If a circuit breaker in your home is suddenly being triggered to the "off" position frequently, even when you know you aren't overloading the circuit, then the odds are that you need to replace the circuit breaker with a new one. While you should hire a licensed electrician to replace it, determining what breaker you need and buying it yourself can help you get it replaced faster -- if you buy the breaker yourself, then you won't have to wait for the electrician to order it from their supplier. However, be sure to choose the right breaker for your box or it either will not work in your box or will pose a safety hazard.
Read on to learn three simple steps to choosing the right replacement circuit breaker type for your breaker box so you can start enjoying your electricity again without the breaker flipping for no apparent reason.
1. Locate the Brand Name of Your Circuit Breaker Box
Most circuit breaker boxes are designed by a specific manufacturer of both the box and the circuit breakers in it. Even if you choose a new circuit breaker that is otherwise exactly the same as the old one you are replacing, it will likely not work in your box if it is made by a different manufacturer.
The manufacturer of your circuit breaker box should be stated somewhere on the outside of your box. If not, then you may have to remove the main panel of the breaker box to find the name of the manufacturer somewhere inside of it or on the breaker you need to replace.
2. Consider When Your Home Was Built & The Electrical Circuit the Breaker Controls
There are three main circuit breaker types: standard circuit breakers, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). While the circuit breaker type you have can be determined by a visual inspection, you can narrow your options down to the circuit breaker type you most likely have by considering the year your home was built.
If your home was built in 1999 or later, then the National Electric Code at the time required that all bedroom electrical circuits be connected to AFCI circuit breakers in lieu of standard circuit breakers. In 2008, the National Electric Code was updated to require all homes built in 2008 or later to have AFCI breakers connected to all home circuits that are connected to "habitable" areas of the home.
In 2014, the NEC began requiring that AFCI circuit breakers also be used to control circuits connected to dining areas and laundry rooms.
3. Visually Inspect The Circuit Breaker You are Replacing
If you need to replace a circuit breaker that was not required by the NEC to be an AFCI breaker, then that means you will have to inspect it visually to determine if it is a standard breaker or an AFCI breaker. AFCI breakers are typically gray in color and have small "test" buttons on them; you can check this handy guide to determine the brand of your GFCI circuit breaker by its appearance.
Standard circuit breakers are typically black in color and come in three sizes -- full size, half size, and double pole. Full size standard breaker are about one-inch in width, while half size standard breakers are one-half-inch in width. Double pole circuit breakers are two-inches in width and look like two full size breakers connected.
Once you have determined the circuit breaker type you need, then simply check the breaker for the amp requirement; this number should be labeled on the breaker itself.
If a circuit breaker in your home needs to be replaced, then follow these steps to determine the circuit breaker type you need to replace it with. To stay safe, be sure to have a licensed electrician perform the replacement for you.