Electrical circuit breakers work as safety devices to protect your home from electrical overloads and possible fires. The circuit breakers live inside your electrical panel, and every electrical circuit originates and ends at a circuit breaker.
Circuit breakers have replaced old fashioned fuses which needed to be replaced when they were overloaded. Breakers “trip,” or open, the electrical connection when they sense a power surge that is greater then the amperage that the breaker is designed to carry. If a breaker trips, you can reset it by turning it to the ‘off’ position, then turning it back to the ‘on’ position. If the circuit breaker trips again, then you need to troubleshoot and find the cause of the overload. Circuit breakers can wear out and if you have a breaker that repeatedly trips, but you do not have an overloaded circuit, replacing the circuit breaker should solve your problem.
When older types of circuit breakers tripped they moved to a halfway position between on and off, and were sometimes hard to determine if they had tripped, causing frustration for the homeowner. Newer circuit breakers have lights that appear when the breaker is tripped; making it easier to see which breaker has tripped.
Every company that makes an electrical panel makes circuit breakers designed to fit the panel’s configuration and size. They are usually not interchangeable, so make sure that the circuit breakers that you buy correspondent to the style and size of electrical panel that you have in your house.
There are different types and amperage ratings for circuit breakers, each designed to do a specific job.
Circuit Breaker Ratings
15 Amps – Use with 14 gauge wire for lights and light duty appliances
20 Amps – Use with 12 gauge wire for heavier appliances and kitchens and baths
30 Amps – Use with 10 gauge wire for heavy duty appliances or rated heaters
50 Amps – Use for rated appliances or to supply a sub-panel, use appropriate wire
>50 Amps – Supply sub-panel or use as main breaker in main panel, use appropriate wire
Types of Circuit Breakers
Single Pole – Standard 120 volt breaker used in house wiring
Double Pole – Used to provide 240v electricity to an outlet requiring 240v
Tandem – Also known as half size breakers, allow 2 circuits in the space of 1 standard sized breaker
GFI Breaker – A circuit breaker which provides ground fault protection for the whole circuit in wet areas
Main Breaker – The main breaker, through which all the electrical supply to the house runs. It is a double pole 240v breaker, which acts as the main shutoff of electricity to the entire house.
It is important to use the proper circuit breaker for each circuit that you run. Any electrical handbook with help you in determining the style and rating that you need for each application. Use the proper circuit breaker to protect your house and family from possible electrical hazards.