Should I replace my circuit breakers?

8 replies [Last post]
Rookie1's picture
Joined: 2017-03-16

My house was built in 1965. The circuit breakers are still the original, made by Bryant (I think). The house is vacant at the moment. For safety sake, I am trying to get the outlets grounded or replaced with GFIs. My brother is pushing strongly for me to have the circuit breakers replaced at the same time.

He says, "You have a couple of dozen circuit breakers. Unfortunately, most of them are so old that they may not function when you need them." And "overload the circuit and if it doesn't work you have a fire."

To my knowledge, there is no problem with the circuit breakers. I do not believe anything is overloaded. Everything seems to be working fine.

Should I replace the circuit breakers? Or should I follow the old adage: "if it ain't broke don't fix it"?

BreakerTester's picture
Joined: 2017-03-16

There is no reason to believe that your Bryant circuit breakers will not trip as required just because of age. I have been involved in testing residential circuit breakers from homes for 35 years, with more than 4,000 tested to date. Basic test is the UL489 requirement that they must trip at 135% of rated current within 1 hour. Some brands have high failure rates for that test, Bryant does not. The test results that I have for Bryant breakers indicates that they maintained tight control over the calibration and their breakers still trip properly many years after original installation. Data on some brands available today that you might replace them with is not as good. One brand presently on the market has a failure rate approaching 50% for the UL 135% trip requirement. If your load center has adequate capacity and the panel and breakers have no abnormalities (rust, corrosion, overheating, etc..) then there is no reason to replace just because of age alone. Your breakers may be better than the new ones that you replace them with.

Tegan's picture
Joined: 2014-09-14

You can have one or all of the circuit breakers tested by an Industrial Electrical Shop. May be more cost effective to replace the full service panel.

Rodney Koop's picture
Joined: 2017-03-16

Electrical work is about safety. 50 year old breakers that still work are a credit to the manufacturer, but if safety is a concern then yes by all means replace them, the box, the service, and all the wiring in the home. Replacing breakers without replacing devices and making sure all wiring is safe and up to Code would not be practical if safety is your concern.

JamesW's picture
Joined: 2014-01-09

You might want to read the article in EC&M for February on equipment life cycles. Tthe title is "Treat Your Electrical Equipment Like Your Automobile Tires" EC&M, Feb 15, 2017 by Doug Post, P.E., P.Eng. The article stated, "By year 10, 50% of circuit breakers no longer function per specification. This statistic jumps to 90% by year 20." The web page is: .

My home is 30 years old and I will be replacing the older breakers. My question is; how do I replace the main breaker in my service panel?

sparky377's picture
Joined: 2013-10-07

Your brother is correct. Most electrical equipment has a life expectancy of 20, maybe 30 years. Your Bryant load center is 50 years old. Circuit breakers have springs, bimetallic alloys, and grease as part of their internal components. These things will age and possibly cause the breaker to fail to operate correctly when called upon.

If the dwelling is sitting empty, replacement of the load center will be a simple one-day project for a competent electrician. Note: the electric utility will have to remove the meter in order to allow work on the service. This will entail a permit, so it is not a do-it-yourself project. The electric utility will not reinstall the meter without a label on the panel cover with the inspector's signature. Typical cost should be less than $1,000.

If you are updating outlets to make the electrical system safer, then a service panel replacement is a good idea.

Sdowney717's picture
Joined: 2017-03-14

You could test the breakers by overloading them and see if they eventually trip off.

A 20A Squared-D breaker at 27A takes a couple minutes to thermally trip. I suppose they are all similarly designed.

Breakers are thermal and magnetic trippers. Thermal is tripping due to heat buildup over time, whereas magnetic is direct short and is instantaneous.

mc5w's picture
Joined: 2013-10-09

OK Breakertester, what brand is it other than Federal Pacific that has a greater than 50% failure rate when new? Call me at 216-832-7024. You should forward your results to Dr. Jesse Aronstein protune at aol dot com. Mike Cole mc5w at earthlink dot net.

By the way, I did a patent search and discovered that FPE admitted to the patent office that the stab-loks and the bolted in versions of them stab-loks did not work! See also Manoma Realty Management versus Federal Pacific, which ruled that there is no such thing as a stab-lok that works and there is NO statute of limitations.

Sdowney717's picture
Joined: 2017-03-14

My home is 30 years old and I will be replacing the older breakers. My question is; how do I replace the main breaker in my service panel?[/quote]

You can do it live very carefully, wear gloves. My wires come in from the bottom, go up the side, and turn 180* at the top to enter the main breaker. There is plenty of room to easily unscrew the clamp and lift the wire out of the breaker. I would wrap the loose end with tape.

When I got rid of fuses, I did the whole job myself, new meter base, new 200A panel. Dominion power will give the meter base for free.

Or you can have the electric utility cut off your power by pulling the meter.

Make sure the aluminum feeder wires are in good electrical condition, and use that grease that helps prevent oxidation.

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