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Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad? How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad

how to tell if a circuit breaker is bad

Circuit breakers are essential components in electrical systems that serve the purpose of protecting us from dangerous overloading situations. Despite their robust construction, circuit breakers can go bad or eventually fail and lead to a range of electrical issues in a household or commercial establishment.

The failure of a circuit breaker can be attributed to several reasons such as aging, excessive wear and tear, or exposure to extreme temperatures.

While a circuit breaker is meant to keep your house safe from the dangers of too much electricity, sometimes circuit breakers can go bad and cause nothing but problems.

Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad?

The simple answer is that, YES, circuit breakers can go bad, so your suspicions may be well-founded.

Just like any other essential device in your home (e.g. your water heater, HVAC system, etc.), circuit breakers can quit working properly.

That said, don’t begin replacing your circuit breaker just yet.

Many people misdiagnose the problem and end up spending good money without reason.

Before you do that, let’s go through the steps to check and make sure your circuit breaker really has gone bad.

can circuit breakers go bad

How To Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad

If your circuit breaker is sending off sparks, you should call a licensed electrician to look it over.

In the meantime, remove any flammable materials from the area (these should never be near circuit breakers, just in case).

Otherwise, if your breaker is constantly tripping, follow these three simple steps to see if yours has gone bad.

3 Steps for Checking If a Circuit Breaker Has Gone Bad:

  1. Identify the Circuit That Is Causing the Problem: The first thing you need to do is find the circuit that the tripping breaker is trying to protect. This is really easy to do. Just look at the label next to the breaker in question and then find the circuit it corresponds to by checking the sheet on the panel’s door.
  1. Unplug All Devices Plugged into That Circuit: Next, you need to make sure that an overloaded circuit isn’t to blame. A lot of people think circuit breakers go bad because they keep tripping without ever trying to reset it first. However, you only want to do this after you unplug all the devices using that breaker first.
  1. Reset the Circuit Breaker: With all those devices unplugged, you can now flip the breaker. When you do so, you should hear that audible “click.” Now, if the switch goes back and forth without ever clearly picking “on” or “off,” then your circuit breaker has gone bad. That said, you might notice that the circuit breaker doesn’t immediately trip. The circuit is probably overloaded, which means more electricity is flowing through it than it can handle. Move some of your devices to a different circuit and the problem should be solved.

How to Determine if a Circuit Breaker is Bad

  1. Symptoms of a Failed Circuit Breaker: One of the most common signs of a failed circuit breaker is frequent tripping, which means the breaker is constantly shutting off power to the electrical circuit it is protecting. Another indicator of a failed circuit breaker is if it sparks, produces a burning odor, or if it fails to reset.
  1. Testing the Circuit Breaker: To determine if a circuit breaker has failed, you can perform a simple test by unplugging all devices connected to the circuit in question and then resetting the breaker. If the breaker trips immediately after resetting, it is a sign of a failed breaker. If the breaker does not trip, it may indicate that the circuit was overloaded, and you may need to move some of the devices to a different circuit.
  1. Conducting a Voltage Test: Another way to test a circuit breaker is by conducting a voltage test. This involves using a voltage tester to measure the voltage at the breaker to determine if it is getting power. If the voltage tester indicates that there is no voltage at the breaker, it is a sign of a failed breaker.

It's important to note that circuit breaker failure can result in a range of electrical issues and pose a safety hazard. Therefore, it is recommended to seek the services of a licensed electrician if you suspect a failed circuit breaker. They will have the expertise and equipment necessary to properly diagnose and repair the issue. This pertains to all brands of circuit breakers: Square D, Siemens, GE, Cutler Hammer breaker, etc.

What to Do When Circuit Breakers Go Bad

If the circuit breaker trips right away, the issue is either a bad breaker or a short circuit. In that case, your circuit breaker has gone bad and you’ll want to call a licensed electrician to address the problem.

Unless you know how to replace the circuit breaker or, in some situations, rewire it, this isn’t the type of repair job you’ll want to try on your own. It can be dangerous but could also cause damage to your home.