Knoweasy Electrical Guide: What types of circuit breakers are there? - knoweasy

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Knoweasy Electrical Guide: What types of circuit breakers are there?

September 10, 2021

As an electrician, you may have to turn a circuit breaker on and off many times in your life. Circuit breakers are switches mounted inside a breaker box that protect your electrical system and its components from short circuits, overheating or, in severe cases, catching fire.
If these clever devices detect an anomaly in a fault condition, they can interrupt the flow of current to one or more outlets in your home. In the event of a surge, your circuit breaker will automatically cut off the current to protect the circuit from any kind of damage. That's why it's important to be familiar with the different types of circuit breakers!


Different Types of Circuit Breakers

The dangers of not having the proper circuit breakers in your home include outlet damage, frequent power outages, and electrical fires. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International ( ESFI ), there are an estimated 51,000 electrical fires in homes each year. This results in nearly 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries and $1.3 billion in property damage. Electrical distribution systems account for one-third of these structure fires, and circuit breakers can help prevent this from happening in your home.

GFCI Circuit Breakers

Short for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, GFCI circuit breakers are designed to prevent line to ground failures. gfci circuit breakers and gfci outlets are most often installed in "wet rooms" such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, pool decks and back porches. They help prevent electrical shorts or overload currents. As of 2020, revised NEC guidelines now require GFCI protection to be installed in any part of the home that has running water or is exposed to the natural environment, which also includes HVAC units.

AFCI Circuit Breaker

AFCI stands for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter and is now required in modern homes.AFCI circuit breakers protect against arcing. An arc can become very hot and can easily burn wood, insulation and other materials, endangering your family and property. Usually electricity is transmitted through electrical wires. What makes arcing faults so dangerous is that the current can jump, leave the circuit and travel to the surroundings. Single and double pole circuit breakers will only trip due to overheating, while AFCI circuit breakers will trip if an arc is detected in a wire.

Single-Pole Circuit Breakers

Single-pole circuit breakers are the most common circuit in today's breaker boxes. They are the narrowest breaker switches in your home's electrical panel. No matter how basic, they do serve their purpose. The single-pole name came about because these circuits are designed to monitor the current to a single wire, tripping the circuit in the event of a short circuit, surge or electrical overload. Single-pole circuit breakers consist of a fire wire and a center wire, are typically used with 120-volt circuits, and can accommodate any current from 15-30 amps.

Double Pole Circuit Breaker

If you understand the function of a single pole circuit breaker, you absolutely understand a double pole circuit breaker. A double pole breaker monitors the flow of two wires at the same time, not just one. You can easily spot a double-pole circuit in the breaker box; they are two side-by-side switches that can be combined into one. These types of breakers will trip if one or both wires are overloaded or shorted. Designed to power more demanding appliances like washers and dryers, double pole circuit breakers provide 120/240 volts and 15-200 amps.

When to Replace a Circuit Breaker

Electrical fires not only cause massive damage to the interior and exterior of your home, which can be financially devastating, but they also put your family at risk. Considering the alternatives, replacing your circuit breakers is a wise and fairly inexpensive investment.
Consider replacing your circuit breakers as the first line of defense to protect your property and your family. Damaged and old circuit breakers are a real danger and should not be ignored. Here are some signs to look for so you know when it's time to replace your circuit breakers

Flickering lights: Have you noticed that your lights have been flickering lately? This is concerning. While a damaged breaker may not always be the culprit, it's wise to contact a professional electrician to find out what's causing the lights to flicker.
Burning Smell: If you or your family notice a burning smell around the house and it's not coming from the oven, you need to take immediate action. When your circuit breakers are not working properly due to age or overuse, it can cause the wires to overheat because they are not protected by the breaker. Check your breaker box and electrical panel, and if you notice a burning odor coming from there, you need to turn off the main power to your home and contact a licensed electrician immediately.
Appliances not working properly: If your kitchen appliances are not working properly or are not operating properly, it may be due to your circuit breakers. Rather than replacing expensive appliances, check that the circuit breaker associated with that part of your home is working properly.
Discolored or Burnt Outlets: Are the outlets in your home starting to discolor or burn? This could be due to overheated wires caused by improperly working circuit breakers, and it's time to replace one or more of them.

How to Replace a Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are designed to withstand the surges and power fluctuations that flow through your home. That's what makes them so great! For older homes or if you haven't updated your electrical system in a while, it's time to replace one or more circuit breakers in your home.

Here are some simple steps for replacing a circuit breaker.

1.Wear gaffer gloves, protective rubber-soled shoes, goggles, and make sure there is no water.
2.Locate the main breaker box and check to see if you can find a defective breaker. If you do find a faulty breaker, test the voltage and check for voltage.
3.Turn off the power, but do it in this order. Disconnect power to the branch breaker box. Then the mains. Finally, make sure there is no power running to the individual breakers.
4.Check the entire breaker box and individual breakers for any rattles, rust or discoloration.
5.Use a screwdriver to remove the panel from the breaker box.
6.Again, check for any melted components, singing, worn wiring and debris.
7.After locating the breaker that needs to be replaced, loosen the breaker wire that connects it to the panel.
8.Remove the defective breaker and discard.
9.Replace the old breaker with a new one and secure the wiring in the same manner as it was secured to the old breaker and tighten.
10.Replace the circuit breaker panel faceplate and make sure all branch circuit switches are in the "off" position.
11.With all switches set to the "off" position, restore power to the main circuit breaker, then turn on each individual circuit breaker separately.
12.Test each circuit with a voltage tester to make sure they are all set and working properly.

This is how it should be done! You have now successfully replaced the circuit breakers.


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