuit breakers are inexpensive and fairly easy to change.
  1. Take the old circuit breaker to your home improvement store and find a new one that is the same brand, size, style and amperage rating. Ask for help matching the breaker if necessary. New circuit breakers can cost from $3 to more than $75. However, unless you need a specialty breaker, you should be spending less than $20 for a replacement.

  2. Unplug all major appliances. Also unplug important smaller appliances, such as televisions, computers and stereos. Doing so will prevent damage to these items if there is a surge when you turn the power back on.

  3. Put on the safety glasses or goggles and the rubber-soled shoes. Place the rubber mat on the area underneath the main panel after first making sure this area is dry. Flip all individual circuit breakers to the "Off" position. Then flip the main breaker off. Have your helmet light or flashlight ready before turning off the breakers.

  4. Unscrew the panel cover screws and place them in a safe spot. Pull the panel cover away from the panel. Inspect all breakers and bus bars to look for signs of damage. If the breaker box shows signs of being in bad condition, replace the panel cover and call an electrician; do not attempt to change the box on your own. Danger signs include soot or burn marks inside the box, as well as charred or pitted bus bars. Bulging or cracked breakers also signal danger.

  5. Remove the circuit breaker to be replaced by gripping it near the inner part of the panel and pulling it out. A screwdriver may be used to help pry the breaker out. Unscrew the terminal screw that connects the circuit breaker wire to the bus bar.

  6. Turn the new breaker off. Put the circuit breaker wire under the terminal screw of the new breaker and tighten the screw. Plug the new breaker into the slot. When it snaps into place, it is plugged in correctly.

  7. Reattach the panel cover and screws. Flip the main disconnect breaker on. Turn on the individual circuit breakers one at a time.

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