Can a Circuit Breaker Go Bad? Find Out.

A circuit breaker (safety switch) can go bad, and their common signs include:

  • Burning smell from the circuit breaker box
  • Burned parts
  • Tripping light
  • Circuit breaker hot to touch
  • Damaged parts, for example, the switch.

But before concluding that your circuit breaker is bad, there are other factors that can also cause your breaker panel to be tripping.

These include circuit overload, short circuits, faulty wiring, ground faults, and a bad breaker.

You need to understand the working principle of your electrical panel, to know when it goes bad.

That your lights keep tripping never means your circuit panel has gone bad. Rather, they are protecting you and your appliances from the power surge.

The primary function of the circuit breaker or interrupter is to protect you and your appliances from a faulty current. When it detects one, it trips to prevent electrical problems.

While a breaker box may fail, always confirm from a licensed electrician before changing them.

Related article: Why your circuit breaker trips without a load

How to identify a bad circuit interrupter

Before you conclude that your electrical panel has failed, do these preliminary checks.

  • Locate the breaker box that leads to the room where you are having the problem
  • Unplug all the electrical appliances connected to the branch circuit to make sure it is not a circuit overload.
  • Check if the switch is still functional.
  • Reset the breaker fuse by turning it OFF and ON.

After resetting, monitor the light to see if it still trips. If it does, contact a professional electrician for troubleshooting.

Note: Don’t try removing the electrical breaker by yourself, it may lead to electric-shock.

How to tell if an electrical panel is bad

A qualified electrician can easily detect a bad breaker by using a digital multimeter to check the voltage level. 

Depending on the type of breaker, the voltage reading should be around 120 Volts for a single-pole, and 240 V for double pole breakers.

A voltage reading of zero or anything less than 120 V for a single-pole, and 240 for double poles, shows a faulty service panel and should be replaced.

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How to test a circuit breaker that keeps tripping

To test an electrical panel, you need these three tools.

  • A screwdriver
  • Digital multimeter
  • Hand gloves.

Procedures

1. Disconnect all appliances connected to the circuit and loosen out the screws and panel from the box

2. ON your digital multimeter, plug the black wire on the port labeled ‘COMMON’ and the red to the V port. The multimeter reads the level of current in a conductor.

3. Place the red probe against the screw on the breaker you are about to test, and the black robe on the neutral bar so that the multimeter can read the voltage level of the safety switch.

4. The result will look like this one below. For a single pole, the voltage reading will be around 120 V while double poles range from 220 to 250 V.

FAQ

1. What are the signs of a faulty panel?

Signs of bad circuit breakers include:

  • Flickering light: This means a shaking light. Flickering light can damage electrical appliances if you do not contain it in time. It is a sign that something is wrong with your electrical system, which may be the breaker, short circuit, over-current, and others.
  • Poor performance from your device: A weak breaker can make your appliances behave as if they have gone bad. For example, your dryer might trip off mid-way.
  • A burning smell: A burning smell can arise from faulty wiring, partial contact, or faulty breaker. Always contact a professional electrician for troubleshooting.
  • Signs of damage: If some parts of the safety switch are no longer functional, for example, a faulty switch, you will need to change it.
  • If it trips continuously.

2. Can a circuit breaker fail without tripping?

A safety switch can fail in several ways, some may fail without tripping, others may trip.

But to make sure it is the breaker that is causing the problem, check their voltage level with a digital multimeter.

3. Can a breaker partially go bad?

Yes, this can happen when the voltage level is less than the required 120 V for single poles, and around 120, instead of 240 V for double poles.

4. Can a bad circuit breaker cause low voltage?

This depends on what you call enough voltage. If it is slightly lower, then it could be a resistance from the cable. If the supply cable is long, the same would apply. The supply voltage could also be low because of high demand from a large power user. You will need to check those things before suspecting your service panel. The low voltage may not come from your breaker.