How to Tell If a Circuit Breaker Is Bad in Just a Few Steps

If you experience frequent trips, evident damage, heat, or burnt smell near your circuit breakers or electrical panel box, call our experienced electrician before the situation escalates.

Your house circuit breaker must function safely and properly. Unfortunately, circuit breakers can fail to perform due to multiple reasons. Common circuit breaker failure causes include a circuit breaker that is not properly reset, a short circuit, or an overloaded circuit. Detecting a bad breaker early is beneficial for you as fixing it may not be as expensive. Circuit breakers protect from fires and electrical faults; hence, it’s important to know how to tell if a circuit breaker is bad. Call your electrical contractor to prevent any fatal accidents. 

Image of A house circuit breaker; an overcurrent protection miniature breaker device, with automatic fuses.

Steps to Check a Bad Circuit Breaker

Here are some steps you can take to check if your circuit breaker is bad:

  • Identify the circuit that the particular breaker is protecting
  • Open your electrical panel box 
  • Find the label for the house circuit breaker that isn’t functioning properly
  • Ensure accurate label matching correct circuit
  • Turn off the breaker
  • Unplug all electrical devices linked with that circuit breaker
  • Reset the circuit breaker
  • If the breaker trips, it means a short circuit or overload
  • Replace a broken circuit breaker

Use a multimeter to check the total voltage capacity of the circuit breaker, if the voltage reading is zero it means you should urgently replace the affected house circuit breaker.

Image depicting how to tell if a circuit breaker is bad, and showing electrical measurements being taken with a multimeter tester. 

Why Your Home Circuit Breaker Is So Important

A circuit breaker controls everything. It is inside an electrical panel of your home. Your entire power supply including appliances, light fixtures, lamps, is managed by these breakers. Knowing the functioning of a breaker and how to change a circuit breaker is essential to avoid catastrophic accidents happening in your home. Your fail-safe systems must always function properly; If a faulty house circuit breaker cannot effectively perform its duty, you should immediately fix these problems. Are you wondering can a circuit breaker fail without tripping? Well, the answer is yes; it needs to be replaced. After resetting the circuit breaker if the circuit breaker doesn’t trip again it usually means an overloaded circuit. You can move plugs to other circuits and reset your house circuit breaker. If it trips again, it means a bad breaker or a short circuit. 

Image of a house circuit breaker on the electronic circuit with electrical tools placed on the table.

Learn About Common Bad Circuit Breaker Symptoms:

Apart from directly testing each circuit breaker to determine the fault, certain signs indicate a bad circuit breaker. Look out for the following symptoms; and if you experience any of them, get help from an experienced electrician to replace or fix your bad circuit breaker.

Doesn’t Stay in “Reset”:

Your breaker could be short-circuiting; you will be needing the services of a professional electrician to check your electrical panel box and house circuit breaker. It is important to let your electrician completely check the inside of the unit. They tend to look more closely at the walls and electrical panel to ensure no serious electrical issues are going on. Experienced professionals know how to tell if a circuit breaker is bad by just looking at the signs. 


Among other bad circuit breaker symptoms, a bad smell is easier to catch. If you experience a burning smell coming from your circuit breakers, it means something is wrong with your house circuit breaker. When a burnt smell is originating from your electrical panel box, you should immediately shut the main power to the house. Call an electrician for emergency services to check your electrical wiring. Your electrician will resolve all your queries regarding how to change a circuit breaker. If left, the damage can cause a devastating fire.

Hot Temperature:

If the electrical panel box or house circuit breaker is hot to the touch, call a professional electrician for emergency service. You should immediately turn off the power supply to your house. Your dimmer switch can also get hot. In this situation check the wattage. You should look at the amount of wattage plugged in and the amount that can be held. This is one of the bad circuit breaker symptoms. Usually when the circuit is overloaded heat is produced. 

Visibly Damaged:

When you notice evident marks near appliances, outlets, or the electrical box, shut the power to your house since it means a wire just melted and your home could be on fire. A bad circuit breaker can cause serious damages to your property. Prevent further escalation of the electrical problems by calling your electrician right away. By using thermal imaging, the heat source can be identified. Your electrician can use an infrared camera to inspect the issue as well. The heat produced due to a bad circuit breaker may cause external damage, you should always check the house circuit breaker and electrical panel box.

Frequent Trips:

Whenever you turn on a switch and your breaker turns off, it could mean a bad circuit breaker. Experiencing frequent trips could be either because your circuitry is bad or you have a faulty breaker. Getting in touch with your electrician is a smart idea to diagnose the accurate problem.

Long-Time Use:

You may need to replace and upgrade your circuit breakers if your house or the circuit breakers are too old. If you are thinking about how to change a circuit breaker, we have an expert electrician to diagnose the age and issue of your circuit breaker. The operational condition of old circuit breakers is compromised. An older house circuit breaker is more prone to faulty trips; you can avoid electrical hazards and replace your old breakers immediately. 

Hire a Professional Electrician

Call an experienced electrician from McCarrick Electric if you experience circuit breaker problems. Your bad circuit breaker will be replaced with a new one to make your space safe and comfortable for you and your loved ones. McCarrick Electric offers electrical services in the following areas:

  • Commerce City
  • Aurora
  • Denver
  • Henderson
  • Brighton
  • Thornton
  • Westminster
  • Highlands Ranch
  • Littleton
  • Parker

Call us right away for any emergency services.

720-601-1991 Contact Us