It is safe to upgrade your breaker because, in today’s world, people use many electrical devices to speed up their lives. That is why people having 15 amp breakers raise a question about the possibility of changing a 15 amp breaker to a 20 amp. That’s what we’ll talk about here.
Generally, Upgrading a 15 amp breaker to a 20 amp breaker is acceptable. Upgrading the breaker helps you fight frequent breaker issues, tripping off being the most common one. The average cost to upgrade a breaker is mostly around $100-$200, but it varies depending on the wire gauge.
You can safely replace the breaker if you follow all the steps properly. In this article, we will share whether you can upgrade a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp or not. We will also explore the steps for replacement and the cost of upgrading.
Can you change a 15 amp breaker to a 20 amp breaker?
You can change a 15 amp breaker to a 20 amp breaker.
It is completely safe and beneficial for your house.
Since most of us use multiple electrical devices or heavy-duty appliances, more than a 15-amp circuit is required.
It can cause overloading.
So, upgrading and changing it to a 20 amp service will be good for your appliances and house.
There is no difficulty in changing the breaker from a 15 amp to a 20 amp circuit.
But, it should be done with the right gauge wire, for example, a 10 or 12-gauge wire.
This gauge wire can easily carry enough current flowing in a 20 amp circuit without overheating.
If you have a 15 amp breaker running in a 14 gauge wire, you will require at least a 12 gauge wire to replace it with a 20 amp breaker.
Also read: What Kind Of Wire Goes From Meter To Breaker Box?
Why is upgrading necessary?
Upgrading the breaker from a 15 amp breaker to a 20 amp prevents frequent tripping issues.
A breaker mostly trips due to overloading.
Suppose you have multiple appliances and some of them are heavy-duty.
In that case, you need a higher breaker amperage to run them.
If you do not change and upgrade the breaker, it will keep tripping now and then.
Suppose you want to run multiple electrical appliances or some heavy duties.
In that case, you must change the breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp.
Besides, upgrading the breaker will also allow you to add some more electrical appliances in the future.
The breakers will trip off their own once they sense any electrical issues.
Constant tripping damages the breaker over time and stops it from properly working.
So, upgrading the breaker is necessary and safe.
How do you upgrade a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp?
To change a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp, you must gather all the required tools and follow the proper steps.
Here are the materials you need for circuit breaker upgradation or replacement:
- A flathead screwdriver
- A non-contact voltage tester or multimeter
- A flashlight if you work in the dark
- A 12 gauge copper wire
- A lamp for additional lighting
- Insulated or thick nitrile gloves
Now, let’s go to the step-by-step guide for upgrading the breaker from 15 to 20 amps.
Step 1: Switch off the main power line
To work with the breakers, you need to turn off the main power line of your house.
Sometimes, the breaker remains energized despite turning it off.
It could be due to a double-feed circuit, shared neutral, or loose wire connections.
So, you must turn off the main power supply to remain on the safe side.
Step 2: Uncover the breaker panel.
Mark the circuit breaker you wish to replace and uncover the panel.
Use the screwdriver to remove the panel cover easily.
Hold the cover panel tightly before unscrewing the covers so that the cover doesn’t fall off.
After removal, keep the screws in the proper place, as you will need them to cover the panel back to the breaker.
Step 3: Check the wire gauge
Before changing the breaker, you have to ensure the wire gauge size.
A 15 amp breaker uses 14 gauge wires.
To replace the breaker with a 20 amp circuit, you must ensure the wire gauge size is at least 12.
If you have a 14 gauge wire, you need to replace it with a 12 gauge wire before changing the breaker.
A 12 gauge wire will handle the current flow of the 20 amp circuit much better than 14 gauge wires.
A copper wire would be better than aluminum as it is thick, strong, and good in conductivity.
If you use an aluminum or copper-clad aluminum wire, you might require a 10 gauge wire.
Step 4: Remove the breaker you want to change
If the light is low, use the flashlight.
Turn off the main breaker to be safer while trying to change the breaker.
Remove the screws from the circuit breaker you want to change, and slowly remove the wire.
Push the panel board to take apart the electric panel board.
A voltage line will travel from the meter to your house’s main breaker box.
Before you start working, make sure that this line is not active.
You will require the voltage tester here to check the wire’s voltage.
Step 5: Put up the 20 amp circuit breaker.
Before you place the breaker in your electrical box, consider checking the voltage of the breaker with the multimeter.
Checking will prevent the trouble of using a bad circuit breaker.
It will further prevent short circuits and malfunctions.
Once the lines are ready for a 20 amp circuit breaker, put the breaker by inserting it sideways.
Put some pressure to help it adjust to the place.
Step 6: Turn on the main circuit breaker and the replaced breaker.
Once you have put up the new breaker, first turn on the main breaker.
After that, switch on the replaced breaker.
Check the voltage of each breaker with the help of a voltage meter or multimeter.
It will help you know the irregularity in the breaker.
