How to Tell If Your Circuit Breaker Is Bad 

Your circuit breaker is there to protect against overload, surges, and short circuits in your home. They are the sentry and the automatic, emergency shut-off. Without them, electrical faults can escalate, resulting in potentially dangerous accidents like electrical fires. Ensuring your circuit breaker is in good working order can save homes and lives. So, how do you know if you have a bad circuit breaker?  

In this article, we’ll take a look at four common signs that your circuit breaker needs to be replaced.  

4 Signs That You Have a Bad Circuit Breaker  

There are a number of observable signs that a circuit breaker needs to be replaced. However, if you have any of these signs, stop reading and call an electrician now:   

  • Visibly frayed wires 
  • Areas on walls or outlets feel hot 
  • Outlets that shock, spark, or are melted or singed 
  • Strange burning odors 
  • Crackling or buzzing sounds 

If you’re in Sonoma, Napa, or Marin counties, you can reach Schafer Electric at (707) 545-3300. 

1. Frequent Breaker Trips 

This sign seems fairly obvious but is worth noting. If a circuit breaker trips frequently, it’s a signal that there is a chronic issue that needs to be addressed. A frequently tripped breaker is usually a sign that you are putting too much demand on the circuit and should move some of your electrical appliances to other circuits. This is especially common in older homes with circuit breakers that weren’t designed to support the demands of modern appliances.  

Frequent breaker trips could also indicate that your breaker is failing, or that your home has too few circuits and could benefit from a service upgrade. If you are unable to fully reset a tripped breaker, you should call an electrician immediately to troubleshoot and address your issue, before a surge, short-circuit or overload leads to a house fire.   

 In addition to checking your circuit, an electrician can measure the load on your various circuits and add another one as needed.  

2. Lights Flicker 

Flickering lights, or lights that dim on their own, can indicate a circuit breaker is failing. If it’s just one light fixture, the problem may simply be a loose bulb. If the flickering and dimming continues or involves other fixtures, especially along the same circuit, the circuit breaker could be the culprit. 

If you can also smell something burning or hear crackling or buzzing, you could have loose or frayed wiring, which could lead to a house fire. Call an electrician immediately. 

3. Power Fluctuates  

Noticeable fluctuations in power are not normal. If you’re detecting them, there’s a problem, either with the breaker, the wiring, or the electric panel. That is if it’s not the appliance itself. Some appliances, like irons and fans, can poorly regulate the electricity flow.  

If you have motors that don’t seem to be getting the usual juice or are surging, try plugging them into an outlet on a different circuit. If it’s still sluggish or erratic, it may just be the appliance. If it performs better on a different circuit, the first circuit breaker could be bad.   

4. Age of Circuit Breaker and Electrical Panel 

Everything wears out eventually. Quite a few factors contribute to the longevity of your circuit breakers and electrical panel. If you have frequent power outages or brownouts, this can put greater strain on these small power control centers. An overburdened circuit can also wear these devices out faster. The more they are called to action, the sooner they will fail.  

Also, a circuit panel that hasn’t been regularly inspected, at least every ten years, may contribute to its earlier demise. Most common circuit breakers last 30-40 years. Electrical panels can last for decades but should be inspected every 10-30 years.  

Contact Our Professional Electricians for a Home Electrical Safety Inspection 

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If you have been experiencing any symptoms of an electrical problem, or haven’t had an electrical inspection in some time, the professional electricians at Schafer Electric are here to help.  

At Schafer Electrical Services, electrical safety is our highest priority. We can advise you on the condition of your wiring, circuit breakers, and electrical panel, and schedule any necessary repairs or upgrades. Contact the professional residential electricians at Schafer Electrical Services for all your electrical needs. 

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