There is a lot to think about when you’re renovating a home. You need to make many decisions, starting with what contractor to use and how much money you want to spend. It helps if you have a clear vision for how you want your home to look when you’re done. If you’re not sure what it is that you want yet, take some time to look through my blog. I’ll discuss everything from home additions to flooring materials to appliances and fixtures. These articles will help you get a sense of the possibilities for your home renovation, and help you narrow down your options. Eventually, you’ll decide on the renovations that are right for you.
If your home's electrical wiring is shorting out or a breaker is popping any time you dry your hair while the coffee's on, it may mean that you need to upgrade your breaker panel. If you've had the whole electrical system evaluated by a residential electrician to rule out a short in the wiring somewhere, you might be able to tackle the breaker box replacement on your own. Here's a look at what you need to know to get the job done.
Cut the Power
Before you do any work on the breaker panel, you need to make sure there's no power running to it. Look for the disconnect switch on the existing breaker panel and flip it to the OFF position. Try turning on a few lights or appliances in the area to make sure that the power's off. If there's anyone else in the house, make sure that they know not to turn the power back on until you're finished.
Once the breaker panel is turned off, you can disconnect the main power cable. Find the port where the cable connects to the breaker box, then use a small screwdriver to remove the screws securing that cable in place. Pull the cable free of the box.
Pull the Breaker Panel
1. Loosen the Panel—Open the cover of the circuit breaker panel and locate the screws inside securing the panel to the wall. Remove the screws and put them somewhere safe, but don't take the panel out of the wall yet. You need to mark each wire before you pull the breaker out of the wall, otherwise you won't know how to reconnect everything properly.
2. Label the Wires—Move the panel forward enough to access the wires behind it. Wrap a small piece of masking tape around each of the wires, leaving enough sticking off the wire to write on. Use a fine-tip permanent marker to label each of the wires to identify which circuit breaker it's connected to. You can follow the wiring plan that's printed and adhered to the door or the labels on each breaker in the panel.
If the labels aren't correct, or you're not sure that they're correct, number them down the sides starting at "1" on the right hand side, then moving to the left side. That way, you know the consecutive connections to get them back in the right place.
3. Disconnect the Wires—Once you've got everything labeled, you can disconnect the wires from the old breaker panel. Turn the conduit nuts with a socket wrench to loosen them, the move the wire back away from the breaker box. You may find it easiest to secure them to the wall with masking tape until you're ready to reconnect them to the new box. Pull the old box out of the wall and set it aside.
Install the New Breaker Box
Test the new breaker box in the space to be sure that the screw holes in the box match the holes on the wall. If they do, add a small amount of wood filler to the holes for reinforcement, letting it set for an hour or two before you install the new box. If the holes don't line up, patch the old screw holes with wood filler then mark and drill new holes by fitting the breaker box to the wall and using a pencil to mark where each hole needs to be.
Reattach the wires to each of the breakers according to how you labeled them during the removal process. Make sure each wire is matched to the proper position on the box. Use a socket wrench to turn the wire nuts and secure them. Reattach the primary power cable, then secure the breaker panel in the wall. Use a screwdriver to ensure that the mounting screws are tight.
Turn on the main power to the breaker panel, then turn on one breaker at a time to restore the power to the house. Test each zone as you turn on the breaker so you can be sure that everything is working properly. This is especially important if your wires are labeled with numbers, because it allows you to identify what each breaker powers so you can label your new panel clearly.
If you're not confident in your skills when dealing with wiring, a licensed residential electrician can help.