After you have fixed everything perfectly, cover the circuit breaker panel and screw it back.
Once you have replaced the breaker, you need to check the breaker regularly to see whether there are any problems or not.
Factors to consider while upgrading a circuit from 15 amp to 20 amp
While upgrading a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp, you need to follow certain factors.
While trying to upgrade the circuit breaker, you will face certain issues, but following these factors will save your breaker and the house from long-term damage.
So, here are the factors:
Before you start working with electricity, you need to take certain precautions.
Whether replacing or upgrading a breaker, fixing any issues, or doing any inspection, you must follow them.
- Turn off the main power line of the main breaker. Check it by using a voltage tester or multimeter.
- Wear protection like PPE suits, goggles, and gloves. Try better gloves, like Heavy duty gloves, Infi-touch, strong and tough, or SAS Safety 66519 Raven Powder-free Nitrile Disposable gloves.
- The breaker you want to exchange should have compatibility with the existing panel by looking at the amperage and wire numbers.
- Check the quality of the tools and wires. They should not be damaged or rusted.
- Check whether any wires are still hot or not. The main bus bar and the wires running into the panels can sometimes remain hot. So, check the voltage, turn off the main, and start working.
- Please do not flip your circuit breaker frequently to check its working ability. Constant flipping of the breaker can damage it over time.
- The best thing is to hire a licensed electrician to do the job. The professional will inspect the breakers, main lines, and wires much better than you can. It will help you prevent long-term damage.
- Maintain the newly replaced breakers daily to make sure it is working properly or not. Since breakers get worn out over time, you must have a look at them daily.
Trial and Error
Whenever you try to do anything new, especially electricity-related, do not stop working out of fear of damage.
Everything is about trial and error.
And with every error, you get to learn something new, and you can also prevent the mistake the next time.
Sometimes, house owners upgrade their breakers from 15 amp to 20 amp due to short circuits.
There are several reasons for short circuits, but you must confirm them before upgrading your breaker.
If you can fix the short circuit without changing the 15 amp breaker, you do not have to upgrade it.
Breakers trip either due to short circuits or overloading.
So, if the problem is overloading, you need a breaker replacement. Otherwise, fix the short circuit.
If you cannot identify the real cause, hire an electrician to do the job.
Check the wire gauge.
Sometimes, the problem can be due to the wire gauge.
The wire gauge is one of the main reasons you cannot change the breaker.
You can check the wire by removing the panel front and inspecting the wire coming out from the breaker.
Another way is by removing the outlet cover from one of the outlets in the breaker and checking the type of wire fed into it.
Whatever way you select, you will have to unscrew some screws to check the wires.
So, you must be aware of placing the screwdriver in the right position.
Otherwise, you may receive an electric shock if the screwdriver’s metal touches the outlet screws.
For a 15 amp breaker, you need a 14 gauge wire and a 12 gauge wire for a 20 amp breaker. You can also use a 10-gauge wire.
So, changing the wire gauge and the breaker would be best.
If you have a 15 amp breaker and keep the wire the same while replacing the breaker with a 20 amp circuit, your breaker will trip off immediately.
You can have a look at the NEC codes or the local codes.
Compare the wire size with the wire you can have bought to replace the breaker.
You have to exchange and bring the right wire size if it is mismatched.
Cost to upgrade a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp
It is easy to consider the cost of around $10 for a breaker and $75 for one hour of electrician labor.
But it can start at $100 and end at $1,000, depending on the locality, the time your electrician takes, and other costs.
The average cost to replace a 15 amp breaker with a 20 amp ranges between $100 and $200.
Sometimes, it can rise to around $209 to $249, depending on the locality.
Most consumers spend around $229 to upgrade the breaker.
The price is for a single standard breaker, the supplies, the labor, and the installation timing.
In most cases, an experienced electrician will need around 1-2 hours to complete the installation process.
Sometimes the cost depends on the wire gauge.
If you have a 15 amp breaker and 14 gauge wire, you must first replace the wire gauge from 14 to 12.
Then, you will have to install the breaker.
If you want to use multiple or heavy-duty appliances in your home and add more in the future, you can change your breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp. It will avoid overloading and frequent tripping.
Sometimes, people change their breakers due to tripping. Tripping also happens due to short circuits. So, you need to find its real cause and replace the breaker.
You do not need to upgrade it in the case of short circuits.
The cost to upgrade a breaker from 15 amp to 20 amp can start from $100 and end at $1,000. However, the average is between $100 and $249.
How many outlets can be on a 15 amp and 20 amp breaker?
In a 15 amp breaker, you can have 8 outlets, and you can have 10 outlets in a 20 amp breaker.
Each outlet will draw around 1.5 amps.
So, you must follow the 80% rule before installing the outlets.
How many lights can I put on a 20 amp breaker?
If you wish to add only lights, you can add 40 lights with 50 watts each.
You can add more if you use low-wattage lights.
Data Source: National Electrical Code, NEC Wire Table, Electrical wiring, Home wiring.