Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad? How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad (2023)

Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad? How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad (1)

Circuit breakers are essential components in electrical systems that serve the purpose of protecting us from dangerous overloading situations. Despite their robust construction, circuit breakers can go bad oreventually fail and lead to a range of electrical issues in a household or commercial establishment.

The failure of a circuit breaker can be attributed to several reasons such as aging, excessive wear and tear, or exposure to extreme temperatures.

While a circuit breaker is meant to keep your house safe from the dangers of too much electricity, sometimescircuit breakers can go bad and cause nothing but problems.

Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad?

The simple answer is that, YES, circuit breakers can go bad, so your suspicions may be well-founded.

Just like any other essential device in your home (e.g. your water heater, HVAC system, etc.), circuit breakers can quit working properly.

That said, don’t begin replacing your circuit breaker just yet.

Many people misdiagnose the problem and end up spending good money without reason.

Before you do that, let’s go through the steps to check and make sure your circuit breaker really has gone bad.

Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad? How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad (2)

How To Tell If a Circuit Breaker is Bad

If your circuit breaker is sending off sparks, you should call a licensed electrician to look it over.

In the meantime, remove any flammable materials from the area (these should never be near circuit breakers, just in case).

Otherwise, if your breaker is constantly tripping, follow these three simple steps to see if yours has gone bad.

3 Steps for Checking If a Circuit Breaker Has Gone Bad:

  1. Identify the Circuit That Is Causing the Problem:The first thing you need to do is find the circuit that the tripping breaker is trying to protect. This is really easy to do. Just look at the label next to the breaker in question and then find the circuit it corresponds to by checking the sheet on the panel’s door.
  1. Unplug All Devices Plugged into That Circuit:Next, you need to make sure that an overloaded circuit isn’t to blame. A lot of people think circuit breakers go bad because they keep tripping without ever trying to reset it first. However, you only want to do this after you unplug all the devices using that breaker first.
  1. Reset the Circuit Breaker:With all those devices unplugged, you can now flip the breaker. When you do so, you should hear that audible “click.” Now, if the switch goes back and forth without ever clearly picking “on” or “off,” then your circuit breaker has gone bad. That said, you might notice that the circuit breaker doesn’t immediately trip. The circuit is probably overloaded, which means more electricity is flowing through it than it can handle. Move some of your devices to a different circuit and the problem should be solved.

How to Determine if a Circuit Breaker is Bad

  1. Symptoms of a Failed Circuit Breaker: One of the most common signs of a failed circuit breaker is frequent tripping, which means the breaker is constantly shutting off power to the electrical circuit it is protecting. Another indicator of a failed circuit breaker is if it sparks, produces a burning odor, or if it fails to reset.
  1. Testing the Circuit Breaker: To determine if a circuit breaker has failed, you can perform a simple test by unplugging all devices connected to the circuit in question and then resetting the breaker. If the breaker trips immediately after resetting, it is a sign of a failed breaker. If the breaker does not trip, it may indicate that the circuit was overloaded, and you may need to move some of the devices to a different circuit.
  1. Conducting a Voltage Test: Another way to test a circuit breaker is by conducting a voltage test. This involves using a voltage tester to measure the voltage at the breaker to determine if it is getting power. If the voltage tester indicates that there is no voltage at the breaker, it is a sign of a failed breaker.

It's important to note that circuit breaker failure can result in a range of electrical issues and pose a safety hazard. Therefore, it is recommended to seek the services of a licensed electrician if you suspect a failed circuit breaker. They will have the expertise and equipment necessary to properly diagnose and repair the issue. This pertains to all brands of circuit breakers: Square D, Siemens, GE, Cutler Hammer breaker, etc.

What to Do When Circuit Breakers Go Bad

If the circuit breaker trips right away, the issue is either a bad breaker or a short circuit. In that case, your circuit breaker has gone bad and you’ll want to call a licensed electrician to address the problem.

Unless you know how to replace the circuit breaker or, in some situations, rewire it, this isn’t the type of repair job you’ll want to try on your own. It can be dangerous but could also cause damage to your home.


