How to Safely Replace a Circuit Breaker Panel

First things first – safety is the most important concern when working with electrical equipment. A circuit breaker panel warrants a great deal of respect for safe replacement of the panel or its components.

It’s important to conduct a visual check of the panel’s exterior and environment before starting a replacement project. Look for any evidence of damage or the presence of rust, moisture, charring, or other issues. If you detect such conditions, do not proceed. Contact a qualified electrician to avoid exposure to shock hazards or potentially lethal voltage.

Note that panels manufactured by some vendors in the past may be known to involve safety hazards. Once you have identified the manufacturer and model of the panel to be replaced, do some initial research or call a local electrician for advice before tackling the project.

how to replace a circuit breaker panel

Steps for Replacing the Circuit Breaker Panel

Once you’re comfortable that you can handle the replacement project, the steps are fairly standard to make the upgrade. In the interest of safety, use insulated tools for the job, wear insulated lineman’s gloves, and stand on a rubber mat to provide extra insulation from grounding.

1. Visually Inspect the Panel

Make a visual inspection of the panel and connections. If you notice the following red flags, immediately call for the services of a licensed and qualified electrician:

  • Presence of aluminum wiring
  • Damaged insulation
  • Multiple colored wires connected together
  • Indication of heat damage or discoloration
  • Multiple wires connected to a single contact
  • Questionable wiring or connections
  • Any else out-of-the-ordinary

 

If safety and environmental issues are acceptable, you’re ready to proceed with the job.

2. Shut Off Power to the Panel and Remove the Cover

Locate your main power feed to the panel and ensure that it is turned off. If you cannot locate it, have the power company assist with turning the power off at the main source.

Once you have verified that the power is off (never assume), remove the screws securing the panel, and survey the internal wiring. Before removing any connections, be sure they are clearly labeled, so that they can be reconnected easily and accurately.

Breakers will each consist of three wires: black for live current, white for neutral, and green for ground.

3. Remove the Old Breakers

Breakers in the existing panel should each be clipped or snapped into the buzz bar, and can be removed easily. After removing the breakers, disconnect the ground line from the ground bar, then disconnect the neutral bar connection.

4. Carefully Disconnect the Main Breaker

Be sure your power company has disconnected the main power supply before removing the main breaker. If they have not, this breaker will be live, and must be kept away from all contact with humans.

This is not a task for a typical do-it-yourself homeowner, since a live main breaker can inflict severe shock hazards.

Remove the panel mounting screws and the old panel.

5. Prepare the New Panel

Inspect the new panel enclosure, punch out the necessary connection openings, and thread the wires through their respective holes. Attach the new panel securely to the wall. Connect the neutral wire to the neutral bar of the new panel, and the ground wire to the new ground bar. There will also be a connection to be made between the neutral and ground bars.

6. Install the New Breakers

With the new panel secured in place, secure the wiring to the new individual breakers, and slot them into the panel. It’s a good practice to keep the panel as organized as possible, so that circuits that are close together also have their breakers close together in the panel.

Once all breakers are installed, including the main breaker, power can be turned back on, and breakers inspected to ensure all circuits are functioning properly without faults or tripping. It may be necessary to have a licensed electrician or local inspector check the finished work, depending on local codes or ordinances.  

Get the Right Circuit Breaker Components

Prior to replacing a circuit breaker panel, be sure you have the right electrical equipment to do the job properly and safely. When planning the project, be sure to include the additional items you will need to complete the installation:

  • Connectors
  • Clamps
  • Test equipment (voltage meter, etc.)

It’s essential that breakers are replaced with the correctly-rated equivalent, to guarantee safe operation of all electrical devices – especially higher-voltage appliances.

Always Get the Help of a Professional Licensed Electrician when Dealing with Circuit Breakers 

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