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Installing Circuit Breakers

Installing Circuit Breakers

If you have a little bit of courage, you can install circuit breakers yourself. The process does, in fact, contain a certain degree of risk, but if you follow all safety steps, you should be just fine.

Turn Off the Juice!

Most standard electric panels have a main disconnect switch or breaker at the top of the panel or load center. It is a code requirement. If the load center doesn't have one, then look for the main disconnect at a different location possibly near the electric meter. Turn it off. You better have a flashlight handy or a caving or miner's helmet, because you are going to need a light source for the next steps.

They Simply Plug In

Circuit breakers plug into the load center. The electricity flows into each breaker via a large metal strip inside the panel or load center. It is called a bus bar. This strip is HIGHLY dangerous. Touch this strip while it is energized and you will very likely die. If a screwdriver you are holding slips and touches it, expect nearly the same result.

Keep in mind that even though the main breaker may be off, the bus bar may be energized for any number of reasons! Also, the wires leading into the top of the main disconnect are always energized and represent a life safety hazard. In other words, the inside of an electric panel or load center is ALWAYS a dangerous place to be.

The Breaker

The black wire to a circuit attaches to one end of a standard or AFCI breaker. The location is almost always a hole that is drilled through a threaded cylinder. A screw twists into this cylinder and tightly clamps down the wire. When installing a new breaker, I always find it easier to attach the circuit wire to the breaker before I plug the breaker into the panel. When removing a breaker, I usually unplug the breaker from the bus bar and then remove the circuit wire from the end of the breaker.

Plugging It In

Make sure the breaker is in the off position. The end of the breaker where the circuit wire attaches almost always has a small notch in it. This notch fits under or slides into a metal tab strip that runs parallel with the bus bar. This is what stabilizes the breaker. Without this secondary attachment, the breakers would flap in the panel much like a sail that is not tied down to the mast or the side of a boat.

Tip the end of the breaker so the notch slides into the metal tab. You then align the breaker with the bus bar and push it down onto the bar. The tension tabs on the breaker open slightly and grip the bus bar as the breaker seats itself. If you feel the breaker seated itself correctly, simply turn it on. All should be well. Remember to follow the instructions that come with the breaker. Always follow the sequence the manufacturer suggests.

The White Wire

AFCI breakers require one additional step. You need to locate the white wire that is paired with the black wire in that circuit. The white wire actually attaches to the breaker as well. There is a coiled white wire that leads out of the breaker. This white wire attaches to the neutral bus bar in spot that is vacated when you disconnect the white wire of the circuit. Scared yet? If so, call an electrician!

Column B320

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