How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker Is Bad

If a circuit breaker trips constantly, it’s possible your home has a bad breaker, a short circuit, or an overloaded circuit -- all of which can indicate major problems with electrical wiring. To determine whether a circuit breaker has gone bad, you must inspect the breaker inside the circuit panel, then reset the breaker to help diagnose your home’s wiring problem.


  1. 1
    Open your circuit breaker panel. The circuit breaker is a metal box often located in your basement, hallway, or storage room.
    • Make sure the floor and your hands are dry before touching the circuit breaker panel. This will help you avoid electric shock.
  2. 2
    Identify whether any breaker switches have tripped and are in the “Off” position.
    • Do not touch or attempt to fix the circuit breaker yourself if you see bare wires or signs of burning upon opening the circuit breaker panel. Instead, skip to step #7 and contact a professional electrician for further assistance.[1]
  3. 3
    Switch the breaker back to the “On” position. If this resolves the problem and the breaker stays on, the circuit breaker is in good working condition.
    • Proceed with the following steps if the circuit breaker trips and returns to the “Off” position.
  4. 4
    Identify the circuit for the breaker you suspect is bad. Most breakers are labeled accordingly, and will tell you which circuit is being controlled by the breaker. For example, a breaker labeled “kitchen” controls the circuits and electricity for all major appliances in your kitchen.
  5. 5
    Unplug all electrical appliances connected to that particular circuit. This helps identify whether the problem is due to an overloaded circuit, which is when a circuit has more amps flowing through it than it can support. For example, if the circuit is for your living room, unplug all lamps, television components, computers, and any other appliances plugged into living room outlets.[2]
  6. 6
    Return to the circuit breaker panel.
  7. 7
    Flip the circuit breaker you suspect is going bad. If the circuit breaker is in good working condition, you will hear a loud, definite “click.” If the switch trips immediately, emits a burning smell, or flops back and forth easily without clicking, it’s possible the circuit breaker is faulty.[3]
    • If the circuit breaker works for a few minutes or hours, then trips again later on, the circuit may be overloaded. If this happens, move electrical components from the faulty circuit to another circuit to distribute electricity more effectively.
  8. 8
    Contact a professional electrician for help with repairing the faulty circuit breaker. A professional electrician will take the necessary precautions to fix the circuit breaker and any wiring problems in your home.


  • Keep your circuit breaker panel protected from conditions such as flooding and extreme humidity at all times. Water and humidity can damage circuit breakers and cause them to malfunction or stop working.


  • Never try to repair or install a new circuit breaker panel in your home without help from a professional electrician. Installing or repairing circuit breaker panels on your own increases the risk for high-voltage shocks and fire hazards due to poor electrical wiring.[4]
  • Always unplug computers and other important electronic devices prior to flipping the breaker switch for that particular circuit. Leaving these devices plugged in can result in permanent damage to their electronic components.

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Categories: Accuracy | Electrical Maintenance