Replacing a Double Breaker (Twin Pole)

Inside your breaker box, you may find some twin-pole electrical breakers, also known as double breakers. If your double breaker has tripped and you find you can’t reset it, it’s likely that your breaker has burned out and it’s time to replace it. Keep in mind: A great deal of electricity is passing through your breaker box, so a mistake can be deadly! You should consider hiring a licensed electrician to replace the breaker for you. But it’s always a good idea to know what your contractors are doing in your home, so here’s a brief overview of what’s involved in replacing an electrical double breaker.

STEP 1: MAKE SURE THE POWER IS TURNED OFF.

This is the single most important step in the process, because skipping it can KILL you!
Locate the main breaker for the box and shut it off. When working with electricity, it’s also always a good idea to wear rubber-soled shoes and rubber lineman’s gloves, and to use rubber-insulated lineman’s tools. Be sure that the floor you’re standing on is dry; for added safety, stand on a rubber mat. And as a rule, even when the power is off, only touch what you absolutely must touch to complete your task.

STEP 2: REMOVE THE FRONT PANEL OF THE BREAKER BOX

The face plate of the breaker box is held on by just a few screws. Removing it will give you access to the wires and the individual breakers.

STEP 3: REMOVE THE DEFECTIVE DOUBLE BREAKER

The double breaker is not actually screwed into the box; it’s held in place by clips, so it just needs to be snapped out. To remove the double breaker, grasp it firmly by the edges and snap it toward the outside of the box. This should dislodge the breaker from the box, though it will still be connected by the wires.

STEP 4: DISCONNECT THE WIRES

Because this is a double breaker, it is connected by not one but two power lines. Both will need to be disconnected. Once the breaker is free from the box, use an insulated lineman’s flat-head screwdriver to loosen the two screws holding the wires in place. Freed from the wires, the defective double breaker can be discarded.

STEP 5: ATTACH THE WIRES TO THE NEW DOUBLE BREAKER

Be sure that the new double breaker you’re installing has the same specs as the one you’re replacing. Taking your new double breaker, insert the power wires into the two slots on the breaker, and tighten them in place with your flat-head screwdriver. In attaching the wires, be sure that only the copper wires get tightened into the slots; you don’t want to pinch any of the black insulation from the wires, as this will impede the connection. Tighten the screws firmly in place to ensure that the wires don’t loosen over time.

STEP 6: INSTALL THE NEW DOUBLE BREAKER

With the new double breaker already connected to the wires, place the breaker into its slots in the box and snap it into place. Of course, because it is a double breaker, it will take up two slots in the box.

STEP 7: REPLACE THE COVER

While the power is still off, replace the face plate of the breaker box and screw it into place.

STEP 8: RESTORE THE POWER

It’s a good idea to turn all of the breakers in your box to the “off” position. Now you’re ready to turn on the main power to your box. You can then turn each of the individual breakers on, and power should be restored to your house.

How to install a new light switch

Electrical work can be daunting. But installing a new light switch is something you really can do on your own! To install a new light switch for a light controlled from just one place, follow these simple steps. (Lights controlled from multiple locations have some extra wires involved, and we’ll deal with that in another post.)

1. MOST IMPORTANT: TURN OFF THE POWER TO THE LIGHT SWITCH!

Whatever you do, don’t skip the first step! Always SHUT OFF THE POWER when you’re going to do any work on a light switch. Just find your circuit breaker box and flip off the breaker that controls the power to the switch you want to replace. Not sure which one that is? Turn on the switch and have someone stay in the room while you try different breakers. When the light goes out, have that person tell you; that’s the breaker for the switch you’re about to replace. If you can’t determine which breaker controls the light switch you want to replace, just turn off the whole panel until you’re done with your installation.

For added safety, consider purchasing an electrical tester or multimeter from your local hardware store or even online. You can get a cheap-but-effective model for under $20.

2. REMOVE THE LIGHT SWITCH FROM THE WALL.

Once you’re certain that the power is off, you want to remove the light switch from the wall. This requires several actions:

  • a. Using a flathead screwdriver, remove the face plate that covers the light switch.
  • b. Again, using a flathead screwdriver, remove the screws that hold the light switch to the wall.
  • c. Gently pull the light switch out of the wall.

3. DETACH THE WIRES.

Your light switch will likely have three wires: two black wires and one plain copper grounding wire. (Older light switches may have just two black wires with no ground.)

Remove the wires by pulling them out of the back of the outlet or by unscrewing them from the screws on the side, depending upon how they are connected. If you have trouble disconnecting wires that are inserted into the back of the switch, you can coax them out with the tip of a flathead screwdriver; alternatively, you can also cut them with wire cutters—but cut close to the connection so as not to shorten the wires too much.

