How Do Circuit Breakers Safeguard Our Homes?

Circuit breakers are an essential home feature. They protect our home from being burnt to the ground by interrupting abnormal or faulty currents.

circuit breakers

Circuit breakers are electrical switches designed to protect electrical circuits from damage caused by short circuits or overloads. We are living in an age where we cannot go a day without electricity. Electronic and electrical appliances are our regular partners. Their high energy demands mean circuit breakers are critical to safeguarding our day-to-day lives. So, understanding its basic function is necessary to maintain proper safety for you and your family. To know the circuit breaker better let’s check out the discussion below:

Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are designed to detect when there is any abnormality or fault in the electricity. It detects and then trips to shut down the electrical flow. Here, detection is the key to prevent surges of electricity that can travel to appliances or other outlets and cause irreparable damage. It can even help cities and towns from potential damage that might occur from a large electrical breakdown.

The Basic Components of a Circuit Breaker

You might find medium and low-voltage circuit breakers with unique designs that are specific to voltage, amperage, and application. But, there are five main universal components. They are:

  1. Frame: It protects the internal parts.
  2. Operating Mechanism: It provides a means to open and close the circuit breaker.
  3. Contacts: When closed, it allows the current to flow through the circuit breaker.
  4. Arc Extinguisher: When a circuit breaker interrupts an abnormality or fault it extinguishes an arc.
  5. Trip Unit: It opens the operating mechanism when a prolonged short circuit or overload occurs.

How Do Circuit Breakers Work?

The electrical service panel of your home contains lever-operated circuit breakers that protect and control the circuits. All circuit breakers are designed to shut themselves off or trip at predetermined amperage loads. Therefore, you will find breakers in different sizes in the box. While protecting your home and family against electrical injury or fire, the breaker trips open the circuit if the limit is reached. It prevents the progress of the current to that specific electrical line or circuit.

Now, you might have the question: Can a circuit breaker fail without tripping? Yes, it can if you have a bad circuit breaker. If you observe something like that make sure to get professionals to replace it to avoid any risks.

Common Reasons for Circuit Breakers to Trip

How Do Circuit Breakers Safeguard Our Homes?

Three reasons might cause a circuit breaker to trip:

  1. An Overloaded Circuit: A good example can be celebrating Christmas with a light show, or having a battle of dueling hair dryers between your daughters.
  2. A Short Circuit: It can happen when excess current is being pulled. A wiring issue within your appliance can cause this kind of problem.
  3. A Ground Fault: It generally happens in high moisture areas such as the bath and the kitchen; they are why GFCIs are needed by current electrical codes to provide you proper protection.

Where to Find the Circuit Breaker

You will find circuit breakers in the breaker box. You can look for breaker boxes in the garage, hall, basement, storage, or utility rooms. If you are facing difficulty locating the breaker box in your home, find the electric meter that is outside of your home. It is generally near your breaker box for distribution or safety.

How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

A circuit breaker might have been tripped if you lost power to a certain area or outlet of your home. Find your breaker box and reset it. Look for the toggles after opening the door to your breaker box. Most should be indicating the ON position while pointing toward the panel center. The toggles that are facing away from the panel center indicate the OFF position. Toggles that are in an in-between position are the tripped ones.

To reset it properly, you must turn the breaker ON only after turning it OFF first. If you observe tripping again right away, turning it off without resetting will be the right thing to do. Close the panel door and consider consulting a professional electrician for advice or investigation.

Repeated Trips

If you observe repeated trips, try to understand the reason behind it so that you can prevent it from happening again, and get protection against electrical injury or fire. Rarely the breaker itself might be damaged, or you might be using a malfunctioning or damaged appliance unknowingly. The problem could be in the circuit itself.

When a circuit breaker trips frequently, or if you detect a burning smell, charred breakers, or other indications of fire, be careful to switch off the panel’s main breaker. Contact an electrical professional immediately for proper guidance. Don’t mess with anything you are not sure about.

Rules for Safe Circuits

Too much current flowing through the circuit is dangerous enough to cause fire hazards. When the cables get damaged, they might spark and cause flammable materials like wood to catch fire. The restriction is necessary for proper electricity flow. To avoid any risks caused by electricity:

  • Make sure to plug in the wire correctly.
  • Do not use a device when you know it is faulty.
  • If you have a pet make sure the cables are not chewed.
  • Avoid using extension cords as permanent wiring.

Remember, every extra foot of cable might increase the load on the wiring in your home, increasing the likelihood of electrocutions or fires. Overuse of temporary cables can cause a huge hazard.

A circuit breaker is one of the most crucial parts of your home. But, they are usually not understood by homeowners. Make sure to maintain the circuit breaker to keep it safeguarding you properly. It is important to recognize the basics of how they operate and understand their protective features to keep your home safer. It will help you keep your family and your home protected every day of the year.

 

How should you pick the circuit breaker for your home?

You don’t just go shopping for a circuit breaker. You need to consider several aspects so that you get the proper circuit breaker for your household.

How Do Circuit Breakers Safeguard Our Homes?

Voltage rating

You need to calculate the highest voltage that you can apply across all end ports, the distribution kind, and how the circuit breaker is included in the system. The circuit breaker should have enough voltage capacity according to the application.

Frequency

It’s possible to apply circuit breakers up to 600amps to frequencies ranging between 50 and 120Hz. Higher than 120Hz frequencies will make the breaker derate.

High-rated breakers over 600amps suit the 60Hz Ac maximum. For 50hz AC minimum applications, unique calibration is typically available. Solid-state trip breakers come pre-calibrated for 50HZ or 60HZ applications. We recommend you talk with an electrical contractor to make sure calibration measures are appropriate before continuing with the 50HZ project.

