How to Properly Remove Snap-In Circuit Breakers

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Snap-in circuit breakers connect to the breaker box's bus bar.
Snap-in circuit breakers connect to the breaker box's bus bar. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A circuit breaker is designed somewhat like a regular pole light switch in that when it is turned on it allows electricity to travel through the circuit, and when turned off it stops power going past the point where it is installed. However, if a power surge or short occurs, the breaker immediately "breaks" the circuit, stops power flow and prevents people from getting electrocuted. Breakers are installed in the home's main breaker box, with certain breakers designed to snap into place onto a metal strip called the bus bar. Care and safety precautions should be taken when removing the breaker.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber mat
  • Battery operated light, such as a flashlight

Rest a rubber mat on the ground beneath the breaker box. Make sure the ground beneath the mat is dry. Light the breaker box area with a battery powered light such as a flashlight. Open the breaker box's front cover. Turn the power off at the box's main breaker switch, labeled MAIN — this will turn off power to all individual breakers.

Loosen and remove the screws holding the box's inner cover in place using a screwdriver with an insulated handle — this cover will have a square/oblong opening in the middle to access the breakers, but all wiring will be concealed behind the panel. Lift out and remove the panel, placing it to one side. Look for the main wires coming into the breaker box that supplies it with power. Do not touch these wires or the lugs they are connected to, as they will still be live.

Locate the snap-in breaker that needs to be removed. Loosen the breaker's screws securing the black and white wires to the LOAD terminal and LOAD neutral terminals. Carefully pull the wires from the terminals, holding the plastic coated sections of the wires and not the bare copper ends. Loosen the screw holding the end of the breaker's coiled wire to the breaker box's neutral bar, and pull out the wire.

Push the top of the breaker by hand towards the outside of the breaker box — this will disengage the breaker from the box's bus bar. As some breakers are installed horizontally and back-to-back, it may be necessary to push the tip of a flat head screwdriver (with insulated handle) between the backs of the two side-by-side breakers, prying out the breaker that needs to be removed. Carefully pull out the breaker from the box by hand.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never at any time touch any terminal screws in the breaker box by hand.
  • Do not touch the bus bar that the breaker is attached to. This bar may still be live even with the box's main switch turned off in some breaker boxes.
  • If in any doubt about removing the breaker, consult an electrician.

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