Can You Replace an Electrical Panel Yourself: 5 DIY Tips You Should Know

Fixing things when they inevitably break is a part of life unless you are made of money or have some unique principle against it, of course. If your electrical panel were to go out, presumably, fixing it would be a rational idea.

So the question remains: can you replace an electrical panel yourself?

If you have some electrical knowledge and skills, you can replace your home’s electrical panel yourself. It is essential to take safety precautions, have the right tools on hand, and know exactly how to replace a panel. If you don’t have experience with electrical work, it’s best to call a professional. Electrical codes are updated every 3 years and you should abide by all current electrical codes during installation.

Keeping in step with what was said above, we will go over more vital information. 

DIY Tips to Know Before Replacing a Circuit Breaker

Below, you will see many DIY tips that you must know before replacing a circuit breaker.

1. Have the Essential Tools Ready

To get the job done, you’ll need to have everything required to do the job from start to finish. 

The list is as follows:

  • Rubber mat or plywood: Standing or resting on this while working on electrical equipment keeps the current from flowing through you properly and keeps you safe.
  • Insulated flashlight: comes in handy for being able to see without allowing current to flow freely.
  • Safety goggles: Keeps your eyes safe and focused on the job at hand.
  • Insulated tools: Primarily a hammer, screwdriver, and insulated wire strippers (for the cable connectors when you get to them.
  • Voltage tester: Double functionality for checking if the wires are live before you begin working on them and after seeing if you completed the install/replacement correctly.
  • Cable connectors: Necessary for connecting a new circuit breaker to the new panel.

2. You’ll Need Good Lighting

This one may come as a given to some, but if you are doing electrical work in your home, you will have to turn the power off. 

As such, you will not have a working light in the room to see. Purchasing a standalone battery-operated light will give you the lighting required to get the job done.

3. Replacing the Circuit Breaker Itself

Now let’s discuss the actual job of replacing the circuit breaker itself.

Keep the Same Model as Before

To replace your circuit breaker, you will need to get the same make and model as the old one you were using. Otherwise, the new one will not be compatible, and as such, you will not be able to complete the replacement itself.

Turn off the Power

Next, you will need to turn off the power to begin the replacement safely and then utilize the voltage tester we listed above to ensure it’s safe to start. 

Note: Never work with the ideology that the breakers are off. It is essential to it first.

Take the Electrical Panel Cover Off

Following that, you will want to take the panel cover off. Taking the lid off will give you access to the branch circuit breakers themselves. You do not need to remove the cover of the main breaker. Doing so is dangerous and should only be attempted by a certified professional.

Disconnect the Wire from the Original Breaker

After removing the cover, you will want to disconnect the wire from the original breaker and pull it out entirely. Next, you will want to exercise extreme diligence as you remove the old circuit breaker and set it aside.

During this process, please take a moment to observe the original position of the breaker itself, so you know precisely how it fits in and can replicate it with the new one. 

This step is crucial if you do not have experience. Using your phone and turning on the flash can also give you a bit more insight on how to get the circuit breaker back in place as well.

Gently place the new breaker in and inspect the other branch circuits for any issues or loose pieces that could create a problem. Later on, tighten any you find and take time to account for all tools. Ensure there are no spare parts, then replace the cover.

Ensure All Branch Circuits Are Set to “Off”

The final step is to set all branch circuits to the “off” position to prevent any complications when you flip the main circuit breaker back. 

Then go down the line, turn every other branch breaker back on, and test them to see if everything is back in functional order.

4. Remember Basic Safety

Regardless of whether this is your first time doing any electrical work or being a seasoned veteran, knowing and practicing the basics will guarantee you get through the job safely and do everything you can to protect yourself or others from harm.

In the electrical world, a general rule of thumb would be that red and black wires are known to be “live” or “hot,” depending on what circle you are speaking of. These wires carry electrical current from your circuit breaker to whatever fixture the wire connects to.

The other set of wires would be white, known as your return wires. Their purpose is to allow electricity to run through the appliance you are working with and directly back to the circuit breaker itself.

Never work on electrical wiring without being on a rubber or plywood mat for safety purposes. Be extra sure you cut the electricity to the building before working on any wiring.

5. Know When it is Necessary

There is a certain wisdom to the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and this rings especially true for your circuit breaker. 

It is infrequent for one to break, and you should be sure the one in question is indeed broke before spending the time and money on a repair.

You can make use of a multimeter tester to check the exact voltage and amps and see whether or not your breaker is having an issue or not.

Can You Replace an Electrical Panel Yourself?

Hypothetically speaking, if you understand the process entirely from start to finish, know quite a bit about wiring, safety precautions, and everything required to do the job, you can do it yourself. 

However, what you would more than likely be lacking comes in the form of a permit.

Legally speaking, you cannot perform a wide array of upgrades or replacements to some of the more intricate parts of your home without having a permit

You will need to prove you know what you are doing and that your work can be certified as safe by the state you are residing in.

These forms of certification keep you from having shoddy craftsmanship within your homes, which can be unsafe and risk an electrical fire. 