Maximum Interrupting Capacity

The highest amount of fault current the breaker can interrupt without making the system fail is defined as the interrupting rating. You can identify the maximum amounts of fault current from a system at any given moment. The most important rule to follow when applying the proper circuit breaker is that the interrupting capacity of the breaker has to be equal to or higher than the amount of fault current offered at the point in the system where you apply the breaker. When you don’t use the proper amount of interrupting capacity will damage the breaker.

Continuous Current Rating

For continuous current rating, molded case circuit breakers are rated in amperes at a particular room temperature. The rating is the constant current that the breaker will take in the ambient temperature where the calibration happened. Typically, the circuit breaker manufacturers calibrate the standard breakers at 104 F degrees.

The load and duty cycle are the only factors that matter for the ampere rating in standard applications.

Atypical Operating Conditions

When choosing the circuit breaker, you need to consider the end-user location. Every breaker has particularities and withstands challenging environments to some extent. Here are some aspects to consider when looking for a circuit breaker:

Corrosion and moisture

If moisture is constant, the breakers require special moisture treatment. The treatment increases resistance to mold/fungus that cause corrosion to the unit. In areas where high humidity is present, you should use space heaters. Ideally, the breakers shouldn’t be in the corrosive areas. If not possible, you need to purchase breakers made to resist corrosion.

High ambient temperature

The breaker must be derated/recalibrated to the environment if standard thermal-magnetic breakers are applied at temperatures higher than 104 F degrees. For a long time, 77F degrees was the calibration for breakers. As a result, all breakers above the 77 F degrees required derating. Later in the mid-60s, industry standards were modified to calibrate all standard breakers for 104F degrees.

Altitude

If your household is located in places over 6,000ft altitude, the circuit breakers need to be derated for voltage, carrying ability, and interrupting capacity. The thin air in high altitudes doesn’t conduct heat away from the current that takes components as efficiently as denser air in lower altitudes. Altitude problems can also derate many generators and power generation equipment. It would help if you got some recommendations from a power generation professional.

Risk of a big shock

If you use the circuit breaker in an area with a high risk of mechanical shock, you will need to install an anti-shock device. Anti-shock devices include an inertia counterweight over the center pole that keeps the trip bar locked under normal shock conditions. You need to install the weight so that the thermal or magnetic units don’t trip on short circuit scenarios or overloads. The largest end-user of high-shock-resistant breakers is the United States Navy, where such breakers are needed on all combat vessels.

Resting position

Most of the time, it’s possible to set up the breakers in any position, vertically or horizontally, without altering the interrupting capacity or tripping mechanism. The breakers must be in an enclosure on a surface that sways with the wind for areas with high winds. If the circuit breaker is connected to an inflexible surface, the risk of the circuit

  • Resting Position: For the most part, breakers can be mounted in any position, horizontally or vertically, without affecting the tripping mechanisms or interrupting capacity. In areas of high wind, it is imperative to have the breaker in an enclosure (most units come enclosed) on a surface that sways a bit with the wind. When a circuit breaker is attached to a rigid surface, there is a possibility of disrupting the circuit when exposed to high winds.

Maintenance and testing

When choosing a circuit breaker, you need to choose between a UL Tested unit (Underwriters Laboratories) or not. We recommend you select circuit breakers that have UL Testing. Keep in mind that non-UL Tested products don’t ensure proper calibration of the breaker. Two categories are available for the low voltage molded case circuit breakers: factory testing and field testing.

Maintenance

Molded case breakers are highly reliable as the units are enclosed. The enclosure reduces the exposure to moisture, dirt, dust, mold, tampering, and containments. Proper maintenance means that you need to see that all terminal connections and trip units are tightened to the correct torque value established by the manufacturer. In time, the connections get loose and require retightening.

Breakers also require regular cleaning so that they don’t overheat and weaken. Breakers with manual operation need clean contacts and a free process of the linkages. As for circuit breakers that are only used occasionally, intermittent startup of the breaker is necessary to refresh the system.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much will you pay for a circuit breaker?

A new circuit breaker switch can cost as little as $5, whereas high-end models cost around $40. A circuit breaker for the entire electrical system typically costs between $40 and $100. As with all electrical services, you will pay more for installing the circuit breaker and not for the breaker itself.

How much does an electrician charge to replace a circuit breaker?

Nationally, the cost for hiring an electrician to replace a faulty circuit breaker switch is between $150 and $200. The price includes both the labor and materials.

Is it possible to replace the circuit breaker on your own?

It’s not very difficult to replace a circuit breaker. However, you need to work carefully and follow all rules to stay safe. Experience working with electricity will help. Always assume that the wires are live. Start with turning off appliances and lights that the circuit breaker will power.

For how long a circuit breaker will last?

Life expectancy for molded case circuit breakers in the industry is around 30 years, as long as they get the appropriate maintenance and favorable environment. When we talk about necessary care, especially old breakers, we mean annual exercising: OFF, ON, TRIP, RESET, ON.

What happens when a circuit breaker goes bad?

Circuit breaker issues aren’t severe but rather annoying to deal with. Similar to any essential home device, circuit breakers also go faulty and stop performing. Unlike other devices, a faulty circuit breaker doesn’t always require replacement; sometimes, fixing is enough.

 

About Amanda

I love to buy a lot of products for the home, and dissect them out. I split them into duds and winners, and share the findings here on my site. As a reader of my site, I'm hoping for your next purchase to be an informed and inspired one.

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