Do Circuit Breakers Ever Need to Be Replaced?

2016 Apr 18
Posted in: Electrical

Yes, circuit breakers can wear out and need to be replaced. But, it’s infrequent. 

We say this because we get this question a lot when a circuit breaker:

  • Keeps tripping or
  • Is in the “on” position, but there’s no power to your outlets

In these situations, homeowners have a tendency to immediately blame the circuit breaker.

But that’s like immediately blaming your light switch when a light bulb won’t turn on. (The most likely cause is a dead bulb, not a problem with the switch.)

The most likely scenario is that the circuit breaker is doing its job and protecting your home from a fault or overload somewhere in the circuit. 

That being said, there are 3 sure-fire signs a circuit breaker needs to be replaced. We’ll start with those and then give you some troubleshooting tips you can try yourself if you don’t have those signs.

Related: Electrical Panels 101: A Homeowner’s Guide to Breaker Boxes

3 signs your circuit breaker needs to be replaced

If you notice any of the following, turn off the power to your home and call an electrician immediately.

1) Burned spots/burning smell
If you notice a burning smell or see signs of burning in your panel, there’s likely a malfunctioning circuit breaker (or other serious problem).

2) Circuit breaker is hot
If you go to flip your breaker and notice that it is very hot, the breaker may be shot and overloaded.

3) You have Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) or Zinsco panels
These 2 brands of outdated breakers can get stuck in the ON position, leaving your home vulnerable to house fires. 

Read more about Zinsco and FPE panels.

Troubleshooting you can do yourself

OK so if you don’t have any of those 3 sure-fire signs, but still suspect the circuit breaker what can you do? Well...

If the circuit breaker keeps tripping, try this:

  1. Unplug everything from the circuit.
  2. Flip the breaker off and then on.
  3. If the breaker still trips, call an electrician.
  4. If the breaker stays on now, plug in your appliances 1 at a time with about 30 minutes in between items.
  5. If the breaker trips after you plug something in, you either have an overloaded circuit (too many items on one circuit) or there’s a short in that appliance or outlet that needs to be fixed.

You can read more about Why Your Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping and Which Appliances Need a Dedicated Circuit.

If the circuit breaker is on but the circuit has no power, there are 2 things you can try.

First, look for an AFCI or GFCI outlet on the circuit—these are outlets with “test” and “reset” buttons on them.

 GFCI vs AFCI
Left: GFCI outlet, Right: AFCI outlet

One of these outlets can trip and stop other outlets on the circuit from working. Learn more about AFCI and GFCI outlets.

Try pushing the “reset” button on any of the dead outlets.

If that doesn’t work, you can try testing your outlets with a receptacle tester like this one. Even if the outlet appears dead, this tester can tell you if the outlet is getting power. And, if so, what’s wrong with it.

Get a professional electrician’s help

If you’re still unsure if your circuit breaker needs to be replaced, have a professional electrician take a look.

Contact George Brazil’s electricians. We serve the entire Phoenix metro area (yes, even all the way out to San Tan Valley).