What is a Circuit Breaker? What are the Benefits of a Circuit Breaker Panel?

This is the second in a series of blogs which will culminate in identifying some potential circumstances under which you might consider upgrading from a fuse panel to a circuit breaker panel.  In this blog I review circuit breakers and the benefits of a circuit breaker panel.

Circuit Breaker Panel

picture of circuit breaker electrical panel in Vero Beach

What is a Circuit Breaker?

A circuit breaker is another type of overcurrent protection device (OCPD).  There are multiple types, but common circuit breaker types include:

  • Magnetic – when the current exceeds the allowed amperage for a circuit, the circuit is opened via electromagnetic force
  • Thermal – when an overcurrent exists, the excessive heat causes a bi-metallic strip to bend and opens the circuit
  • Hybrid – uses a combination of heat and electromagnetism to open the circuit
  • GFCI – Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters measures the electrical current to and from a device (receptacle, switch, or appliance).  The current to/from must be identical within 4 – 6 milliamps or the GCI will open the switching contacts
  • AFCI – Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters – detects a potentially dangerous electric arc and opens the circuit
  • CAFCI – Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters – detects ground faults, short circuits, and arc faults and breaks the circuit

Picture of GFCI Circuit Breaker

Picture of the inside of a GFCI circuit breaker in Vero Beach, FL

Benefits of a Circuit Breaker Panel

It’s important to know the advantages of a circuit breaker panel over a fuse panel.  Circuit breaker panels provide the following benefits:

  • They can be expanded to add new circuits
  • They more safely incorporate both 120- and 240-volt circuits
  • When a circuit breaker trips, it can be reset vs. fuses which must be replaced when they are overloaded and “blow”

For many years, a typical circuit breaker panel had 100-amp service. Newer homes have circuit breaker panels with 200-amp service which can support more branch circuits and provide twice the electrical capacity of a 100-amp service.  Knowing a bit about the history of electrical service panels will be useful in my next blog when I talk about when to consider a proactive upgrade from a fuse panel to a circuit breaker panel.

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