How to Tell if Your Circuit Breaker Needs to Be Replaced?

In this blog we will cover why and when a breaker is due for replacement. We will identify below several reasons that indicate the need to replace your electrical breaker.

A circuit breaker protects the electrical circuit from damage and in basic terms acts as an electrical switch. If a surge of electrical current occurs in a circuit, the breaker is designed to switch off the current flow.

Generally speaking the electrical panel is the body of the electrical system and the breakers are installed within the panel and distribute power throughout the house. Each individual breaker is sized to handle specific loads and if these loads exceed designed amperage load it can cause the breaker to trip. This is totally fine, however if it happens regularly it may indicate a circuit is overloaded or it could mean there is a faulty breaker.

Electrical systems are pretty bulletproof and what our topic today speaks to are some things that adversely affect your electrical system.

Common Signs Your Circuit Breaker is Failing

If your circuit breaker is overloaded you’ll notice a few common signs.

These include:

  1. A hot Burning Odour Coming from the Electrical Panel may smell like melted plastic.
  2. Breakers switching off and having to be reset
  3. Flickering or dimming lights
  4. Switches or outlets that Work On and Off
  5. Low voltage at appliances
  6. Appliances burning out prematurely
  7. Higher than normal electrical utility costs
  8. Electrical baseboard heater not producing adequate heat
  9. Electric Panel hot to touch

1) Hot Burning Odour Coming from the Electrical Panel

An overheated circuit can smell like melted plastic.

A circuit breaker that is in distress can produce a burning smell and is indicative of the plastic sheathing on the wire or the bakelite of the panel and breaker components are overheating.

The odour may be evident closer to the electrical panel but as we know smoke rises so you could notice the smell throughout the house. This makes it more difficult to determine the root cause, although our electricians are trained to recognize these issues and resolve your problem.

What you can do if this situation arises.

Turn off the circuit breaker if you notice any of these signs and if you determine a more critical situation, turn off the main breaker.

Turning off the main breaker will insure all circuit breakers in the panel are isolated until a qualified electrician can determine the problem. Call PTX Electric as soon as possible to remedy the situation.

2) Breakers switching off and having to be reset

If your circuit breaker trips and has to be reset repeatedly this points to a system failure somewhere. It could be a panel or breaker issue or a potential wiring problem, failing appliance, electrical heater or a switch, receptacle outlet.

If you can’t simply determine what’s causing the circuit breaker to trip, our expert  electrician from PTX will help you out..

List of Problem Electrical Panels and Breakers

  1. Stab Lock Breakers
  2. Commander Panels
  3. CEB Breakers
  4. Federal Pioneer

If you have any of the above listed equipment  in your house or facility you have a pending power outage or life safety concern. Over the last several years our older brand products have been reengineered or manufactures have ceased the production of several of these electrical systems. During the last several years we have replaced whole electrical panels as a result of breaker failure. 

Obtaining parts for discontinued electrical panels can be expensive and in many cases all that’s available is used or recycled components.

3) Flickering or Dimming Lights

Flicker or dimming lights may be a sign of power supply interruption and is indicative of excessive load and reduced power supply. To find out what’s causing this issue can be tricky so use your friendly neighbourhood PTX electrician to save the day. We will examine the overall system and will provide you with professional  recommendations that are accurate and truthful.

4) Switches or Outlets That Work On and Off

Switches and Outlet plugs should always work, there should never be an On and Off operation, or sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, situation. 

There could be several reasons or causes for this situation:

  • #1 Maybe the plug or outlet is faulty or there is a loose electrical connection.
  • #2 The circuit is overloaded. To many devices on a circuit.
  • #3 Breakers are faulty or the Electrical Panel is failing.

5) Low Voltage at Appliances

Low voltage power supply can seriously damage appliances.

When testing a standard leg at the panel the design power supply should be 120 volts. If the power supply is below 110 volts damage to appliances can occur especially with specialty lighting components, fridges and other appliances with electrical motors.

Electrical baseboard heaters will function but produce little heat and will eventually damage the controls or cause the heater to fail completely.

6) Appliances Burning out Prematurely

The root cause of low voltage usually resides with the Electrical Panel, Breaker, loose wire connections, or possibly a faulty wall outlet.

Less frequently the electrical issue is located between the panel and metre or from the utilities side of things.

7) Higher than Normal Electrical Utility Costs

If your utility bill has increased substantially for no reason, you should have your electrical system inspected and tested.

When an electrical system has a ground fault it can consume excessive power through a live ground. That just means there is a power connection to ground and power consumption is bleeding through the ground fault. In this situation power consumption is constant and can drive your electrical utility cost through the roof.

Once again this is not a DIY project, it requires a trained electrical service expert to diagnose and solve the problem.

8) Electrical Baseboard Heater not Producing Heat

As briefly mentioned earlier electrical baseboard heaters are affected by low voltage or varying power supply. If the power decreases significantly the heater element will not function properly, either producing little heat or no heat at all.

Our team at PTX has seen this issue often when responding to a heater not working call and in many cases have found shorted breakers at the panel. In some instances the low voltage problem increased the amperage load and damaged both the wall thermostat and the heater controls.

Nor only electrical heaters are subject to this problem, but all your major appliances can be potential victims.

  • Irons
  • Hot plates
  • Refrigerators
  • Deep fryers
  • Dishwashers
  • Heaters
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Air conditioners
  • Microwave ovens

9) Electric Panel Hot to Touch

When you place your hand on your electrical panel cover and it feels hot it could indicate there is excessive load on the panel. If you touch the surface of the breakers and some that feel quite a bit hotter than others you should have the system checked by a qualified PTX Electric electrician.

Circuit Breaker Overload

If too many appliances are plugged into the same circuit through extension cords or or wall outlets, this may cause an overloaded circuit. Most breakers are rated at 15 amps and are designed for 80% load, and when exceeded the breaker may trip, shutting down the circuit.

Never replace a breaker with a larger amperage breaker as the wire size must coincide with the breaker amperage.

 A 15 amp breaker requires 14 gauge wire and a 20 amp device requires 12 gauge wire and so on. Sizing is critical and should be performed by a qualified Electrician.

The circuit breaker is designed to prevent circuit overload and potential overheating of the wire. On the flip side if the breaker is faulty this safety feature could be jeopardised and if the circuit is overloaded it could present a fire hazard. Always consult your PTX Electrician to ensure you have the right circuit breaker for your needs.

Simple Rules

  • Refrain from using an extension cord for appliances
  • Portable baseboard heaters require a 15 amp circuit. If the breaker is tripping the circuit is overloaded.


In conclusion we hope this blog has left you with some valuable guidelines regarding electrical breakers and system components. There is always a threat to life safety when electrical systems are left unchecked. (The old rule, if it’s not broken don’t fix it.) does nor apply to life safety.

For your comfort and security please give us a call at PTX Electric Ltd. and we will provide you with professional advice regarding next steps required to ensure your home or facilities electrical systems are up to code, functioning properly and safe.

Based on our tagline Service by Integrity, we guarantee reasonable rates, professional service and qualified results.