All About Your Home’s Circuit Breaker Panel

A circuit breaker box panel is a box that holds all of your home’s electrical breaker switches. 

You know, that magical plot device that heroes in movies need to get to escape trouble or break into an impenetrable fortress? 

From Samuel L. Jackson’s famous “Hold onto your Butts” line in Jurassic Park to cutting power in Vegas in Ocean’s Eleven, it seems the circuit breaker panel is an all-powerful tool to fix whatever problem you have.

In terms of everyday home life, that idea holds.

Like how turning your phone off and on fixes a bug, flipping a switch in a circuit breaker panel can fix an electrical problem in your home. But there’s much more to them than that.

Here at Mister Sparky Electrician Houston, we’ve found answers to some of your most pressing questions about circuit breakers.

Are circuit breaker brands interchangeable?

Some brands are interchangeable, but most aren’t. So you have to be careful in this regard. Using parts from different brands that aren’t compatible can cause electrical fires.

Some things you should look at when pairing parts from different brands are:

  • Load Capacity: Always stick with the same size or parts that fit one another regardless of brand.
  • Model Number: If your replacement part has a matching model number, it is likely compatible.
  • Brand: Your box might even list which brands are compatible. However, the older the box, the fewer brands it will be compatible with.
  • When in doubt, talk to a pro. You don’t want to be wrong about this one.

How do circuit breakers work?

A circuit breaker cuts off the flow of electricity when it exceeds a limit. This is where rating becomes essential. The rating of a circuit is based on how much electricity it can safely carry and how much electricity it can safely stop.

Typically, each switcher on a panel will represent a room in your home. You’ll have a living room switch, a master bedroom switch, a kitchen switch, and so on.

Turning off that switch manually, or if it triggers on its own, will cut power to the entire room. A circuit will cut all power in that room from lights to outlets.

What circuit breaker do I need?

Breakers are made for handling different capabilities for different house parts.

Standard Circuit Breakers

These breakers come in two kinds: single-pole or double-pole.

  • Single-Pole

    • The most common type of circuit breaker in houses
    • Supplies 120V
    • Handles up to 30 amps
  • Double-Pole

    • Made up of two single-pole breaker
    • Supplies 240V
    • Can handle up to 200 amps
    • Meant for large appliances, like washing machines or water heaters
All About Your Home's Circuit Breaker Panel

GFCI Circuit Breakers

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters cut power to the entire circuit. They are usually required in locations like hallways, bedrooms, and kitchens.

AFCI Circuit Breakers

These breakers prevent fires from unintentional electrical discharge. Once this breaker detects an electrical burst, it cuts power to the damaged circuit.

Old cords are susceptible to arc fires. Standard circuit breakers are designed to respond to constant heat from a hot wire, not a sudden burst.

New homes in the United States must have AFCI circuit breakers instead of standard ones.

CAFCI Circuit breakers

Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters protect against sudden short circuit surges like AFCI circuit breakers and constant heat levels like a standard circuit breaker.

These are growing in popularity because of their dual functionality. 

Why do circuit breakers trip?

Electrical overload is the most common reason for a circuit breaker to trip.

This happens when too much electrical load is on a specific circuit. It can also happen when you have too many energy users on at once, like appliances, devices, and lights.

Can a circuit breaker go bad?

Yes! A circuit breaker can go wrong in several ways.

Electrical Causes

A solid surge or many small electrical surges can damage a circuit breaker or wiring. They are designed to withstand these but aren’t entirely waterproof. 

Old Age

After a long enough time, a circuit breaker’s parts may no longer be functional. In addition, plastic can wear down due to extreme heat or cold, and metal may corrode.

Physical Causes

A circuit breaker is not invincible against physical damage. For example, an errant baseball or a fallen tree limb can damage a circuit breaker and render it ineffective.

What happens when a circuit breaker goes bad?

Horrible things.

A faulty circuit breaker that doesn’t cut off power when an electrical surge can lead to electrical fires and the risk of electric shock.

This is why it is smart to have a fire extinguisher on hand. You never want to put water on an electrical fire for the same reasons you wouldn’t for a grease fire.

What is the cost of a circuit breaker? 

GFCIs and AFCIs can cost $30 to $100 a breaker. A standard breaker costs around $10 retail.

An entire box can run you around $1,100.

What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?

The industry standard for the life expectancy of a circuit breaker is around thirty years.

This, of course, is partially dependent on a favorable environment and regular maintenance.

How to locate my circuit breaker?

The location can be different for every home, but a circuit panel is usually somewhere in or around a home that doesn’t get passed by very often.

Areas like your garage, the backside of your house, a basement, or a utility closet might contain your circuit panel. 

In an apartment, a circuit panel is likely in a central location, like the main hallway or laundry room.

How to replace a circuit breaker?

A person with the right tools from a local store and electrical work knowledge could replace a circuit breaker alone.

But if you’re replacing a breaker, you are already in great danger if an electrical surge occurs. And if you do something wrong while replacing, you could make things worse for yourself, your family, and your home.

Please don’t risk it. Instead, hire a professional electrician with the tools and expertise to diagnose solutions and replace them correctly. 

In conclusion

A circuit breaker is an essential component of a home. It keeps you, your family, and your home safe from electrical hazards

If you have an older home, take some time this summer while making home improvements to see if your circuit breakers are nearing their expiration date or are damaged. Of course, you might also have all standard circuit breakers, but we now know there are better ones for different places.

Call Mister Sparky Houston today if you’re interested in replacing a circuit breaker or want a professional to assess your circuit breaker’s situation. We’ll send a licensed electrician to your home in no time and get you the help you need.

Mister Sparky Electrician Houston, America‚Äôs On-Time Electrician, serves Houston, Texas and the cities of Katy, Sugar Land, Cypress, Spring, The Woodlands and others with a team of certified electricians. In addition to emergency electrical repairs, some of the electrician services provided by the company include electrical outlet/switch repair, ceiling fan installation, lighting installation, wiring repair, landscape lighting installation and home electrical inspections. Call us today at: 281-907-8418.

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