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I'm changing my first breaker, a GFCI. There is no main Breaker in the panel. Everything was going fine until... I couldn't remove 2 of the 3 wires from the old breaker because there was no screw to loosen them.

Do I have to cut the wires and re-strip them, or can I stick an appropriate thin tool into their slots to open what I presume to be a spring-type catch? (I'd rather not shorten the wires.)

Old breaker is an ITE. Panel is a Gould (now Siemens). New breaker is a Siemens. Absolutely no main cutoff. I turned off all breakers before I started...safety first.

  1. Old breaker: ITE GFCI, about 38 years old or less. I found no hole in which to insert a tool to release the load neutral, for which there is no set screw. In fact, 3 different wires go into the same port (hole) in the breaker, with no visible means of release:

    • the load neutral (white);

    • the panel neutral (white with black spiral stripe);

    • and a 2"-3" dark grey wire, which loops into another port in the breaker, also with no visible means of release (but which is not necessary to change the breaker, anyway).

    • The load line (purple) releases easily with a set screw.

I'm still stuck with the choice of either finding out how to release the load neutral or cutting and re-stripping that wire. How can I get that wire out???

  1. While I had the breaker detached from the service buss, I could see that the tab from the buss to which the breaker snaps on, is not clean, but has what reminds me of a spark plug that needs to be cleaned with a wire brush or replaced.

    • Will the performance of a new breaker be compromised by this?

    • Can the tab be cleaned (sanded or wire-brushed)?

    • If it is cleaned, is there a potential for metallic dust particles or other particles from the cleaning to contaminate a clean panel, especially at breakers lower in the panel, and cause short circuits?

    • Is such a tab rendered unusable for accepting a breaker?

    • I noticed that the old breaker, which I've now removed and reattached twice, hasn't fit tightly in its slot since the first time I removed it. Is that more because of the breaker itself? (I keep it switched off, of course.)

  2. re: "No Main": I was referring to no Main breaker in the panel or in a separate box between the POCO meter (which is on a wall at the front of the house) and the panel. There is/are NONE. I would have been happy to pull the meter off the wall. That would have certainly cut all power to the panel and the whole house, providing the ultimate in safety; but I was informed by the POCO that that would be illegal. The same goes for anything on the street-side of the meter.

I have become completely comfortable with the safety procedures I am using, including shutting off all the breakers before starting. (The parts I have to touch are a good distance from the service lines and lugs at the top of the panel.)

Edit: the load neutral does enter one of 3 plastic wire nuts, all on the right side of the panel. It looks like 3 wires come out of each wire nut. (Also, the only neutral buss I see is on the right side of the panel. If there is another, it is also on the right side, under the first and blocked from my view by wires.)

PRIORITY: How do I remove that load neutral with no screw set?

  • What make/model of breaker is this? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 12 '17 at 3:44
  • Push in connections usually have a hole somewhere to poke something in to release the wire. – Trevor_G Mar 12 '17 at 3:47
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    No main breaker..hmm.. there has to be one somewhere...out at the meter perhaps? – Trevor_G Mar 12 '17 at 3:57
  • No, there is no main anywhere. 100 – jimmyd Mar 12 '17 at 5:57
  • 100% sure. BTW, I turned off all the breakers, put cardboard over the live poco wires and lugs, and stood on a rubber mat w/ rubber gloves. Safety 1st. – jimmyd Mar 12 '17 at 5:59
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Breakers are meant to be replaced. Once it is pulled free from the rails inside the box there should be no electric power on those wires. But it sounds like the box itself will still be live.

If there are no screws then most likely you will find a small slot right next to where the wires are pushed into the breaker. Use a small screwdriver in there to push the internal retainer clip back to release the wires. The wires themselves are probably cut and stripped correctly already.

Once the wires are inserted into the new breaker it should just click into place inside the panel.

btw, there definitely is a main breaker somewhere. Usually the fire department will want to be able to cut off all power before they begin to spray water inside, so it is supposed to be in a location they can find quickly in an emergency.

If your incoming service is underground then the main breaker might be in a box at the sidewalk, in which case you may not have access to it - sometimes the boxes are green with a key-lock on them, and often they serve as main feeds to more than one home.

When working near the live rails, remember the electrician's left-hand rule: Keep your left hand behind your back. That way if there is an accidental discharge it will go through a limb and not through your heart.

If you have successfully gotten the breaker out without touching the rails then you should have no trouble getting the new one back in after the wires are transferred over.

--Edited based on your comment

  • What if there are no slots to insert a tool to release the wires? – jimmyd Mar 14 '17 at 22:14
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the panel neutral on my breaker (siemens)is not removable from the breaker.

New breakers come with the panel neutral attached.

Sometimes it is best to hire a licensed electrician for any work in the panel.

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