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Electrical Circuit Breakers

electrical circuit breakers Summary: Electrical circuit breakers protect the electrical wiring in our homes from overloading and over heating which can lead to a house fire. Described below are some of the electrical circuit breakers found in the electrical panel of a modern home.


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Introduction to Electrical Circuit Breakers


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There are many brands and styles of electrical circuit breakers that can be found in a modern home electrical circuit panel. Circuit breakers have a switch handle and resemble a regular switch, however the circuit breaker is designed to turn off or break the circuit when an overloaded condition exists thereby protecting the electrical circuit wiring from becoming overheated. For this reason it is extremely important that a circuit breaker is never replaced by one that is larger. When a circuit breaker trips off this is an indication that there is a problem with the circuit. Rarely does a circuit breaker become faulty and need replacing.

Types of Circuit Breakers

How to determine which circuit breaker should be used for an electrical circuit.

single pole electrical circuit breaker

Single Pole 120Volt Breaker

This is a full size 15 amp circuit breaker which is most commonly used for lighting circuits and some outlet circuits. Full size 20 amp circuit breakers are typically used for outlet circuits such as in the kitchen.

single and twin electrical circuit breakers

Twin or Tandem Breaker

These two single circuit breakers are shown to describe how the full size circuit breaker shown above can only serve one circuit once the breaker has been installed into the electrical panel. The breaker shown below the full sized breaker is designed so that two circuits may be attached and protected instead on only one. This can be very helpful when an electrical panel has run out of room for an additional circuit to be installed.

two pole electrical circuit breaker

Two Pole 240Volt Breaker

This full size two pole circuit breaker is just like having two single pole circuit breakers mounted side by side, in fact that is essentially how this circuit breaker is put together, but with one exception. You will notice that the two on and off switch handles are joined together with a tie bar which enables both sides of the circuit breaker to turn off even if only one side of a 240 volt circuit overloads or encounters a fault.

afci electrical circuit breaker

AFCI Arc Fault Breaker

The AFCI, or Arc Faulty Circuit Interrupter circuit breaker is required by code to be installed in areas such as bedrooms. The purpose of the AFCI circuit breaker is to sense and turn off the circuit if an arc has been detected. An arc can be cause by a short cir suit in the circuit wiring or arc can be from an object being inserted into an outlet and shorting together. Arc fault circuit breakers help reduce the risk of home fires and shock hazards.

electrical circuit breakers in a panel

Circuit Breaker Panel

A typical modern home electrical circuit breaker panel will have one or two rows of circuit breakers that have been installed to protect all of the electrical circuit wiring of the home electrical system.


Circuit Breakers and Electrical Wiring

Question: Are the new AFCI's really essential when a house is newly wired with romex.

I can understand the importance with the old knob and tube but it seems a bit redundant with today\'s wiring techniques and materials. Do regular circuit breakers not detect arc faults?

If they are that effective why are non-living areas not required to have them?ask-the-electrician.com Hi Ben - Great Question!Absolutely - AFCI's are now required in all new and remodeled homes.

Answer: A normal circuit breaker will not sense the arc at all, and the safety features of the AFCI will surely prevent a lot of fires from occurring, and yes - they will soon be required is most all areas of the home with the exception of the kitchen and probably the garage due to small appliance motors which produce an arc with normal operation between the brushes and the armature of these types of motorized devices. The AFCIs' will still be improved to prevent nuisance tripping because of motorized devices such as vacuum cleaners etc. In the beginning of the AFCI era, these breakers would trip off when using higher wattage incandescent lamps connected onto the same circuit, but they are much better now.


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Questions and Answers about Electrical Circuits





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Broken Electrical Circuit for Lights

Question: I removed a single bathroom light fixture. Replaced with three lights at a junction box along with the original wiring from the light switch, however, unable to get power. The 15 amp breaker that controls this circuit also controls a second circuit of outlets that are receiving power. I'm Perplexed, Ron.

Answer: Ron, all of the wires in the junction box will need to be tested and identified to verify the correct connections to get your lights working with the desired switching method. Be aware that the 15 amp circuit breaker should only supply power to one circuit, not two. The second outlet circuit should be placed on a separate circuit breaker.


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