Table Of Contents

The Purpose Of A Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are an essential safety component in your home because they prevent electrical injury and fires. So, what is the purpose of a circuit breaker? Breakers detect and prevent excess electric current from causing a potential catastrophe in a grid.

A set of lever-operated breakers regulate and protect the circuits in your home's electrical service panel. The different sizes of circuit breakers in the box are meant to 'trip' or shut themselves off at defined amperage loads. If this limit is reached, the circuit breaker tripping breaks the circuit.

It limits current passage to that specific electrical line or circuit, protecting your house and family from fire and electrical damage. This article will look into circuit breakers in general, what they do, and how to maintain them, so keep reading.

Types Of Circuit Breakers

There are three main types of circuit breakers. Each type serves a specific purpose and is intended for usage in household and light business settings.

Standard circuit breakers

When your electric system hits a temperature threshold, the typical circuit breaker cuts off power to protect your home or property. The range of temperature of the current drawn in a circuit is defined when the temperature is exceeded. This signifies the system is pulling far more electric current than it can withstand.

Heat-sensitive materials are often used in standard circuit breakers to switch off power. Whenever the temperature threshold is reached, the metal inside will bend, cutting off the passage of electricity. This safety feature maintains the temperature of your wire from rising too high and melting it, triggering a fire.

Single-pole and double-pole circuit breakers are two known varieties of standard circuit breakers. Below, we'll take a look at the differences between the two.

Single-pole breaker

A single-pole circuit breaker typically safeguards one wire. Including a 120-volt power source and is generally rated at around 15-20 amps. A single-pole breaker is primarily employed in non-heating and low-amperage applications in your household.

Double-pole breaker

A double-pole breaker protects two lines by joining two single-pole breakers. It can facilitate a 240-volt power source and is typically rated for around 20 to 60 amps. It's predominantly applied in domestic circuits that require more voltage or amperes, such as your air conditioners and electric ranges.

The most significant disadvantage of standard breakers is in how they detect anomalies. Since they require heat to trigger, a continuing fault is needed to activate. The breaker will not react as quickly if the fault has not reached the required temperature to trip it.

The standard circuit breaker's principal function is to protect property. It guards against electric circuit overloads and safeguards your gadgets, appliances, and even your entire home from electrical damage.

Arc-fault circuit interrupter

An arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is also known as an arc-fault detection device (AFDD). It detects electrical arcs that are caused by damaged wires. As long as extension cables and electrical appliances are attached to the circuit, it can detect arcs from them.

An arc fault occurs when the insulation on an electrical cable is broken. This can happen when your electrical conduit is pierced by nails, rodent attacks, or probably due to age. The AFCI breaker is primarily necessary for commercial operations such as dorms and rentals.

The AFCI circuit breaker, in addition to the regular circuit breaker's safety, decreases the potential threats in your circuit. It can also safeguard you and your property from fire by preventing the ignition of a defective arc.

GFCI circuit breakers

A GFCI circuit breaker detects an imbalance in current flow, unlike a standard circuit breaker which detects heat in an electrical system. When it detects an anomaly, such as a grounded wire, a GFCI circuit breaker is quickly tripped to prevent electrocution.

GFCI circuit breakers are commonly seen at outlets close to water sources. This is because moisture may easily ground your grid, resulting in electric shock. It can detect currents as low as four or five milliamps and reply in a fraction of a second.

The GFCI breaker safeguards against electrical shocks in wet locations such as your kitchen and bathroom. You can also use it to prevent grounding in other places, including the garage, laundry room, and outdoors.

What Makes A Circuit Breaker To Trip?

Circuit overload

The most common cause of circuit breaker tripping is an overloaded circuit. It happens when a circuit tries to carry a higher electrical load than it was designed to handle. Whenever too many devices or light fixtures are turned on simultaneously, the circuit breaker's internal detecting mechanism heats up, and the breaker trips, usually via a spring-loaded component.

This interrupts the breaker's continuous path, rendering the circuit inactive. The circuit remains dead until the circuit breakers lever is switched on again, which also re-arms its internal spring system. The circuit breaker or fuse matches the load-carrying capability of your electric wires in a circuit.

As a result, the circuit breaker or fuse is designed to trip or burst before the circuit wires reach a harmful temperature. If a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows frequently, it's an indication that you are overloading the circuit and should shift some appliances and equipment to another circuit. It could also mean that your house has very few circuits and requires a service upgrade.

