Things You'll Need
#3 Phillips-head screwdriver
#3 straight-head screwdriver
Write down the rating info on the old breaker so you can get an exact replacement. Replacing a breaker with one too small or too large can cause repeated tripping and early failure or can contribute to a house fire, respectively. It is very important to size your new breaker correctly.
Remove and reseat the breaker in step 4 if there is any doubt as to whether the breaker is fully seated. This is important as a poorly seated breaker can cause arcing and possibly fire when the panel is re-energized.
Electricity is dangerous to work with. Treat all wires as though they are "hot" while handling them. The power coming into the main panel will be at 240 volts and at 200 amps or higher. This is enough to easily kill a grown person. Check with your local building code office before performing any electrical operation. Local laws may require that a licensed electrical contractor do this work.
Circuit breakers are designed to prevent the wiring in a house from overheating and catching fire. The breaker is sized according to the anticipated load and the size of the wiring it serves. Circuit breakers conduct electricity when in the closed (complete circuit) position. When amperage flow exceeds the rated capacity of the breaker, it trips (opens) and breaks the circuit, de-energizing it. The breaker can be reset to the closed position once the cause of the overload is rectified. Frequent tripping and resetting will fatigue the breaker and eventually reduce its capacity, artificially lowering the breaker's amperage rating. Circuit breakers can be replaced with common tools and basic mechanical skill.
Replacing the Main Breaker
De-energize the circuit. Electrical service must be interrupted outside the house as this is the main breaker. The interrupt is in a locked meter box, and in many cases the box is the property of the power company. Contact your local power company for assistance.
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Remove the cover on the breaker box. Remove the 2 screws that connect the 2 big, black wires to the main breaker. Bend the wires outward to prevent them from contacting anything in the panel.
Pry up one side of the breaker carefully with a flat screwdriver. Grab the breaker and roll it outwards as it comes free. The breaker should come out easily and now be free of the breaker box.
Insert the new breaker and push it in to snap into place. The breaker will lay flat and be in a plane with the other breakers. Turn the new breaker "off' (open).
Install the 2 big, black wires onto the new circuit breaker. Torque the screws firmly but do not overtighten or strip them. Re-establish electrical service to the house and observe the breaker box for arcing or smoke. Reset the main breaker to "on" (closed) and verify that you have power to the house circuits. Replace the breaker box cover.
Kyle McBride has been writing professionally since 2004. Her articles have appeared in various online publications, covering topics such as computers, home construction, travel and auto repair. She is a certified motorcycle technician and printer/copier technician. McBride also holds an associate degree in computer networking from Strayer University.