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When the lights flicker or a room loses power, it’s time to take a glance at the circuit breaker panel. Like opening up a car hood or disassembling a laptop, you need to know your way around a breaker panel before you start changing or replacing things. First and foremost, electrical safety always takes priority.

Start with basic safety for working with a breaker panel:

  • Use safety gloves
  • Goggles and boots also recommended
  • Roll up loose shirt sleeves
  • Remove jewelry and avoid using metal instruments
  • Call your local electrician as soon as you encounter an issue!


Now, be sure to follow these guidelines as you look at your breaker panel:

Shut It Down

Turning off the main breaker is prudent in many cases. Otherwise, make sure that the circuits are really off. Assume that labels in the breaker panel may be outdated or incorrect — e.g., flipping a breaker might have turned off the light switch in the laundry room, but the washing machine is probably on its own circuit.

Electrical problems can cause huge, sudden dangers — electrocution is a real threat. Your appliances may be at risk on the other end, too. Pay the small price of waiting a few moments for power to come back later.

Use a Voltage Tester

You cannot 100% prevent shocks just by flipping breakers or shutting down the whole breaker panel. It’s possible for power to continue flowing to a live wire. You’re reading this because you have an electrical problem, right? Be safe and get a voltage tester. You can buy one at the hardware store for less than $20.

Keep It Dry

Did you just wash your hands? Is there a pool of condensation on the cement garage floor? Be as careful with wetness around the breaker panel as you would be with a toaster in the bathtub.

Avoid Distractions

Stop tinkering with the breaker panel if you take a phone call or a family member is asking you questions. Keep your eyes and ears open, and stay focused.

Find Problems, Don’t Fix Them

DIY repairs can be fun, but be honest about your comfort level. If you know how to replace a breaker switch, then shut off the power and get out the tools (and make sure you buy a replacement switch with the correct amp rating).

However, small electrical problems typically require an electrician’s care: 1) the problem might just be a symptom of a more severe issue, and 2) the problem might have damaged the wiring or connections.

Troubleshoot by looking for common explanations, then call your electrician for help:

  • Breaker panel shows signs of rust, melting, fire damage, or failure from old age
  • Circuit ratings (10A, 20A, etc.) are insufficient for the appliances they serve
  • Past repairs have been done poorly (loose wires, duct tape, etc.)
  • Connections where cables enter the breaker panel are damaged
  • Buzzing noises
  • Switches are broken, loose, or missing

Beware Tripping Breakers

If a breaker trips again after you’ve reset it, assume that something is wrong. Breakers rarely trip by accident. Repeated tripping means the circuit is overloaded or damaged. It’s a defense mechanism — the breaker panel trips the switch to shut off power after detecting a problem. Don’t ignore it, call the electrician!

Does your breaker panel need a wiring or service upgrade? Need help troubleshooting an electrical problem? Bringing in an experienced residential electrician is the safest move — contact us today to schedule an appointment!