Ground fault surge

Surges caused by ground faults are identical to short circuits. They happen when a hot wire comes into contact with a bare copper ground wire or the side of a metal outlet box that is connected to the ground wire. More electricity will flow through the circuit, which the circuit will not handle—the breaker trips to safeguard the circuit and devices from overheating or potential fires.

You can identify ground fault surges by looking for discolouration surrounding your outlet. If you ignore any of these issues, you are jeopardising your house and loved ones. If your circuit breakers are often tripping, it's time to contact an electrician to investigate the cause. Do not attempt to solve this problem on your own.

Short circuits

Short circuits are more harmful than overloaded circuits. A short circuit is also another typical reason for circuit breakers to trip. When a "hot" wire in one of your electrical outlets comes into contact with a "neutral wire," a short circuit occurs. When this happens, a considerable quantity of current flows through the circuit, causing the circuit to overheat.

The circuit breaker then trips, shutting down the circuit and preventing dangerous events like a fire. Short circuits can happen for various causes, including faulty wiring or even a broken connection. A burning smell is generally left about the breaker to indicate a short circuit. Furthermore, you can also see a dark or black discolouration surrounding it.

ARC fault

AFCI breakers detect power fluctuations that occur when sparking ("arcing") occurs amongst contact points in a wired connection and overloads, short circuits, and ground faults. For instance, this could be caused by loose screw terminal interconnections in your switch or outlet. In other words, an AFCI breaker detects early wiring issues before they can cause short circuits or even ground faults. Standard circuit breakers or fuses do not provide arc fault protection. Arc fault prevention is a critical defence against arcing-related fires.

Aged and outdated

As circuit breakers age, they can become more sensitive. A very sensitive circuit breaker can trip even if your wires are not overloaded with far too much amperage.

Loose or corroded connection

Heat causes a circuit breaker to trip. A small heating source heats a thermostat inside the breaker. As a result, the heat builds up at the loose connection on the circuit breaker, which might cause the breaker to trip prematurely. Loose connections tend to get hot due to the formation of sparks between their surfaces.

A circuit breaker panel that is unusually warm suggests a loose connection. A rusted breaker may potentially trip when it is not supposed to. This is a much more prevalent problem in locations with high humidity.

What Should You Do When A Circuit Breaker Trips?

When a circuit breaker in your electric switchboard trips, it can result in anything from a single appliance going out to the entire house going dark. As a result, it's beneficial to understand how to restart one that's stopped working so that you may resume your day without having to hire an electrician. Whenever your circuit breaker trips, keep the following in mind:

Keep a torch for emergency

You'll be in the dark if your circuit breaker trips at night. To navigate your way around your house, use the flashlight feature on your phone. For cases like these, it's a great idea to have a torch on hand, or at the very least matches and a candle. Even though you know where the electrical box is and are convinced you could accomplish it with your eyes closed, going inside the breaker box without an appropriate light source is not a smart idea.

Turn off all your appliances

You should always turn off all appliances connected to the faulty circuit. There was a reason why your circuit breaker tripped, and having all your appliances on could be why. If this was the situation when the circuit breaker tripped, ensure you turn off and unplug anything hooked to the circuit. The circuit will be quickly loaded with electricity, potentially causing the problem to recur.

Turn off the master switch

Before proceeding to do anything else, ensure that you turn off your master switch once you are at the power board. This will effectively cut off the electricity supply to the circuits, ensuring that any fault does not harm you while you are at the switchboard.

Ensure your safety switch is working properly

You should always have an RCD (Residual Current Device) safety switch fitted on your property and tested regularly. Safety switches are necessary for homes to guarantee that everyone in your house is safe from electrocution. If there is a problem, unplug all of your appliances and check if they'll function in another room.

If one of your appliances fails to work, then the tripped circuit breaker was likely caused by one appliance burning out. Do not reconnect the malfunctioned appliance. Check to see if it can be replaced or repaired.

Once you are done, turn on the master switch. However, if the problem persists, return to your appliances and restart them all. However, if you feel that the problem is beyond your skill set, contact a professional to help you out.

Get Professional Help For Circuit Breaker Issues

As you have read in this post, circuit breakers are life-saving electrical devices that must be installed on every property, including yours. Any electrical issue in your home, including a constantly tripping breaker, is serious. Making errors while attempting to fix it can put you, your loved ones, or your property at risk.

However, you may be able to identify and even fix a minor problem yourself; anything more complicated needs professional assistance. It's essential to also keep in mind that DIY electrical work might not be a smart decision. Therefore, to fix or install a circuit breaker or any other electrical component in your home, you need to contact a skilled electrician near you.