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Guide to Installing and Wiring a Breaker Box and Circuit Breakers

A DIY guide to installing a circuit breaker box in your home. Learn to identify the parts of the breaker box and how to wire it. Installing a circuit breaker is explained in this article.

If you have an antiquated fuse box that looks like something from an old Frankenstein movie, you probably want to consider upgrading to a circuit breaker box. Maybe a remodeling project is forcing you to move an existing breaker box. Installing the breaker box and circuit breakers is actually a pretty simple and straightforward project.

Before I go any further, let me warn you that this is a hazardous project and extreme caution is required. You will be working with electrical service designed to deliver electricity in volumes that could cause you severe injury or even death! If you are not comfortable with this, do not attempt this project and hire a professional electrician.

That said, lets begin with the installation of the breaker box. You will need to gather some tools for this job. You will need:

Needle nosed pliers

Wire stripper

Screwdriver

Powered screw gun

Temporary lighting

Circuit breakers

First, take a look at the box. You will notice a number of small mounting holes on the back and the sides. Which ones you use will depend on your mounting needs. The box should be mounted within a wall so that the face of the breaker box is flush with the wall. It should also be mounted securely to wall studs. You don’t want this box to move even a tiny bit.

Now that the box is screwed to the wall, you need to make sure it’s safe to work on the electrical system. My house has an outside main breaker located next to the meter, which I shut off. I am very cautious when it comes to electrical work, so I remove the meter as well. This kills the power to the main breaker outside. But, with the meter removed, the hot connections of the meter are exposed. I taped a large cardboard box over the meter box with a sign warning of "hot current".

When you are absolutely sure that there is no current coming into the house from the main service line, you are ready to begin connecting the electrical lines. The main electrical line should consist of 2 black “Hot” wires, one white “Neutral” wire and one bare “Ground” wire. These should be stripped back about 1 inch.

The breaker box should have 3 or 4 large screw heads or “lugs” along the top of the connection panel to accommodate the main line. The 2 center lugs are for the 2 black “hot” wires. These lugs are connected to the main breaker that is pre-installed in your breaker box, and that is connected to the metal breaker connection points that run down the center of the panel. On either side of the panel is a long vertical metal connection bar or “Bus Bar”, filled will small screws. One side is the neutral bus bar and the other is the ground bus bar. Above these bus bars should be large lugs, just like the ones for the hot wires.

First, connect the 2 black Hot-wires to the 2 center lugs by sliding the wire behind the lug and screwing it tight. Next, connect the neutral and ground wires to the large lugs above the neutral and ground bus bars. In some boxes, the ground bus bar does not have a single large lug like the other connections do. If this is the case, simply untwist the wire and insert it into the top 2 small lugs of the ground bus bar.

Now that you have the main line installed, it’s time to install the circuit breakers. On the top, sides and bottom of the breaker box are knockouts to open holes to feed wire through. Strip the outer jacket of the wire you are installing about 2 feet from the end. Now strip about 3/4 of an inch on the ends of the 2 insulated wires. Feed the wire into the box. The bare ground wire will install behind one of the small lugs on the ground bus bar. The white neutral wire will connect behind a small lug on the neutral bus bar. Make sure these 2 connections are screwed down good and tight.

The circuit breaker should have a small screw on one end to accept the black wire. Insert the black hot wire under the connection screw and tighten securely. Your box may be different, but in my breaker box, the circuit breaker installs by seating a groove in the breaker into a lip on the panel, then rocking the breaker forward so it seats onto the connection strip in the center of the panel. Make sure the breaker is secure and doesn’t move around. Now arrange the wire in the box so it is up and out of the way while you make your next connection. Now repeat this process until all your breakers are installed.

One last note before you run off to start this project. Since you will be cutting power to the house, you are not going to have any light. This is a job that you want to be able to see very well what you are doing. So, consider having some strong battery lighting or a generator at hand before you get going.

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Comments (1)

There are several important things to consider when undertaking a project like this. First, and this is something that most authors forget to mention in DIY articles like this one-you need to pull a permit from the county building department before undertaking this project. Altough the NEC (National Electric Code) permits a homeowner to do almost anything a licensed electrician can do, they still have to do it under permit and have the required inspections performed as the work progresses. Pulling a permit and performing the work according to code and with the required inspections is important because doing this kind of upgrade without the proper documentations will cause you problems with home insurance if you ever have a fire that is traced to the electrical wiring. The second thing that you need to be sure of is that there is a separate service disconnect switch separate from the fuse panel. Many Edison Base fuse fuse panels used a pull out block containing two cartridge fuses as the service panel disconnect. If your panel is equipped this way there's no way to disconnect the panel from the service drop without pulling the meter and you will have to have the power company do that. They will come out and pull the meter and then reurn to reinstall it once the new panel is installed and has passed final inspection. I have had years of experience working with master electricians doing ressidential, commercial, and industrial electrical work and I have seen experienced electricians get seriously injured on the job. Unless you are an advanced DIY electrician, this is the kind of project that you are better off contracting out to a licensed professional,

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