Can Circuit Breakers Go Bad? How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker is Bad? ›

Conducting a Voltage Test: Another way to test a circuit breaker is by conducting a voltage test. This involves using a voltage tester to measure the voltage at the breaker to determine if it is getting power. If the voltage tester indicates that there is no voltage at the breaker, it is a sign of a failed breaker.

How can you determine if a circuit breaker is bad? ›

The following will show you how to notice warning signs of a bad circuit breaker.
  1. Won't Stay in Reset Mode. If the breaker doesn't stay in “reset” mode, it may be short-circuiting. ...
  2. Notice a Burning Smell. ...
  3. It Feels Hot. ...
  4. Damage Is Visible To the Box or Outlets. ...
  5. Frequent Breaker Trips. ...
  6. It's Old.
Sep 9, 2021

What happens when breakers go bad? ›

When a breaker fails, it can cause a circuit to overheat, resulting in an electrical fire. A sure sign of an overheating circuit is a breaker that continually trips. If this happens in your building, don't simply continue resetting it, as it'll eventually give out and stop tripping altogether.

What does a bad breaker look like? ›

How can you tell if a circuit breaker is bad? Well, the breaker doesn't remain in the “reset” mode, there is a burning smell from the electrical panel box, it is hot to touch, there is physical damage, it trips frequently, or it is just plain old to name a few.

Can circuit breakers get weak? ›

A weak circuit breaker may not function properly and either switch off power unnecessarily or fail to cut off the power when needed. These are the main signs of damaged circuit breakers in your home. If you notice any of these signs of defective circuit breakers, contact a professional electrician to receive support.

How do I know which breaker to replace? ›

Unlike most electrical devices like switches and outlets, circuit breakers are brand specific. In fact, the manufacturers will tell you to only replace or add breakers specifically designed for that brand panel. Even more, only use the type of breaker recommended for the panel.

What are common circuit breaker failures? ›

5 Common Circuit Breakers Issues You Should Know About
  • Isolated power surges cause breakdowns. ...
  • Wiring discrepancies are present. ...
  • Short circuits have occurred. ...
  • You're dealing with ground faults. ...
  • The circuits are overloaded with appliances.
Jun 29, 2022

Can circuit breakers go bad without tripping? ›

A circuit breaker can fail without tripping and is an indication it needs to be replaced. It can also mean there are wiring issues with the circuit itself, such as exposed/loose wiring, overheating, and unregulated voltage.

What is the major cause of the failure of the circuit breaker? ›

The most common reason for a tripped breaker or broken fuse is an overloaded circuit. If you are requesting more power from your electrical circuit than it can handle, your electrical panel has a safety mechanism in place to prevent overheating.

Do I need an electrician to replace a circuit breaker? ›

A licensed electrician can help find the root problem and ensure that your home is safe. Knowing how to change a breaker without fixing the underlying problem is dangerous. It's best to bring in a professional. Replacing any part of your electrical system comes with risks.

What is the lifespan of a circuit breaker? ›

The average lifespan for a circuit breaker is 30 to 40 years. However, this number can go up or down based on various factors. For example, if you have a higher-quality breaker, it will likely last longer than a cheap breaker.

How often should circuit breakers be replaced? ›

Breakers should be replaced on average every 25-30 years. Additionally, they can come by to take a look. If your circuit breaker is old but not too old, you can pay for their visit without having to pay around $2,500 for the replacement.

What to do when a circuit breaker will not reset? ›

Start by unplugging all the appliances and turning off the lights powered by the affected circuit. Then, try resetting the breaker again. If it trips with nothing drawing power, a faulty breaker or bad electrical connection is the likely cause.

What happens when a circuit breaker won't reset? ›

If the circuit breaker won't reset and trips immediately, the problem might be a short circuit. A short circuit occurs when a hot wire carrying a current touches a neutral wire. In this case, the flipped breaker is a safety mechanism and is evidence of your circuit breaker working properly.

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