How to Check a Circuit Breaker Properly: 3 Simple Steps Anyone Can Do

Few things are as frustrating as a faulty circuit breaker.

Maybe they trip every time you turn a light on or start up the blender. And worst of all, you have to climb down to the basement every time just to reset the darn things.

But few people really recognize that every time your circuit breaker trips, it’s warning you of an actual electrical problem. As such, it’s crucial that you take these warnings seriously and know how to check a circuit breaker properly.

This short guide will take you through everything you need to know about checking a circuit breaker.

How to Check a Circuit Breaker: 3 Simple Steps

Before getting into how to check a circuit breaker, it’s essential that you remember that any kind of electrical work should only be handled using proper equipment. Safety glasses, insulated gloves, insulated tools, and a rubber mat to work on are all critical here.

Step 1: Testing Its Load

The number one reason a breaker keeps tripping is that it’s actually being overloaded. Test it out by flipping off the breaker, unplugging all of the appliances, turning it back on, and then adding each appliance to the circuit one by one.

After you add each appliance, check to see if the breaker tripped.

You may also have a problem with the wiring on individual appliances as well so be sure to test whether it’s an overload causing the problem or just one piece of equipment.

Step 2: Digging a Bit Deeper

If you have unplugged everything from the circuit and the breaker still won’t flip back on, you’ve got a problem either with your wiring or your circuit breaker itself.

Digging in a bit deeper will require you to remove the breaker panel cover entirely. This process can be easy but there are a number of safety precautions you should take before doing so.

You’ll also want to check for any physical damage to the panel including rust or discoloration. This could indicate a dangerous electrical problem and should only be handled by a qualified electrician.

Once you’ve removed the panel, you’ll be able to test the circuit breaker and the wiring directly.

Step 3: Testing the Circuit Breaker

Using a voltage reader, place the red lead onto the breaker terminal and the black lead onto the neutral bar (this is where all the white wires are plugged into). On a working single pole breaker, the voltage should read around 120v.

On a double breaker, each terminal should also read 120v. You can also test the entire double breaker by putting the red and black leads onto separate terminals. This will lead to a reading of around 240v.

If you get a 0v reading on any of these tests, your breaker is bad and should be replaced.

If, however, you get the proper readings during these tests, the culprit is more likely faulty wiring and a professional electrician should be called immediately to diagnose the problem.

Checking a Circuit Breaker Properly: Not as Tough as You’d Think

It’s worth remembering that not every circuit breaker trip is just an annoying accident. In fact, circuit breakers were designed to trip in order to prevent catastrophic problems down the line.

And if you follow these three simple steps, you can be sure you’re not at risk of an electrical fire. Learning how to check a circuit breaker properly, then, is key to maintaining the electrical safety of you and your home.

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