Time for the monthly electrical inspection? You’re maybe wondering how do I open my breaker box with the utmost safety while avoiding damage to the installed circuit breakers.
Your main electrical panel is the primary source of electricity for your home. Making contact with the panel’s external or internal without a piece of proper protective equipment is hazardous. Also, there are many factors to consider when handling your breaker box.
So, before we dive into the discussion, here’s a list of tools that you must have.
Table of Contents
- What You Will Need
- Important Notice
- Steps to Opening a Breaker Box
What You Will Need
1. Electric Drill/Screwdriver
When contractors install a service panel, they ensure that it is shut tight, especially the cover. They do this to protect the circuit breakers and live wires inside the electrical box. So, to open a locked breaker box, you’ll need some extra force to help you unbolt the screws holding the cover in place. This is where the electric drill does the work.
However, in some cases where a drill isn’t available, I recommend a flat head screwdriver. You’ll need to exert more force using this tool, but don’t worry, it achieves the same goal.
This device will serve as your protection against surfaces with electrical flow. In a case where a homeowner needs to open up his breaker box, there’s usually an anomaly happening inside, whether arc faults, ground faults, or a short circuit.
In these situations, you’ll need a multimeter to check the breaker box. It doesn’t matter much if you prefer analog over digital or vice-versa, as long as the multimeter detects electricity well. But for me, a digital multimeter is my main choice. I only use the analog ones for backup.
3. Personal Protective Equipment
As I’ve said, always make safety your primary priority! Before working in an electrical environment, equip yourself with safety goggles, insulated boots, and insulated gloves. Even just the basics will help you get by safely.
In learning how to open circuit breaker box, there may be things you are not familiar with. Whether you’re doing this project with or without a contractor/electrician, keep yourself protected. There’s no harm in wearing PPE against electrical hazards.
Before you proceed, I discourage a simple DIY guy from doing all the work. We’re talking about high voltage here, so at least let a professional accompany you.
They’re more prepared for hazardous fatal shocks, and they’ve got more knowledge, so if you’re a simple homeowner, do yourself a favor and do not continue on your own.
Steps to Opening a Breaker Box
There are two possible approaches to open an indoor breaker box.
The first is the lights-off method. Killing the main breaker switch, you can freely work in your service panel without the fear of getting electrocuted or accidentally moving some circuit breakers. Make sure every CB is still intact to its bus bar at the end of your work, and you’ll be fine.
Second, let’s assume that you’re working on a live panel where you need to keep the appliances on. This scenario usually happens in office areas or work-from-home settings. In doing so, you’ll need to be more cautious as you do the job. What we’re avoiding here is accidents & inconvenience towards the people in the same building.
We’ll discuss the second approach in this tutorial as it requires more effort.
Step 1. Clear your working area
Your reaction time is vital for this electrical maintenance. You should be as ready as an athlete if a harmful surprise gets you because you don’t know what’s happening inside the breaker panel (rats, bees, or any pests may settle inside).
So clear the floor where you’re going to work. Ensure that there’s no pile of tools or any puddles along your path. You’ll need to move or walk away immediately in case of arc faults or explosions due to a failed bus bar.
Step 2. Check the surface of your panel cover
With a multimeter, investigate all exteriors of the panel that you’ll get in contact with later. Never try the “handyman” method of some DIYers wherein they use their bare hands to touch or feel if there’s any live current flowing outside their box.
If a panel cover is rusty, there is a more severe problem inside that you should take seriously.
Step 3. Estimate the cover’s weight
Determine the possible weight of the cover. Do you think you can handle it by yourself? This step is crucial before you open breaker box door.
Some panels are constructed of light materials, but some are thick steel that can get very heavy. You don’t want to drop it as soon as you remove the screws. It would be better if you had a second hand ready to assist you.
Step 4. Drill the bolts off
As you detach the cover from the main panel itself, always remember to unfasten the bolts located on the base of the load center first and work your way up. At the bottom, remove the corners first and then the middle screws. Do the same procedure at the upper side of the box, but take your time doing this part.
Circuit breakers can be sensitive at times. Push the panel door with your hand when you remove the remaining bolts. If the central power source is on, you don’t want your cover leaning abruptly, moving all CBs.
Step 5. Remove the panel cover
For this step, you’ll need a steady hand. If you have a partner, also advise him to do so. Grab the top and bottom part of the cover, then pull straight back, in line with all the circuit breakers. The goal here is to keep all the breakers intact. If you feel you’re pulling something, call for assistance and let him help you get it out of the way.
Step 6. Put the cover down
Finally, place the panel’s cover in a safe space along with the bolts. I highly recommend finding a secluded area where it won’t bother you or the panel inspector. After you reveal or open outside breaker box, do a live wire/surface test again with your multimeter and proceed with any necessary maintenance.
Did I answer your question? When people ask me how do I open my breaker box, I always say to prepare an electric drill, a multimeter, and a full set of electrician’s PPE.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to avoid contact with your circuit breakers. Removing the bolts of the panel cover, starting at the bottom screws, helps a lot in this process. Also, let a professional supervise you.
If there’s anything I missed, feel free to tell me through the comment section below.
I am Edwin Jones, in charge of designing content for Galvinpower. I aspire to use my experiences in marketing to create reliable and necessary information to help our readers. It has been fun to work with Andrew and apply his incredible knowledge to our content.