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Replacing A Couple Of Circuit Breakers

August 13, 2006

Q: I need to replace a couple of breaker switches. If I turn the main breaker off will I get shock if I try to remove the switches?

A: No, you shouldn’t get shocked unless your main breaker is bad or you have a back up power source; such as a generator. One of the best tools to have when working with electricity is a multimeter. Always verify the power is off before beginning any work with electricity. Set your multimeter to the AC voltage setting and be sure it reads 0 volts.

If the main breaker is in your panel, the wires coming into the breaker are still going to be live. Use caution and be sure not to touch these wires. If the main breaker is outside, turning this off will kill all of the power coming into your electrical panel.

When you turn off the main breaker this kills the power to the bussing that the breakers attach to. You should also turn off the breaker before removing it from the panel. Be sure to replace the breaker with one of the same amperage. Replacing a breaker with a higher amperage could start a fire and is a NEC violation.


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5 Responses to “Replacing A Couple Of Circuit Breakers”

  1. Arnie on September 10th, 2006 7:58 pm

    I moving a circuit from 1 breaker to another breaker. I need to extend the red wire going to the breaker. I got one the same color and gauge. Do I use a wire nut to extend the wire or is there a better way?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Administrator on September 10th, 2006 9:01 pm

    You may use a wire nut as the mechanical part of the splice. All electrical splices need to be held mechanically and electrically. If you have stranded wire, I would use a crimp type “butt splice”.

    Since it is a red wire, the cable is probably a 3 conductor with ground. This means that the neutral is probably shared. Make sure you note what phase the red wire is on and put it back on the same phase when you move it. If you don’t put it back on the same phase, you will have lots of problems because of the shared neutral.

    To determine the phase: Let’s say the red wire is terminated to the breaker in the # 5 position in your panel. The # 5 breaker position is on A phase. In a single phase 120/240V panel, you will have A phase and B phase.

    A phase is breaker positions 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17, 18, 21, 22, 25, 26, 29, 30, 33, 34, 37, 38, 41 and 42.

    B phase is breaker positions 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24, 27, 28, 31, 32, 35, 36, 39 and 40.

  3. harold on January 18th, 2007 3:56 pm

    Can you replace a 15 amp circuit for a 20 amp?

  4. Administrator on January 18th, 2007 6:03 pm

    Hello Harold,

    Thank you for your electrical question.

    The only way you may replace a 15 amp circuit breaker with a 20 amp circuit breaker is if all of the wire that feeds every light, switch and/or receptacle is 12 AWG. However, this is probably not the case. Your 15 amp circuit is probably wired with 14 AWG cable.

    To check your wire size, you need to turn off this circuit breaker, then go through your house and determine everything that is off. Now you need to open up every light, switch, receptacle, smoke detector and junction box and physically inspect each wire. If there is even 1 – 14 AWG wire anywhere in this circuit, you MAY NOT increase your breaker size to 20 amps as this will create a fire hazard. Fifteen amps is the maximum load for 14 AWG.

    If you are tripping breakers, then the circuit is probably overloaded. I recommend lightening up the load. By this, I mean install a new 15 or 20 amp circuit to separate some of your items on the circuit that is tripping.

    If your circuit breaker just started tripping and you haven’t added anything new to this circuit, you probably have a bad circuit breaker.

  5. Gene Goodwin on July 25th, 2007 3:45 pm

    circuit breaker trips and stays stays “tripped” until power is removed from incoming “main” line; this is with ALL loads “off”. When I disconnect the unit from the box (NO wires attached) the unit seems to work; click and stay in the “on” position. Reinstalling the c/b again produces the same results. What’s going on? How can I upgrade to a 20 amp breaker without paying a professional………I’m very confused.

    Thank you