4. CONNECT THE NEW LIGHT SWITCH.

  • a. Make sure that your wires have enough of the insulation stripped away to ensure a good connection. If not, you can strip them using a wire stripper or even just a sharp knife and a pair of pliers.
  • b. With a pair of needle-nose pliers, gently bend each of the exposed wires into the shape of a hook so that it can wrap around the terminal (copper screw) in the next step and make a clean connection.
  • c. Now you’re ready to connect the wires, one at a time. Using a Phillips-head screwdriver, connect each of the black wires to the copper terminals (screws) at the sides of the light switch by wrapping the wire hook you just created around the screw and then turning the screw until it is tight. Then connect the copper grounding wire to the green screw at the bottom of the light switch in the same way. That’s really all there is to it!

5. RE-ATTACH THE LIGHT SWITCH TO THE WALL.

Now that all of the wires are attached, gently fold the wires into the wall until the light switch can be screwed into the wall at top and bottom. This will require a flathead screwdriver.

Finally, place the outlet cover over the light switch and screw it into place.

6. RESTORE THE POWER AND TEST.

Now that your light switch has been changed, you should be able to safely return to the circuit breaker box and turn on the power. Turn on the light switch and ensure that it is working.

Voilà! You’ve installed your new light switch!

Replacing Your Wall Receptacle

Do you have an electrical outlet that’s not working properly? Perhaps it’s a two-plug receptacle and only one plug is working; or perhaps you’re not getting any power from either plug. Believe it or not, replacing your wall receptacle is something you can do on your own. Here we break it down for you in six easy steps.

1. MOST IMPORTANT: TURN OFF THE POWER TO THE RECEPTACLE!

Working with electricity can be dangerous. The single most important step you’ll take in this process is the first one: SHUT OFF THE POWER! If you’re not an experienced electrician, skipping this step could be deadly!

So how do you do this? Simple: Just go to your breaker box and turn off the breaker that controls the receptacle you want to change. If you’re not sure which breaker controls your receptacle, just turn off the whole panel.

To be sure the power is off, take a working lamp (or other electrical device) and plug it into each plug in the outlet, first one and then the other. Alternatively, you can use a multimeter, if you have one.

2. REMOVE THE RECEPTACLE FROM THE WALL.

Once you’re certain that the power is off, you want to remove the receptacle from the wall. This requires several actions:

  • Using a flathead screwdriver, remove the face plate that covers the receptacle.
  • Again, using a flathead screwdriver, remove the screws that hold the receptacle to the wall.
  • Gently pull the receptacle out of the wall.

3. DETACH THE WIRES.

If you have a newer outlet, it will have three wires: the live wire (black), the neutral wire (white), and the ground wire. An older outlet may have only two wires: neutral (white) and live (black).

Remove the wires by pulling them out of the back of the outlet or by unscrewing them from the screws on the side, depending upon how they are connected. If you have trouble disconnecting the wires, you can also cut them with wire cutters—but cut close to the connection so as not to shorten the wires too much.

4. ATTACH THE NEW RECEPTACLE.

  • Make sure that your wires have enough of the insulation stripped away to ensure a good connection. If not, you can strip them using a wire stripper or even just a sharp knife and a pair of pliers.
  • Next, connect your neutral wires (white) to the left side of the receptacle (in grounded receptacles, this is the side with the larger slit for the plug). You can connect the wires either by inserting them into the holes provided in the back of the receptacle, or by wrapping the wires around the terminals (screws) on the side, using a Phillips-head screwdriver.
  • Connect the ground wire to the terminal (screw) at the bottom of the outlet, using a Phillips-head screwdriver.
  • Finally, connect the live (black) wires to the right side of the receptacle (in grounded receptacles, this is the side with the smaller slit for the plug). Again, you can connect the wires either by inserting them into the holes provided in the back of the receptacle, or by wrapping the wires around the terminals (screws) on the side, using a Phillips-head screwdriver.

5. RE-ATTACH THE RECEPTACLE TO THE WALL.

With all of the wires attached, gently fold the wires into the wall until the receptacle can be screwed into the wall at top and bottom. This will require a flathead screwdriver.

Finally, place the outlet cover over the receptacle and screw it into place.

6. RESTORE THE POWER AND TEST.

Now that your receptacle has been changed, you should be able to safely return to the circuit breaker box and turn on the power. Plug a working light (or other electrical device) into the receptacle and ensure that it is working.

That’s all there is to it!