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What are the Symptoms of a Bad Circuit Breaker?


Circuit breakers are designed to serve you for a long time and if there is a problem, you will definitely notice it. If the breaker is overused or old, it may release sparks and even have a burning smell.

Bad circuit breaker

A circuit breaker is an essential device in your house and sometimes it has to deal with a lot of electrical power, as well as heat and humidity. It CAN go bad, however, this is not always the case if you have an electrical problem.

Let’s, first of all, identify that you really have a bad circuit breaker on your hands before running into the store and getting a new one! Here are some signs of a bad circuit breaker:

#1. You get sparks as you flip your breaker on.

Flipping on breakers and getting sparks

If this is your case, call a certified electrician right away to fix it!

#2. Something is burning (signs of “baked” breakers).

Usually, the breaker needs a replacement if you notice any of the following:

  • A burning smell coming out of the breaker panel. This is a sure sign that the breaker went bad and it means that your wires overheated with burnt down insulation.
  • If you touch the breaker, it will be hot. Your breaker is overheating because of some wiring or overload problem that it cannot handle.
  • If you notice actual burned breakers and wires. A very clear sign of a problem.

If this is what you are dealing with, shut down the main power supply right away, and call an electrician. This is an emergency situation!

#3. Your circuit breaker is damaging appliances.

If you are starting to notice scorch or burn marks on your outlets and plugs, that means that something is wrong with the way your electricity is being delivered to your devices.

Let’s not get it to cause the actual fire and call the electrician right away!

While he is on his way, REMOVE all the fixtures from this circuit immediately!

#4. Your circuit breaker is loose.

Basically, it means that you do not get this distinctive clicking sound, which usually comes after moving the switch into ON/OFF positions. If your switch doesn’t make any sound and simply moves between ON and OFF, this is a good sign of a bad circuit breaker.

A certified electrician should be able to fix this problem and change your breaker.

#5. Your circuit breaker is too old.

Even though circuit breakers are designed to work for many years (30 to 40 years), you don’t really know how long they have been there, especially if you just moved in. If you are suspecting that your circuit breaker is malfunctioning for this particular reason, you can simply check its voltage levels with a digital voltmeter (or multimeter).

Old corrosive breaker panels may cause serious problems, that’s why it is a good idea to have your circuit breakers checked once in a while by a specialist.

Electric panel rust: Electrical panel fire, Electrical panel breakers rusting


#6. Your breaker is too weak.

If your breaker goes bad and starts tripping at 5 amps or 10 amps (for example), you definitely need to change it. Initially, the constant tripping of the breaker should alert you about this problem.

Then, if you find out how many amps a certain device is pulling and it is not even close to what your circuit breaker should supply you with (before getting overloaded), replacement of the breaker should be considered.

#7. Other bad circuit symptoms.

Bad circuit always gives some signals which include the following:

  • Flaming, flashing, or darkening of the lights.
  • Recurrently fallen breakers or wafted fuses.
  • Hot and discolored fence plates.
  • Cracking, burning, and buzzing from containers.
  • Scorching smell approaching from containers or switches on the wall.
  • Minor shockwave or tickle from applications, containers, and switches.

All these problems call for breaker replacements and you can find a rather nice one here on Amazon (paid link). Don’t forget, that working with electricity is dangerous and seeking professional help is advisable.

But if none of these apply to you but you still want your electrical problem to be solved, here is what possibly could have happened to your electricity supply:

Overloaded circuit

First of all, it is possible that you overloaded your circuit and in order to avoid bigger problems, a circuit breaker flipped cutting the power to your lights or equipment.

Following are the symptoms of circuit overload:

  1. After turning some electrical device ON, your breakers trip. That means that the device that you tried to use overloaded the circuit.
  2. After resetting the circuit, it does not trip back right away, but a while later it does. That means your appliances are demanding more electricity than they can handle.
  3. Removing some of your appliances and moving them to another circuit actually solves a problem. That means you lifted a weight off your electric line and things are back to normal again.

Short circuit

One of the most common short circuit signs is a tripped circuit! If this happens, it means that a breaker just prevented you from the excessive current flow and you should be thankful for that.

If breaker trips, it does not mean that it has done something bad. It is simply doing its job, which is protecting you, your family, and your property, by eliminating the risk of fire and electric shock.

You can easily suspect a short circuit if your breaker trips and you are not able to reset it (because it will trip again).

Other circuit problems (video)

This is life and anything could happen. The weather conditions, accidents, plugging in too many devices without thinking… This video will give you some basic information on why your circuit breaker may be tripping.

“If your circuit breaker is rated at 20 amps, it is designed to run at 80% of it’s rating continuously. So, 20 amp breaker is only capable of running 16 amps for a long period of time.”

Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping - 3 Common Reasons


Testing your circuit breaker

There is another way to test your circuit breaker if you don’t have a digital voltmeter handy. Simply disconnect ALL your devices from this particular breaker and if it still trips, then, you have a …


… on your hands that needs a replacement.

Here is a nice infographic that you can save for identifying bad circuit breakers in the future .

So you think you have a “dead” or malfunctioning breaker? In a normal situation, this is the last thing to consider before going through other options. The easiest way to identify if the actual circuit breakers had gone bad is to use a digital voltmeter to get your reading.

If you just have a problem with resetting your breaker, that could mean many things (which include circuit overload and a short circuit) and it was covered very well in another article. An old appliance that started to demand more energy over time, could cause a problem as well.

Below is a good explanation in the video format on how to test your circuit breakers:

Checking for a Bad Breaker

** Warning! Working with electricity is dangerous and could be fatal. Consult a professional if you are not sure of what you are doing. You don’t have to do any of the tests yourself and any qualified electrician can help you with this task.

Need new circuit breakers?

Here are some good single-pole 15-amp replacement breakers for you:

And here are some 20-amp breakers:


Click on the white button above to find your electrician!

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1 Comment

  1. Zachary Tomlinson

    I never knew that faulty electrical wiring could affect your entire home and cause problems! My colleague talked about his plans of investing in a property so he can start a family with his longtime girlfriend. I think this information can help him prevent electrical fires in the future.

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