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Electrical Circuit Breakers

Electrical Circuit Breakers

It was a common occurrence in many homes for a circuit breaker to pop if someone turns on the hairdryer while someone else was watching television.

Circuits are rated to handle a certain amount of electricity safely.  If more electricity flows than the lines can safely handle, it could cause the wires to heat up and even potentially cause a fire.  A circuit breaker is there to avoid this from happening.  The breaker senses the load and pops cutting off the flow of electricity before catastrophic results.

There are times, such as the hair dryer and television example mentioned above where you know exactly what causes the overload.  In many office and residential buildings, it could be far more difficult to find the culprit.  When you have a circuit that pops.  The best thing to do is shut off all the devices running on that circuit before resetting the breaker, or as many as you can.  As you are shutting things down, take note if there are any new appliances or devices being used that had net been there previously.

When you reset the breaker, if it pops again right away, it could be a sign of a serious problem and you may need to call a licensed electrician.  If the breaker doesn’t pop, you can go around turning on the devices.  Turn them on one at a time to see if the breaker overloads again.

If the breaker pops under a load it had previously accepted, it could be a sign of a serious issue.  If you notice several new devices that had not been there, you will need to decide how to handle the situation.  There are several options.  One is to upgrade your service to accept the new electrical load.  Another is to split the circuit adding a new breaker with each covering a small area.  The easiest solution is to move the new devices to another area if at all possible.

If a breaker pops and the reason is obvious, such as the hair dryer, then you can possibly get away with resetting the breaker and going on with your day.  However, a popped breaker is not the problem, but rather it is the symptom.  If you reset it and ignore it, you are overlooking a potential serious issue.

The potential issue could also be not at all related to the circuit, but rather be in the breaker box itself.   The problem could also be the breaker.  While breakers are designed to pop when the circuit is overloaded, the act of turning itself off can be traumatic to the hardware itself.  Over time, the hardware itself could become compromised and will need to be replaced.  Think of a balloon.  It is designed to be filled with air and stretch.  However, once it is stretched, the rubber loses some of its integrity.  Now imaging blowing it up, then letting the air out and doing this over and over.  Eventually the rubber will lose integrity and break.  The balloon is doing what it is designed to do but can only do its job so many times before you need to get a new balloon.  The same goes for your breaker.  While it is doing what it is designed to do, if it does it too often, it loses efficiency and can the breaker itself can become the issue.

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