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7 Ways to Tell If a Breaker Is Bad

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Dealing with electricity problems at home can be nerve-wracking. If you’re not accustomed to being around circuit breakers, outlets, ground wires, and other parts of your electrical system, there are worries about touching the wrong thing or starting a fire.

Most people know, or should know, where their circuit box is in the home. A home is built of several different circuits that control different areas in the home or separate appliances.

The circuit breakers are there to prevent any sort of electricity overload that could start a fire. When there is a problem or things get too intense, the circuit breaker activates and the power shuts off.

When that happens, it’s usually a matter of finding your way to the breaker box and flipping the switch back to “on”, as long as everything is safe. But what happens if you have a bad breaker? It can lead to issues and reduce the reliability of your home’s electricity.

One of the ways to tell if you have a bad breaker is if it’s constantly tripping. But there are other things you need to look out for. Spotting a bad breaker and getting repairs done quickly will help you avoid a lot of electrical problems at home.

A man switching the circuit breaker while holding a spotlight

How Can You Tell If Your Circuit Breaker Is Bad?

If you’ve got a bad circuit breaker, for the most part, all you’ll be facing is some annoyance. You’ll have to walk to the fuse box multiple times to switch it back on so your lamps will work or your fridge will stay on.

If you’ve ever had your garage door’s breaker blow, then you know how stressful getting your garage door back online can be when you’re in a rush to get to work or take the kids to school. Here are seven ways you can tell if a breaker is bad.

The Breaker Won’t Stay in Reset Mode

Reset mode is the default position in the fuse box. When your breaker is set to reset, it’s in position to trip if power surges or there is some other problem in the circuit. A trip every once in a while, like if you’re using a vacuum, all the lights are on, and the AC is running, is OK.

However, most modern electric circuits are built to handle a lot. Basically it should only trip if there is a problem.

If your breaker won’t stay in reset mode and keep the lights on, then it’s probably bad, and you should call a certified electrician to take care of it.

The Breaker Switch Is Hot

If you’re having problems with the power in your home and you go to your fuse box, check the temperature of your breaker switches. They’re usually made of plastic, and should be cool to the touch. If you touch a breaker switch and it’s warm to the touch, there is probably a problem. Nowhere on your fuse box should be warm to the touch.

When the wattage gets too high for switches and wiring in your house, it becomes a fire hazard. On top of your breakers and fuse box, if you notice that any light switch is warm, it’s cause for concern.

There Is a Burning Smell From Your Breaker

A burning smell anywhere in your house is a reason for worry. When you know it’s coming from your breaker, you need help as soon as possible. A burning smell that comes out of a breaker panel box means something is wrong.

Where there is smoke, there is fire, and you could be dealing with an electrical fire risk behind the box or in a wall where you can’t see what’s happening. You should call for help quickly and don’t mess with anything in your fuse box.

It’s Old

An old circuit breaker mounted in the white wall.

Electricity systems in modern homes are a lot different from older homes. If you are living in a home or renting somewhere with old wiring, you could have trouble with your breakers because of their age.

When electrical components get very old, you’re going to start running into more problems with them. They become less reliable and won’t stay on as well. You can switch them out to avoid having any issues.

There Is Noticeable Damage to the Breakers

Of course, you can tell a breaker is bad if there is visible damage to some part of the circuit. It could be the breaker switch in the fuse box, or a damaged light switch or outlet. A mess up with the wiring will cause your breaker to trigger frequently and could stop you from getting the power back on entirely.

You’ll need to resolve the damage before things can return to normal. If you’re worried about damage and fire risks, you can turn the power off and call for an electrician to come and take a look. You could be dealing with a melted wire that’s causing the problem.

Unplug Everything and Start Over

One way to tell if your circuit is bad is to unplug everything in the circuit and start all over again. With the breaker in the “off” position, go through that area of your house and unplug all of the lights, the TV, appliances, and anything else that needs power. When everything is unplugged, turn the breaker back on.

Then, start plugging things back in and turn them on. If you get past just a few items and breaker trips, then something’s wrong. You should be able to run a lot of things on a single circuit, so if a few lamps and a TV trips the breaker it’s probably bad.

There Is a Recall On Your Breaker

Has your breaker been recalled? It happens more than you think. Sometimes there is a problem in the production process, and a faulty part leads to performance problems with a certain breaker model.

You can look up online whether your breaker is part of a recall, and that can be the answer as to why you’re having so many problems with it.

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