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A Deep Dive into Circuit Breakers: Types, Functions, and Common Issues

23 August, 2023

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You're getting ready for work early in the morning or preparing for a friend's get-together in the evening, and suddenly, when you plug the blow dryer into the switch, the entire electrical system shuts down. Moments like these highlight the importance of various types of circuit breakers in our daily lives.

Circuit breakers surround your daily life and protect your home's electrical wiring to keep you safe. They can detect and prevent excessive current flow, protect wiring and appliances, and even reduce the risk of electrical fires. 

In this blog, we’ll dive into circuit breakers' significance and purpose in our houses and daily lives.

Circuit breakers safeguard the safety of our homes and loved ones by swiftly eliminating power distribution when a circuit is overloaded or experiences a short circuit. Electrical systems would be at risk of overheating, electric shocks, and other hazardous circumstances without them.

What Is A Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers are automated electrical situations that interrupt the electrical flow of current when it exceeds safe levels. These various types of circuit breakers ensure the reliability and safety of electrical infrastructure.

Purpose Of Circuit Breakers

The primary function of various types of circuit breakers is to protect the electrical system from damage.  These damages can be caused by excessive current, preventing overheating, fires, and other potential hazards.

Evolution Of Circuit Breakers

You can trace circuit breakers back to the late 19th century. Initially, early designs were developed aiming to replace traditional fuses. The first invention by Thomas Edison in the 1870s marked a significant achievement in electrical safety. 

Over time, technological advancement and innovation led to the invention of various types of circuit breakers, such as thermal, electrical, and hybrid variations. 

What Are Different Types Of Circuit Breakers?

Circuit breakers are available in different types, each specifically designed to protect against electrical faults. Let's explore the four common types of circuit breakers.

Air Circuit Breakers (ACBs) 

High-voltage applications in industrial settings and power distribution systems primarily use ACBs. These large-scale circuits use air as a medium for arc extension to handle higher current ratings. They protect circuits between 630 and 6300 amps and can be used in low-voltage appliances below 450V. 

Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCBs)

MCCBs consist of a molded case protecting the circuit breaker components. MCCBs protect against overloads and short circuits. Residential, commercial, and industrial applications such as high-power equipment use these circuits. They can go as high as 2500 amps and have interrupting ratings ranging from 10000 to 200000 amps.

Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCBs)

You can commonly find MCBs in residential and commercial buildings. They are compact and designed for low-voltage applications. MCBs protect against overloads and short circuits and are typically installed in electrical distribution boards. They have ratings under 100 amps.

Residual Current Circuit Breakers (RCCBs)

RCCBs can detect and protect against ground faults and electrical leakage. They monitor the imbalance between the incoming and outgoing currents, quickly interrupting the circuit when an imbalance is detected. RCCBs are crucial for electrical safety in areas where a human touch may result in electrical shock.

The Essential Functions Of Circuit Breakers

Overcurrent Protection

Circuit breakers detect and interrupt excessive current flow in a circuit. When the current exceeds the rated limit, the circuit breaker trips and hinders power distribution to 

prevent damage to the electrical system, appliances, and wiring.

Short-Circuit Protection

Different types of circuit breakers are guardians against short circuits. During a short circuit, they interrupt power distribution by forming a low-resistance path between live and neutral wires. It helps prevent damage to the circuit that can cause potential hazards.  

Ground Fault Protection

Circuit breakers equipped with ground fault protection ensure electrical safety. They detect imbalances in current between the live and neutral wires, indicating a ground fault or electrical leakage. The circuit breaker quickly responds by tripping, disconnecting the circuit to prevent shocks or other potential hazards. 

Overload Protection

Circuit breakers protect against circuit overloads by tripping once an overload is detected. It occurs when the current drawn exceeds the safe capacity of the circuit. 

Common Issues With Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers play a crucial role in protecting electrical systems, but they can experience issues that require your attention. Let’s explore. 

Tripping Issues 

Even though circuit breakers are designed to trip to prevent current overflow, frequent tripping indicates underlying problems. It can be due to overloaded circuits, faulty breakers, etc. Identifying and contacting a licensed electrician to rectify and fix the cause is vital.

Arcing Faults

 Arcing faults occur when an electrical current jumps across a gap between conductors. It can result in sparks, heat, etc. Arcing faults might arise due to loose connections, damaged wiring, or faulty circuit breakers. 

Aging and Wear

Like any electrical component, parts of circuit beakers might corrode, springs might weaken, or mechanical parts might deteriorate. It can impact the circuit breaker’s reliability and performance. 

Compatibility Issues

Using incompatible or mismatched circuit breakers can lead to improper protection and unreliable operation. You should ensure the circuit breaker's specifications, such as current rating and voltage compatibility, align with the electrical system.

Safeguarding Electrical Systems With Circuit Breakers

As we wrap up, ask yourself. Are you giving enough attention to your circuit breaker? Remember, a small investment in circuit breakers and electrical maintenance goes a long way. Most importantly, it keeps you and your loved ones safe at home. 

Selecting the correct type of circuit breaker plays a vital role in ensuring the protection of our electrical systems. Choosing a suitable circuit breaker for the application can safeguard your electrical infrastructure and minimise any risk of electrical hazards. 

You can examine your circuit breakers and other electrical systems to ensure functionality by calling a licensed and experienced electrician like TP Electrical. Recognising and addressing common issues is necessary for maintaining the reliability and safety of your electrical systems and smooth power distribution.