In a potential worst-case scenario, it stops you and other people from making mistakes in someone else’s home and not having any responsibility for your actions or the lives you can put into jeopardy. 

These stipulations are in place to prevent electrical fires from occurring in most cases. 

Still, even if you are not looking at outright destruction to your home, you could because unimaginable damage behind the scenes can very easily equate to just as much of a repair cost as losing the area entirely.

Can a Homeowner Install a Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers, on average, are not likely to break due to their innate functionality, allowing them to be reset and get right back to doing what they need to.

However, anything that can happen will inevitably do so to someone, so you may find yourself in a situation where your breaker has malfunctioned.

The answer to this question is a yes, and you can do so without having a permit or certificate, but you would be wise to exercise the same amount of caution and vigilance during the job because it is still dangerous.

Thankfully the process of installing the circuit breaker itself is an easy enough job assuming you are prepared with the right tools and have a sufficient enough knowledge of electrical components.

Regardless, no matter how safe the job is, if you are out of your element, you should reach out to a professional instead of trying to save a dime at the expense of your health.

How Much Does it Cost to Change an Electrical Panel?

Getting back to our friend, the electrical panel, changing one of those as we’ve already covered, will cost you a pretty penny, primarily due to the specialized level of talent and knowledge required to get the job done.

If you are looking to get your electric panel replaced by a professional, you could be looking at anywhere between $500 on the low end to as much as $2,000 if things get messy or the electrician’s hourly rate is high.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Electrical Panel Replacement?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is a rather tricky one. You see, homeowners insurances only cover damaged things due to an “unexpected peril” that you might otherwise view as a natural disaster.

Homeowner’s insurance might cover anything from a flood, severe storm, or something not directly your fault. Still, the issue lies in the understanding that you’ll need to replace an electrical panel primarily due to old age.

If your panel did not get directly damaged by something noted as a “covered peril,” then your insurance will not cover it, and you will have to pay the total out-of-pocket cost for the repair yourself. 

The intricate details of your policy may vary from person to person, so you may want to refer directly to the insurance details yourself to find out whether or not the incident that calls for your replacement falls under that umbrella term.

Signs Your Electrical Panel Needs Replacing

Taking all of the above into account, just because you do not have certification or immense amounts of experience to do the job yourself, that does not mean you have to sit and idly wait for something catastrophic to happen before you call a professional.

In almost every case imaginable, when your electrical panel goes out or has an issue with it, there are a handful of tell-tale signs that can serve as warnings for you.

The warning signs will give you more than enough reason to seek guidance and help find out what is wrong and better how to fix it.

It is worth noting that while you may be lucky (or unlucky depending on how you view it) enough to have one of the more obvious signs that your panel is terrible, some of the signs are much more subtle. 

As such may require a more keen eye to spot the issue, diligence is critical in keeping your family or investment safe.

1. The Electrical Panel Smells

One of the most pertinent signs you can get that indicates you are in dire need of a professional would be a strong burning smell, often accompanied by fizzing, popping, or even buzzing sounds emitting from your electrical panel.

Any of the above shows that a potential fire is imminent, and you would be wise to flip the main breaker and cut power to the building itself.

You will need to evacuate the premises immediately as a safety measure. Your very next step is reaching out to an electrician to have the issue worked on.

2. You Use Lots of Power Strips

While the miracle that is power strips allows us to make the most out of this wondrous age of technology we live in, our electric panel often despises the immense workload we put on it just as much as we enjoy the benefits it gives. 

If you find yourself using power strips in almost every room of your house, you may be running headlong into an electrical problem. 

You should probably consider investing in an upgrade to accommodate your ever-increasing electrical needs!

3. Your Home Appliances Need an Upgrade

While it might not seem as urgent as the other issues listed here, this one is only slightly below them. The reason for that comes in the form of the appliance upgrades being more of a catalyst into why you would need to upgrade your electric panel in the first place.

You might want to consider upgrading your electrical panel when you obtain newer appliances because they have higher electrical demands than the older models. 

These higher demands will, in turn, put more stress on your panel, thus putting you at risk for overloading the circuit, and by the same ideology, risking an electrical fire.

4. Your Lights Flicker Often

As we round the list out, we bring everything full circle to yet another more obscure issue that could be hiding an exceptionally troublesome circumstance in plain sight (yes, pun intended.)

When you are going about your daily life and happen to notice that turning your vacuum cleaner on, or worse, the lights in your house dim, or flicker for no apparent reason, you are potentially at risk for an electrical fire.

Increased electrical demands mounting up over time, or even a few odds and ends being loose in your panel could be enough to cause these weird shortages. 

You would be wise to get a professional to investigate if you are experiencing anything like this. Better safe than sorry, as the saying were.

Final Words

Whether replacing an electrical panel or a circuit breaker, specific nuances ring true in both situations. 

Still, in either of them, if you aren’t confident in your ability to get the job done safely, leave it to a professional and seek help when it’s apparent you need it. No amount of money saved is ever worth your well-being.

Sources

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
DISCLAIMER: The content published on HomeInspectionInsider.com is not professional advice. You should consult with a licensed professional and check local permit requirements before starting any project.
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