How Does a Circuit Breaker Work?

We like flipping a switch and having the lights come on.

However, most of us don’t pay much attention to the inner workings that allow easy access to home electricity. For instance, one of the essential parts of your home’s electricity and safety mechanisms is the circuit breaker.

Its primary responsibility is to protect your wiring from having too much current flowing through. After all, that’s a recipe for disaster, like potential fires or the melting of your plastic casings.

Whether you’re dealing with a circuit breaker that keeps tripping, or you want to understand how it all works, we’ve got your back. Keep on reading to learn all about circuit breakers, their fundamental design, and even how the foundation of household electricity works.

The Basics of Household Electricity

Let’s start with the fundamentals of household electricity. There are three key factors that you need to comprehend. They are voltage, current, and resistance.

The “pressure” that causes an electric charge to move is known as voltage. The pace at which the charge travels through the conductor, measured at any given location, is known as current. The conductor provides some resistance to this flow, which varies according to the composition and size of the conductor.

Voltage divided by resistance equals current (usually expressed as I = v / r). ¬≠Voltage, current, and resistance are all interconnected; altering one will affect the others. It’s also known as Ohm’s Law.

It makes logical sense: More charge flows if you apply more significant pressure to an electric charge or lower the resistance. Less charge will flow if you lower the pressure or raise the resistance.

Circuit Breaker 101

In simplest terms, electricity is delivered from a power plant to your home through the power distribution system. The electric charge in your home travels via a big circuit made up of numerous smaller circuits.

The circuit’s hot wire connects to the power plant on one end. The neutral wire, on the other hand, connects to the ground.

There is a voltage across the circuit because the hot wire links to a high-energy source, and the neutral wire is connected to an electrically neutral source, the ground. When the circuit is closed, the charge travels. Because it quickly changes direction, the current is called alternating current.

But, if your circuit breaker is acting up, you’ll want to get a professional opinion like They can help you fix your electrical issues in no time.

Understanding Your Power Distribution

The electrical distribution system maintains a constant voltage (120 and 240 volts in the US), but resistance (and therefore current) varies from home to house. Each light bulb and the electrical device has a particular amount of resistance, which is referred to as the load.

The appliance functions because of this resistance. A filament within a light bulb, for example, is very resistive to a flowing charge. To go forward, the charge needs to work hard, which warms up the filament and causes it to glow.

In building wiring, the hot and neutral wires never come into direct contact. The charge in the circuit always goes via a resistor, which is always an appliance. Therefore, the electrical resistance in appliances restricts the amount of charge that can pass via a circuit.

For safety reasons, appliances are intended to maintain current at a low level. A circuit with too much charge running through it at the same time would heat the appliance’s wires and the building’s wiring to dangerous temperatures, potentially resulting in a fire.

Getting Your Electricity Grounded

It’s also crucial to ensure that your home’s electrical system is properly grounded. This is what enables electricity to cycle through your home’s wiring, appliances, and finally to a safe place where it may dissipate into the earth. Unfortunately, a large number of older houses are grounded to the water pipe, which is a dangerous and unreliable choice.

Older houses are grounded to the copper or galvanized water pipe that brings water from the city to your home, which was correctly grounded when it was installed. Your home is no longer grounded correctly if a plumber breaks the line and installs a plastic fitting someplace in your house, or if the city replaces the meter and installs a dielectric fitting (which stops the flow of electricity).

Basic Design Breaker Model

Now that you understand the theory behind circuit breakers, it’s time to take an actual look at their basic models and design.

So, the fuse is the most basic circuit protection device. A fuse is just a tiny wire that connects to the circuit and is encased in a casing. When a circuit is closed, all charge flows via the fuse wire, giving the fuse the same current as the rest of the circuit.

When the fuse heats up beyond a particular point, it disintegrates; it burns the wire if the current rises too high. The circuit is opened by destroying the fuse before the excess current damages the building wiring.

Fuse has the drawback of only working once. Each time a fuse blows, you must replace it with a new one. A circuit breaker is similar to a fuse in that it opens a circuit when the current reaches dangerous levels, but it may be used repeatedly.

A simple switch is linked to either a bimetallic strip or an electromagnet in a basic circuit breaker.

The switch’s two ends are connected via the circuit’s hot wire. When the switch is turned on, electricity may travel from the bottom terminal up to the moving contact, across to the stationary contact, and out to the top terminal through the electromagnet.

The electromagnet is magnetized by electricity. The magnetic force of an electromagnet is increased when the current is increased and decreased when the current is decreased.

Opening Your Circuit Breaker Box

Any homeowner should be (at least) familiar with how their circuit breaker works, and where their box is located.

Hopefully, our article has given you a headstart when it comes to understanding what a circuit breaker is, how it works, and its basic anatomy.

If you enjoyed our explainer, you should check out our additional tips and advice, all available to you in our home improvement section.