Is there anything more complex than that circuit box? Those breakers can seem simple enough, but no one who’s ever had to figure out what went wrong will say fixing issues are always a snap of the fingers. But while there are a number of problems that should — for the sake of safety — be managed by a professional, there are basic tasks any person can handle if they have a clear understanding of how the circuit box functions.
Following are a few guidelines and tips, everything you should know about circuit breakers which don’t require one to become a journeyman electrician to understand.
Purpose of the Circuit Box/Breaker
The circuit box is in many ways an invaluable device for maintaining a home or business. Its purpose is to manage the flow of electricity throughout the house, and, more importantly, to minimize potential damage caused by excess electricity. This, as we all know, can lead to dangerous consequences.
Circuit boxes contain breakers. This is a bank of switches which flip ON and OFF. Each switch corresponds to a specific area of the house. These devices manage the electrical system, designed to automatically interrupt electrical flow if a fault is detected. This shuts off the electricity.
There will be many breakers in the box. The main breaker, usually larger than the others, cuts off electricity completely.
Traditionally, circuit boxes are found in the basement. In newer structures, these boxes might be on the exterior of the house, near the electric meter.
Older facilities can come with a fuse box. The fuse box function works on technically the same principle. The major difference is wires inside the fuse will burn after too much current hits it. Once the fuse has blown, it needs replacing. If you do have a fuse box, you may want to confer with a professional and see if a replacement is warranted.
How Do Circuit Breakers Work?
A motor in the freezer overheats. Wires get crossed. There are many reasons why the circuit breaker kicks into action but it will whenever it finds a suspicious spike in electric charges. This can lead to an overload on the system. Left unmonitored, overloads can lead to heat stress on your devices and wires. We don’t want to talk about what happens when these situations go unchecked.
Breakers “read” the stream of electricity. They use an electromagnetic or bimetallic strip set inside each breaker. When it finds an irregularity in the system, there will be an automatic shut off to remove the stream, i.e., stop access to electricity. Depending on the situation, electricity may be shut off to only one part of the structure (one breaker). The system might shut off several access points (several breakers) or the entire system (main breaker).
Each breaker has a switch. Whenever there’s an electrical spike, the switch flips (newer breakers may flash some kind of red), disconnecting the circuit, and stopping the flow. Electricity cannot flow back to where the original problem was detected until the switch is flipped back to ON. Before doing this, you should see if you can figure out why the trip took place. Often, it’s something as simple as too many electrical appliances drawing too much power at the same time.
Taking Care of the Problem
As critical and complicated as the circuit box/breaker is, for the most part it is relatively easy to correct many issues. Once assured nothing major is going on with the system, you simply flip the switch from OFF to ON. If it was a simple problem (such as running the dishwasher and microwave at the same time), use one or the other.
These problems may gradually haunt you. As in the dishwasher/microwave scenario, every time you do the same thing, the breaker may trip. This is not an uncommon situation and eventually alerts someone to what the problem is and proper action can be taken to avoid shutdowns.
If the problem’s major (power doesn’t come back on; breakers consistently shut off), your best path is to seek professional help. Hopefully, you’ll have a trusted electrician on speed dial. This type of relationship is a must for home owners.