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Meet Your New Best Friend: The Circuit Breaker

Aug 17, 2007
Did you know that the circuit breaker is one of the most essential safety devices in your home? More than the sophisticated security locks which are common in most homes nowadays, the circuit breaker keeps homes safe from the dangers of fires due to sudden electrical surges. Without these devices, pieces of equipment will fail; and the electrical supply in most households will simply be useless and too dangerous.

In today's modern world, the circuit breaker is a very important piece of equipment that is installed in the smallest homes to the tallest buildings. But what really is a circuit breaker? And why is it a solution to a potentially fatal problem in spite of its simplicity? In this article, one will learn about how circuit breakers work and their importance in preventing catastrophic problems.

A circuit breaker is a device which is designed to shield any electrical equipment from the damages that may be caused by an electrical overload or a short circuit. But why is it needed in the house? Electricity in homes and other building structures are delivered from the power plant through a distribution grid.

Once running in the house or the building, electricity moves in a large circuit, which is consists of different smaller circuits. Among these smaller circuits, one leads back to the power plant, and this is called the hot wire. The other tip of this wire is on the ground, and this is called the neutral wire. As the two ends connect to two opposite energy sources - the hot wire links to a high source of energy, while the neutral wire links to a neutral source - a certain voltage exists in the circuit and a charge moves when this circuit closes. This current is then called alternating current because it constantly shifts direction.

Electricity from the distribution grid that is supplied to homes is consistent at 120 and 240 volts. However, the resistance and the current differ from house to house, and also within the areas of the house. For example, household appliances have different resistance, which is called load. This load or resistance makes the appliance function well. In this case, the appliance also acts as the resistor, limiting the electrical charge through a particular circuit and keeping the current at low levels for safety purposes.

If large electrical charge passes through a circuit, the appliance's wires can overheat and later cause a fire. The circuit breaker's job now comes in to cut off the particular circuit if electrical current surpasses the safe level.

Many types of circuit breakers are available in the market today. Although they may not fall into definite categories, the most common in domestic, commercial, and industrial applications include the following: miniature circuit breaker or MCB; molded case circuit breaker or MCCB; air circuit breaker; and vacuum circuit breaker.

The simplest type of circuit protection is the fuse. A fuse is a thin wire which is then placed in a casing which connects to a circuit. If this circuit closes, charge passes through the thin wire of the fuse which is destroyed when the current gets too high. Once a fuse is destroyed, it has to be replaced. A circuit breaker performs as a fuse does, but is not destroyed when the current climbs up. It can be used and reset either manually or automatically to go back to its normal operation.
About the Author
James Monahan is the owner and senior editor of
BreakerHub.com
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