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Getting to Know Your Circuit Breaker

[fa icon="calendar"] Sep 14, 2016 10:11:08 AM / by Jaron Henkel

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It’s happened to every homeowner. All the gadgets are plugged into the wall, the television is on, music is blaring, your wife is making a smoothie then you turn on the microwave and everything shuts down. You head to the laundry room, open the circuit breaker box, find the switch, and then flip it back on. Sure, it’s a pain, but your tripped circuit breaker just prevented thousands of dollars of damage.

The circuit breaker trips when the wires in a particular zone in your house are overloaded with an electric current. This overload causes the wires to increase in temperature. Instead of transferring that damaging heat to your gadgets, blender, and television, the circuit break trips and shuts off the electricity in that zone.

How Circuit Breakers Work

Although your wife plugging in the curling iron may seem like it makes the circuit breaker trip, it’s actually caused by the wires in your wall. When the wires in the wall overheat, the only thing keeping them from catching on fire is the circuit breaker tripping. When the breaker trips, it immediately shuts off all the power in that zone and your home is safe.

If your circuit breaker is continually tripping, that means your wires are consistently getting too hot. This is an extreme risk to the safety of your home! Call a professional to immediately assess the situation. Electricity has the power to stop your heart, never try to solve it on your own.

Circuit Breaker and Fuse Failure

Each circuit breaker is connected to an electrical wire that runs through a specific zone in your home. As the current goes from the circuit breaker’s upper terminal to its lower terminal, it passes through a thermal bi-metal protection lever. When the current gets too hot, the bi-metal lever bends forward and trips the safety switch, discontinuing the circuit and shutting off power. This is only possible because the bi-metal lever is specifically designed to handle a certain temperature before it trips the safety switch.

If you live in an older home or apartment, you may have a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker. A fuse is just a thin wire enclosed in a casing that connects into the circuit. Since it’s connected to the circuit, the fuse experiences the same current as any other point along the circuit. Each fuse is rated for a maximum ampere, and when the circuit heats beyond that point, it burns up, opening the circuit and cutting off power. Just like the circuit breaker, the fuse protects the wires from overheating and starting an electrical fire.

Newer homes use circuit breakers instead of fuses because once you blow a fuse, you have to replace the entire fuse. This process can expensive and time consuming. With a circuit breaker, you don’t have to replace anything; you just flip the switch.

Electricity: Never Take a Risk!

Even though you’ve probably flipped a tripped circuit breaker many times, that doesn’t make you an electrical expert. Behind those breakers and behind every outlet and light switch in your home is an elaborate system of wires and breakers. If you have any questions whatsoever, don’t take the risk of tinkering around with your electrical system, simply call a professional. They can safely assess your problem and provide a safe and speedy solution. Always be smart with electricity; your life and your home depend on it.

homeowners electrical guide

Topics: circuit breakers