A big home remodeling project might include the addition of new power outlets and a new circuit breaker. Installing a circuit breaker is a delicate job, so before you try to do it yourself, confirm that your home insurance policy doesn’t restrict you from undertaking this type of electrical work.
It’s a bad idea to make this particular task your first foray into the world of electricity. Especially when you’re working inside a breaker box, mistakes can be dangerous or deadly, so if you have no experience at all with electrical work, hire a pro or do some smaller electrical projects first to build up your knowledge and confidence.
A lot of power runs through a home’s electrical distribution system, so safety should be top of mind before you even think about touching anything in an electrical panel. The most important thing to remember is to shut off the power to whatever you’re working on, and that includes the circuit box. There are also many other steps you can take to protect yourself from electric shock.
General directions for installing a circuit breaker are noted below, but the circuit breaker you buy will have additional instructions. Make sure you read them (two or three times) and internalize the steps you’ll be taking for this project.
1. Turn off the main circuit breaker.
You should find the main circuit breaker — also possibly labeled as “Service Disconnect” or “Main” — at the very top or bottom of the electrical panel. If you don’t see a main circuit breaker, it may be located in a second electrical panel somewhere else in your home. You also might find the switch outside at the electrical meter the utility company uses to figure out how much electricity you’re using.
2. Remove the panel cover.
You’re removing the entire front of the electrical box, not just the door. An extra set of hands can be helpful at this step to support the cover as you remove its fasteners.
3. Figure out where you have available space for a new breaker.
You may have seen “blank” punch-outs on the panel cover over unused slots. However, they aren’t always accurate. After you remove the panel cover, you can see exactly where you have room to expand.
4. Use an electrical meter set for continued power to make sure there’s no juice flowing through the panel.
The terminals connected to the main outside power line will still be live (so be careful), but every other circuit breaker and the bus bar (what the circuit breakers attach to) should not indicate any power if the main switch is off. Do not continue on your own if your tester shows that any of the ancillary circuits are receiving power or if you have any questions about the power status.
5. Select the proper circuit breaker according to the panel’s list of acceptable models.
Most panel manufacturers require that their own circuit breakers be installed. In addition to listing what kinds of circuit breakers you can use, the panel will provide you with the allowable amp size for installation.
6. Locate the circuit breaker’s two mounting points.
Both the electrical and the non-electrical mounting points are at or near the bottom of the breaker. The non-electrical contact point is always the first to be connected. Connection directions can vary between brands, so read the instructions that came with the circuit breaker. The second electrical mounting point is the last to be installed and requires only downward pressure to engage the connection mechanism with the bus bar.
7. Make sure the new circuit breaker is in the Off position.
8. Slide the new circuit breaker at an angle into its new home.
The non-electrical contact point should engage with the support structure to hold it in place.
9. Push the inside edge of the breaker down until it snaps into place.
It should align with the circuit breakers around it.
10. Connect the circuit breaker wires to the breaker terminal screws.
Refer to the specific instructions provided with the circuit breaker you’re installing.
11. Remove the necessary punch-out on the cover to accommodate the new breaker and then reinstall the cover.
12. Test the installation.
Stand to the side of the circuit breaker. Turn the main circuit breaker on and then flip the switch for the newly installed breaker. If the installation is successful, label the circuit on the list on the inside of the panel door for future reference. It’s also a good idea to have an inspector double-check your work. It will cost a little money, but not as much as hiring an electrician to do the entire installation, and definitely not as much as rebuilding a house after a preventable electrical fire!
If something went wrong and you can’t figure out what, put down your tools and call a certified electrician to finish the job.
Sent to us by Maire Hunter.
P.S. Be sure you have your gloves, safety glasses, and other protective gear when tackling this project.