Circuit Breakers and Fuses
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Technical Stuff About Circuit Breakers
Inside most circuit breakers there are two types of protection: One is thermal. The other is magnetic. The thermal strip measures heat build-up caused by overloading. When it reaches a certain temperature, it will shut off the breaker. The magnetic coil measures sudden increases in current (such as a short). At a predetermined limit it will shut the breaker off. Older breakers sometimes have only one of these features. For maximum protection, a breaker with both types of protection is recommended.
There are usually three spots on the outside of a breaker that show wear. If the “ON/OFF” switch (located at the top) has broken off or is loose, we recommend the breaker be replaced. Next is the load lug. If it is burnt or abnormally loose, we recommend the breaker be replaced. Last, and most common, is the stab. The breaker stab is what makes contact with the bussing in the panel (the bussing carries the power throughout the panel). The stab connects to the bussing through friction and spring tension. The spring tension, over time, may break down. If so, arcing or burning may result. If the stab has become burnt, discolored, or is abnormally loose, we recommend that the breaker be replaced and that the bussing in the panel be checked.
NOTE: It is possible for a breaker to appear OK in regard to it’s outward appearance and its capacity to carry continuity, but still be questionable, bad, or intermittent. The opposite may be true as well. A breaker with a poor outward appearance may be perfectly safe and structurally sound. Therefore a decision to replace a breaker should not be based solely on appearance, continuity, age, etc. A good electrician can recommend the proper course of action based on taking into account all the relevant factors.
Resetting Circuit Breakers
The first thing to understand is that a circuit breaker can have tripped off even when it looks like it’s in the “ON” position. This is because a circuit breaker will sometimes trip off internally, without the “ON/OFF” handle flipping to the “OFF” position.
This is what to do when you have a loss of power that you suspect may be caused by a tripped circuit breaker.
1. Shut down any computer equipment that may be affected by a loss of power.
2. Go to your circuit breaker panel and firmly flip the first breaker OFF and then back ON again.
3. Do the same thing with each circuit breaker until you have flipped all of the circuit breakers OFF and then back ON again.
4. Now check and see whether the device that didn’t have power is now back on again.
5. If your power has been restored… you’re done! If your power is still out, it’s time to call an electrician.
Note: About 25% of all electrical power problems can be solved using the above technique. Good Luck!
Circuit Breaker Tripping Off
A circuit breaker is designed to trip off when it detects too much power running through the wire it’s protecting. There are three main reasons circuit breakers trip off:
1. There is a short circuit.
2. There is an overloaded circuit.
3. The circuit breaker is broken.
Short circuits occur when two electrical wires accidentally touch each other. A short circuit will immediately cause one of your circuit breakers to trip off or one of your fuses to blow. To fix a short circuit, ask yourself this question: “What was happening right before the short circuit?” If you had just plugged something into a receptacle (outlet) or turned on a light or an appliance, then this gives you a clue as to what caused the short.
If you just plugged in an iron, for instance, you can simply un-plug the iron and then re-set the circuit breaker or replace the fuse. If everything is now OK, then your electrical system is fine – and it’s time to get a new iron! If, however, you can’t find anything plugged in which is causing the problem, then it’s time to call a good electrician to locate and repair your short circuit.
Overloaded circuits occur when too much power is running through an electrical wire. To protect the wire, the circuit breaker does its job by detecting the overload and tripping off. The solution to this problem is to remove some of the appliances that are connected to the overloaded wires. You may wish to add a new set of wires so that you can supply power to all your appliances. For this, you’ll need a good electrician.
Broken Circuit Breaker
Sometimes circuit breakers just wear out and need to be replaced. A knowledgeable homeowner with electrical skills can do the job. Otherwise, hire a good electrician.
When a fuse detects too much power running through a wire, a tiny piece of metal inside the fuse will break, thereby stopping the power from continuing to run through the wire.
When the top of the fuse is made of glass, many people think that they can look at the metal piece inside and see if it is broken. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE. The best way to handle a suspected blown fuse is to simply replace it. If the power comes back on, great! If it doesn’t, then you should call an electrician who is good at troubleshooting.