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How To Replace A Breaker

Discover our handy guide on how to replace a circuit breaker at home.

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While every homeowner is familiar with their circuit breaker box to some extent, you might not know how to wire one from scratch. This can be a dangerous task, so unless you're 100% confident, we'd recommend hiring a contractor to assist you. The electrical breaker box panel is the hub of power for all of your appliances, from the dishwasher to the air conditioner and the TV. As such, it's a pretty dangerous and complicated piece of equipment.

Read on to find out how to wire a breaker box with your own two hands. Alternatively, ImproveNet can connect you with an electrician near you. Find a contractor today for free.

Wiring A Circuit Breaker

What Is A Circuit Breaker Box?

Your circuit breaker panel contains a myriad of wires and switches that distribute electricity around your home. It houses the main switch for all the power that runs through your property, in addition to a multitude of sub-switches that are connected to the different parts of your home. These little switches are called breakers, and they're programmed to trip in case of hazards. The only reason you'd need to pay them any attention would be if a fuse trips or there's a need for replacement or repair, such as installing a new light switch.

If you feel confident enough to deal with live electricity, read on for an in-depth how-to guide. Otherwise, there's no shame in making sure the job is completed correctly by a professional.

How To Wire A Breaker Box

First, you'll need to understand what you can and can't touch. Here's a glossary so you know what's what.

  • Always switch off the main breaker before you remove the electrical breaker box cover.
  • Main lugs are live whether the breaker i is off or on — you mustn't touch these.
  • The main black cables are always live. Even though they're insulated, you should avoid touching them.
  • There's always a hot wire, which connects the circuit to a breaker, and it's usually red or black. When you install an AFCI breaker, you'll need to connect a neutral wire as well.
  • A breaker bus funnels power from the mains to individual circuits. All of your breakers snap onto the bus.
  • For standard breakers, the white cable connects to the neutral bus. For AFCI breakers, you connect the neutral to the breaker in addition to a pigtail wire that runs to the neutral bus.
  • To get the job done, you'll need wire strippers, a cable ripper, a level, electrician's fish tape, a hammer, screwdrivers, electrical tape, 120-volt and 240-volt circuit breakers, and a voltage tester.

Now — on to the specifics of how to wire a breaker box, including how to how to run electrical wire from the breaker box to an outlet:

  1. First, you must ensure that the electricity running to the feeder wires has been fully shut off by your utility provider. Use the voltage tester to make sure there's no power.
  2. Insert the new cable into one of the slugs at the edge of the electrical circuit breaker box and put a snap-in clamp in the opening.
  3. Hold the cable up so you can see how much of the outer jacket of the wire you should strip off, cut it off and remove the insulator. Wrap the loose wires to stop them from touching a live area on the box.
  4. Keep pushing the cable through the clamp so at least a quarter of an inch of the outer jacket is within the electrical breaker box covers. Use an insulated staple to secure the part of the cable that's outside the box.
  5. Slip the tab into the hook to install the new breaker and carefully route the white and black wires to the empty space where the breaker goes.
  6. Install the breaker and insert the wires. Attach the white neutral cable to the AFCI.
  7. Strip off half an inch of insulation from the black and white wires and place them in the AFCI terminals, then tighten until secure.
  8. Connect the ground wire on the main panel from the new cable and the neutral pigtail to the breaker bus from the AFCI.
  9. Route the neutral AFCI ground and pigtail wires to vacant screws on the neutral bus and tighten them up.
  10. install the cover and switch on the main breaker, then turn the new AFCI on. Wait a few moments and then hit the test button.
  11. You're done!

How To Wire A Breaker Box

Electrical Breaker Box Maintenance Tips

  • Turn your panel off at least once a year.
  • Perform routine trip testing once every three to five years.
  • Get an inspection from a professional at least once every one to three years.

Electric Code Breaker Panel Box Requirements

By law, the circuit breaker box must be accessible without any potential obstructions. At least a three-foot clearance must be maintained around the circuit breaker box, and the door should be able to open to a 90-degree angle without anything getting in the way. It should be in a room with a ceiling that is at least six feet high.

You can install an electrical breaker box in any room except a bathroom, and the minimum height is four feet. That said, the ideal height is between five and six feet — and six feet is the maximum height.

If a DIY electrical project isn't for you, ImproveNet can help you find an experienced electrician today!

Article Topics

  • Electrical & Lighting

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