Circuit Breakers: A Brief Guide

If you work as an electrician, you’ll know everything about circuit breakers. However, if you don’t work in this field, you may not understand the first thing about them.

Before you get yourself a nice Square D 50-amp breaker from your local home goods store, you should understand some circuit breaker basics. We’ll talk about them in detail in the following article.

What’s a Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers are electrical safety devices. They’re designed to protect electrical circuits, many of which you’ll find in any modern home. 

The idea behind any circuit breaker is that it’s there to protect a circuit from damage any time there is a short circuit or an overcurrent situation. When one is working correctly, it keeps the current flow from being interrupted if there is any irregularity.

This protects electrical equipment, and it also keeps fires from happening. Electrical issues in buildings are often the cause of fires, but circuit breakers go a long way toward stopping that.

What’s the Most Common Circuit Breaker Type? 

If you speak to an electrician about the most common circuit breaker type, they will invariably talk about single-pole breakers. This type of circuit breaker can be found in almost any home. 

They are called single-pole because their intention is to monitor the current in a single wire. If they detect an electrical overload or short, they will trip, stopping a potential loss of power or a fire from starting.

There are also double-pole breakers. They’re similar to the single-pole variety, except they have two hot wires that connect to just one neutral wire. If these breakers detect a short on either hot wire, they trip. 

They often will break up a pair of separate 120-volt circuits. They can also serve one 240-volt circuit. Your central air conditioner’s circuit would be a place where you might find one.

What Do They Resemble?

If you head to a store like Lowes or Home Depot, you can find single and double-pole breakers for sale. They look like small boxes, and they don’t cost very much. You can usually get a breaker switch for anywhere from $5-15.

Replacing a circuit breaker can cost anywhere from $100-200, though, assuming you hire an electrician to do it. That figure represents both parts and labor.

If you go down into the basement of most houses, you will find the fuse box. This is where you’ll see a line of circuit breakers for each room in your home or possibly a couple of lines with larger houses. The bigger the house, the more circuit breakers there will be.

Some individuals want to try and replace their old circuit breakers instead of hiring an electrician. It’s possible, but this is one DIY project you might want to leave up to the pros.

If you make a mistake installing a circuit breaker, you potentially open yourself and your family up to fire hazards. That’s why it’s best to contact an electrician if you need help with a faulty breaker. 

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