How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad in Just 3 Steps

How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad?

Like all things, circuit breakers wear out over time. It’s critical that you recognize bad circuit breaker symptoms to prevent sudden electrical mishaps. So, continue reading this detailed guide on circuit breakers to learn how to recognize when their lifespan is coming to an end. 

 

How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad in Just 3 Steps?

 

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad?

Now, in order to tell if a circuit breaker is bad, I’ve made a simplified manual that can help guide you through your probing.

 

Step 1. Unplug all connected electronics

As a general tip, it is recommended that you first remove all electronics connected to a circuit that you’re about to tamper with. However, if you're aware, then you can just specifically remove any appliances connected to the certain circuit you’re about to test.

If you're unsure about the specific breaker’s circuit, then I implore that you unplug all electronics in the general vicinity of your working area. This is done mainly to prevent surging, which could damage your electronics and also shock you accidentally.

 

How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad in Just 3 Steps?

 

Step 2. Remove the Breaker Panel

Don't forget to wear your electric safety gloves and check if you have all the necessary tools before you start working on this electric project.

Now, remove the panel covering the expanse of the entire breaker system. Depending on your home’s set-up, your breaker cover might be held together by screws or a handheld lock.

Either way, take utmost care in removing the panel, as you don’t want to accidentally drop and damage it.

 

Step 3. Probe with Multimeter

Now, prepare your multimeter as you now will begin probing whether your circuit breaker is bad.

Carefully connect the black wire to the "COM" slot of the multimeter, while you connect the red wire to the slot labeled with the letter V and Omega symbol (Ω). This way, your multimeter will correctly read the circuit breaker's voltage.

 

How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad in Just 3 Steps?

 

Carefully connect the testing tip of the red wire to the screw adjacently holding each individual breaker handle. Meanwhile, hold the tip of the black wire to the neutral bar of the circuit breaker.

The neutral bar I've mentioned can be seen beside the breaker handles themselves. They’re easily visible, so you won’t have much trouble finding them.

Be mindful while you're probing each breaker individually. Make sure that your skin doesn’t contact any of the metal parts of the circuit panel while you’re conducting your test, as you might get accidentally shocked.

This facilitates the multimeter to read the total voltage capacity of the circuit breaker. Depending on the specifications of the breaker itself, your multimeter reading should be around 120 – 250 V, depending on whether it is a single-pole or double-pole breaker.

However, if your voltage reading is zero, then you may want to urgently replace the affected circuit breaker. A zero reading means that the breaker is faulty, and may cause untoward electric accidents if left unchecked.

How Long Do Circuit Breakers Last?

Electrical experts say circuit breakers generally last about 30 to 40 years. However, other experts estimate their lifespan to be about 15 to 20 years. The drastic differences in circuit breaker lifespans are primarily due to the storage conditions of the electrical devices. It also varies by brand, model, and amount of use. 

Additionally, the type of circuit breaker also plays a role in the device's longevity. For example, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) last around 15 to 20 years. 

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