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Key Facts About How Circuit Breakers Protect You and Your Home

By Karin Mangan
Key Facts About How Circuit Breakers Protect You and Your Home

Electricity has become an essential part of our everyday lives, but it can be extremely hazardous. A circuit breaker has become an essential safety element in any electrical circuit. But what is a circuit breaker and how does it work?

  • A circuit breaker is designed to "trip" so that the electrical flow is shut down when a fault is detected. On a small scale, this prevents a surge of electricity from damaging electrical appliances. A circuit breaker can also protect you, your home, and even your entire city from the potential damage caused by electricity.
  • A circuit breaker acts a bit like a fuse but can be used more than once. A fuse is a thin piece of wire that breaks the circuit by melting if too much current flows through it. A circuit breaker can be reset, either manually or automatically. It monitors current flow and, when it detects an unsafe level, it trips a switch that breaks the circuit.
  • The most common type of circuit breaker is a bi-metal thermal circuit breaker. It carries electrical current through two different types of metal, one expands more quickly than the other when hot. The expanding metal bends so that it opens a linkage and the current cannot flow. As the metal cools, it returns to its original position and automatically completes the circuit again.
  • Magnetic circuit breakers function by increasing a magnetic field as the current flow increases. Once the magnetic field becomes strong enough, it moves a switch that stops the flow of electricity. When the current returns to a safe level, the magnetic field weakens and the switch can be reset.
  • A ground fault interrupter (GFI) or ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a form of circuit breaker that is built into the circuitry of your home. Experts believe that over two-thirds of the 300 electrocutions that happen in U.S. homes each year could be prevented if a GFCI was installed in all household branch circuits.
  • A ground fault occurs when electrical current is leaking and an unintentional electrical path is formed between a source of current and a grounded surface. If a human body provides the electricity with a path to the ground, it can lead to electrocution. A GFCI monitors the flow of electricity within the household circuit. If it detects that the current is flowing to ground, which would happen if a person had become the path along which the electricity was flowing, it instantly shuts off the power.

Circuit breakers are a simple piece of technology that make a huge contribution to our safety.

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