How Do Circuit Breakers Work?

We've all been there. Your wife is blow-drying her hair, your daughter is ironing a shirt, and your son decides to fire up the Xbox for the few remaining minutes he has before leaving for school. And you just want a piece of toast. You pop in the bread, push down the handle, and then comes the undeniable silence signifying that everything electrical in your home has come to a halt.

Sure, you blame the toaster and curse your house, but the tripped circuit that just shut down your power is just doing its job. The sole responsibility of any given circuit breaker in your home is to protect the electrical wiring in your house and to keep you safe.

That protection occurs when the wires in your house (or in a particular zone in your house) are overloaded with electrical current, causing them to heat up. Instead of transferring that heat to the appliances and electronic items plugged into your outlets, causing them to burn out and potentially resulting in a fire, the circuit breaker trips. This shuts off the electricity to the entire house or to that select zone at its distribution point.

Circuit Breakers and Power Failure

It's important to remember that it's not the number of appliances that cause your power to stop. Instead, it's the size of the wires in your walls and the electrical load you send through those wires.

So, when your circuit breaker trips, you should take it as a sign there could be something wrong with your home's wiring. You want to call a professional and find out why it tripped. Sure, it could be as simple as a bad breaker, but it could be something much more serious, which only a qualified electrician would be able to evaluate.

What is a Circuit Breaker?

Inside each circuit breaker is a spring hooked over a small piece of solder (a melt-able fusible alloy). Each breaker is connected to an electrical wire that runs through your house. The electricity that flows through your house runs through the solder. When the connected wiring is at risk of overheating, the solder melts, resulting in the spring extending through the solder, pulling the switch off and shutting down that particular circuit. When the alloy cools down, it can be reset.

A fuse works on a similar premise, but instead of a spring, the melt-able metal is the bridge itself. When overheated, it melts and permanently opens. Fuses must be replaced each time, while circuit breakers can be switched back to an "on" position.

Get Grounded

It's also important to make sure your home's electrical system is grounded. This is what allows electricity to cycle through the wiring in your house, through the appliances, and back to a safe location to dissipate into the ground. Unfortunately, too many older homes are grounded to the water pipe, which is an unsafe and unreliable option.

"Older homes are grounded to the copper or galvanized pipe used to bring your home water from the city, which is properly grounded in its original installation. But the day a plumber cuts the line and puts in a plastic fitting somewhere in your house, or if the city changes the meter and puts in a dielectric fitting (which prevents the flow of electricity) your home is no longer grounded properly.

Protection from the Unexpected

Ultimately, if you're the do-it-yourself type, you should still leave electrical work to the experts. Your circuit breaker box is not as simple as your other home appliances. The numerous wires, breakers, and voltage offerings in your box can cause real harm if you try to tinker around with them, especially if you're intent on creating a workaround for breakers that trip often. Simply put, if you feel there is a problem with your circuit breaker box, you should have it checked by a professional.

To learn more about protecting your home's electrical system, view our electrical home protection plans or call (855) 334-3577.

Protection from the Unexpected

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