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Ask any electrician about replacing circuit breakers and the first piece of advice you will get is to turn off the mains before you start working. This is a vital step to avoid electrocution injury, but there is still an electrical hazard in the panel itself because the wires going to the mains still carries current. Your hot bus bar may also have current, and you will need to be especially careful if you have never opened the circuit breaker panel before.
Before attempting any circuit breaker replacement, ask yourself how you will accomplish the job with all the lights out. Some people believe a flashlight will do the trick, but it is very important to have a steady light source such as a battery powered lamp or "electric lantern" that you don't need to hold. You need to be able to clearly see the potential danger spots in your electric panel at all times. Accidentally touching the live wires from the power company can cause a fatal shock. Being able to see and avoid them at all times is crucial. Do not attempt to install new breakers unless you can clearly see all parts of the panel and use both hands to do the work.
For some buyers, nothing short of brand new will do. Fortunately, used circuit breakers which have been reconditioned and re-certified work just as well as off-the-shelf models. For owners who need obsolete circuit breakers, there may not be much choice but to use reconditioned breakers depending on the age of the breaker box and the required parts. If your make and model number are no longer manufactured, you may find it on the shelves as a brand new item, but when supplies are gone, reconditioned breakers are the only items that will be available. It may take some getting used to, but many learn through necessity what bargain-hunters already know; used circuit breakers may be the only thing standing in the way of a complete upgrade of your electrical panel or breaker box.
Because there is a demand for used circuit breakers, many companies offer store credit or cash deals for your used circuit breakers. The best of these deals are for used circuit breakers in large numbers, but check with your customer service rep before deciding what to do with any breakers you have; you may discover that your old circuit breakers are worth more than you know.
Different types of circuit breakers require different handling. The typical consumer grade used circuit breaker may simply be reconditioned and factory certified if circumstances permit. Others may be dismantled and the salvageable components reused. Some breakers require special handling because of the materials used inside them. A gas-insulated circuit breaker or silica-filled breaker for industrial purposes may be governed under environmental protection laws, so recycling and reutilization of these breakers must be done with care.
If you have repeated problems with tripping circuit breakers, it's easy to blame the breakers, but you may have defective appliances or wiring problems in a wall socket. You can troubleshoot the wall sockets on a particular circuit using a wall socket tester, a device which plugs into the socket to indicate whether there is a fault, no power to the socket at all or if the outlet is working perfectly. If the wall socket is fine, you may be able to move on to testing a circuit breaker next.
Searching on the Internet for these devices will turn up plenty of items for use in England, but finding these devices for use in America may be trickier. The good news is that you can use a multimeter to do the same thing but setting the meter to AC volts, in the 200 volt range. Do not put your multimeter on "current". If you do not know how to use a multimeter properly, it's best not to attempt to troubleshoot a wall socket until you have read the instructions carefully.
If you need to learn how to test a circuit breaker, there are important tools you can purchase to make the process much easier. When troubleshooting a circuit breaker problem, you may have a faulty device running on the circuit, or a bad circuit breaker. It all depends on the nature of the problem. Do you need to see if a device is attached to a particular circuit is faulty? A continuity tester is a simple device you can buy to help determine if a circuit can carry electricity.
Use the "live" probe on the "live" prong power cord and the ground probe on the ground part of the plug to see if it is able to carry current. The tester will respond positively (with a light or buzz depending on the model) if it is functioning properly. A multimeter is a more sophisticated tool you can use to test a circuit breaker. By putting the multimeter in "volts AC" mode and touching the hot prong to the breaker's screw you can see if the breaker has power. If there is no power, you need to replace that circuit breaker.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|