In 2020, the global circuit breaker market reached an estimated value of $5.7 billion. Experts project this to become a $7.7 billion industry by 2025.
One of the top reasons for that considerable expansion is the increasing energy use in homes. For instance, back in the 1970s, summer electricity use in the US was less than 800 kWh per person. Today, it has skyrocketed to almost 1,400 kWh.
So, where does a circuit breaker fit in all of these? What is a circuit breaker anyway, and what are its functions in a home? Does its age, performance, or type affect property values?
We’ll serve you all the answers to these questions in this guide, so be sure to keep reading.
What Is a Circuit Breaker?
Your main electrical circuit breaker panel distributes electricity throughout your home. Inside this panel (AKA electrical circuit breaker box) are switches. These electrical devices are what you call circuit breakers or breaker switches.
Your electrical panel comes with one large switch and many other smaller breakers. The large breaker serves as the main circuit breaker switch. The smaller ones, often labeled with room names, are the branch circuit breakers.
Circuit breakers exist to protect circuits from electrical overloading, short circuits, or faults. Their primary function is to disrupt the current flow if they detect an electrical fault. Their design allows for the automated shutdown of the breaker switch in case of such events.
When a breaker switch “trips” or goes off, you only have to reset it to turn the power back on. By contrast, fuses in a fuse box are single-use. So, when they burn out, you need to replace them right away.
Circuit breakers should trip as soon as they detect an anomaly in the panel or electrical system. Otherwise, there will be an uncontrollable flow of electricity. This can then lead to electrical injuries and malfunctions that cause house fires.
In fact, in 2019, 6.8% of the estimated 354,400 house fires in the US were due to electrical malfunctions.
What Can Cause a Circuit Breaker Switch to Trip?
A tripped circuit breaker means that the electrical panel detected a problem.
In other words, tripping circuits breakers indicate that the switches themselves are working. However, they also signal a potential issue somewhere in your electrical system. This is especially true if your circuit breaker keeps tripping.
In any case, here are some of the most common culprits behind a tripping circuit breaker.
Overloading can occur if a circuit draws an electrical load higher than its capacity.
Keep in mind that each branch circuit usually carries 15-, 20-, or 30-amperage ratings. However, electrical codes dictate that their loads shouldn’t exceed 80% of their rating. As such, the most that a 15-amp circuit can handle is 12 amps, 16 amps for a 20-amp, and 24 amps for a 30-amp circuit.
So, going beyond those maximum load capacities can trip the circuit breaker switch. This can happen if you plug in too many appliances to a single circuit.
Surge Power Draw
A surge power draw can happen if a large motor, such as an air conditioner compressor, draws a surge of power. This is common in AC units, as they often need a lot of energy as they first turn on or during their cooling cycle. If they draw in power beyond the rated capacity of the circuit, the breaker will trip.
Short circuits happen when electricity strays outside its established pathway within a circuit. These are common in systems with damaged or exposed live wires.
A short circuit allows electricity to flow uncontrolled or unimpeded. This can then result in an overcurrent within the electrical panel. That excess electricity can then activate and trip the circuit breaker switch.
Short circuits are dangerous because they usually indicate excessive electrical currents. That can fry up your electrical wirings, electronics, and appliances. More than that, they can spark and cause actual fires.
Now, please note that a tiny flame can grow into a major fire within only half a minute. From there, all it takes is a few minutes for a major fire to engulf a home and fill it with toxic gases.
As such, it’s vital to have your circuit breaker box checked if you experience short circuits.
An arc fault can occur when a corroded, exposed, or loose wiring connection sparks or creates an arc. This usually happens when there’s intermittent contact between metal contact points. Buzzing in outlets or humming in light switches are common signs of arc faults.
Arc faults, like short circuits, can also result in house fires and electrical shocks. However, they don’t always trigger tripping in regular circuit breakers. As such, it’s best to call an electrician as soon as you hear weird sounds from wall outlets or light switches.
How Does the Age and Type of Circuit Breaker Affect Home Value?
A guide from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a 200-amp panel for typical homes. It further recommends rewiring homes with 30- or 60-amp panels or those that still fuse boxes. Again, these guidelines all boil down to keeping homes protected from electrical hazards.
Older types of circuit breaker panels include 30- and 60-amp panels and fuse boxes. These electrical components were common in homes built before the 1970s. It was only after that wherein 100-amp panels became the norm.
However, even 100-amp panels may no longer be enough for today’s household energy use. That’s another reason most new and renovated homes now boast 200-amp panels.
For the same reasons, it’s easy to see how the age and the type of circuit breaker panels affect a home’s value. You can rest assured that rewiring and upgrading your system can boost the value of your abode.
Don’t Delay a Needed Circuit Breaker Panel Upgrade
There you have it, the ultimate guide that answers your question, “what is a circuit breaker?” Just remember that it’s a safety mechanism that protects you from electrical hazards. Without it, electrical injuries and fires will be much more common.
So, if your home still uses fuses or has a panel rated less than 200-amps, it’s time to consider an upgrade. It’s for your home and entire family’s safety, so the sooner you invest in an upgrade, the better.
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