How to Tell if Your Circuit Breaker Needs Replacing

2017 Jan 12
Posted in: Electrical

So you have a specific breaker that’s tripping pretty frequently. Now you’re questioning if that means it’s bad and needs to be replaced.

Well, not necessarily. Replacing a breaker that’s tripping is like disabling a car alarm system because the alarm goes off. The alarm is most likely trying to prevent someone from breaking into your car, so why remove it for doing its job?

The same goes for your breaker. Your breaker’s job is to trip when there’s an electrical problem on the circuit. So, if you have a breaker that’s repeatedly tripping, you need to determine whether it’s tripping because there’s an electrical issue or because the breaker is bad.

Not sure where to start? Don’t worry. We’ll show you the steps you need to take to determine whether your circuit breaker needs to be replaced or not.

Don’t want to mess with electricity and need a professional ASAP? Just contact us. We’ll send over our best electrician right away.

Step 1: Unplug all appliances on the breaker’s circuit 

First, go to your electrical panel and take a look at the breaker that’s tripping. Determine the circuit that it’s protecting and then unplug all the appliances on that circuit.

Tip: Most electrical panels have some type of circuit breaker directory. See picture below for an example of a well organized directory that tells the homeowner which appliances “live” on a certain circuit breaker.

Step 2: Reset the breaker

Once all of the appliances are unplugged, reset the tripped breaker. 

You can do this by pushing the breaker firmly into the ON position. Then, watch for what the breaker does next to determine your issue.

The breaker is most likely working properly (but there’s an electrical issue) if…

...the breaker doesn’t immediately trip but trips once appliances are plugged back in and are running.

2 types of electrical issues you may have include:

  1. An electrical overload. This means that the combined appliances (or appliance) are pulling more amps than the circuit breaker is designed to allow. You’ll know you have an overloaded circuit if the breaker repeatedly trips when several or all appliances on the circuit are running at the same time. Note: Certain appliances need their own “dedicated” circuit because they draw so much power when they run. Check out our list of appliances that need a dedicated circuit. If one of these appliances are sharing a circuit with other appliances, you may need a professional to create a dedicated circuit for you.
  2. A short circuit. This is usually caused when certain wires accidentally touch. A short circuit can occur either within the wiring of your home or within the wiring of a certain appliance. If a certain appliance has a short circuit, you’ll know because every time that appliance is running it will trip the breaker.

What to do: Have a professional inspect the circuit. They’ll be able to determine if you:

  • Have a short circuit
  • Need to upgrade your breaker 
  • Need to remove several appliances from that circuit

The breaker most likely needs to be replaced if…

...it immediately trips back to the OFF position after you reset it or if there is no definitive click when you try to reset it and it just toggles loosely between the ON and OFF.

If this is your situation, there’s either a short circuit or the breaker is bad.

What to do: In either case, you’ll need an electrician. If there’s a short circuit, they’ll be able to find it and fix the problem. If your breaker is bad, they’ll be able to replace it for you.

How to spot a bad breaker

In Arizona, breakers can prematurely go bad due to the intense summer heat

And the scary part is that if this happens, the breaker might just never trip, even if there’s too much electricity flowing through the circuit! And that’s a serious problem because it can eventually lead to an electrical fire.

Signs of a “baked” breaker that needs to be replaced include:


Thermal image of a breaker that’s gone bad from overheating.

Need help from a Phoenix electrician?

If you’ve determined you have a bad breaker or if you have other circuit breaker questions, we can help.

Just contact us and we’ll give you the electrical help you need.

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