Why Do I Need Circuit Breakers?

Electricity has completely transformed our lives for the better but there are risks to utilising this powerful force. As we know, electricity can be extremely dangerous, both directly and indirectly. A faulty appliance or bad wiring can lead to a lethal electric shock or could even cause a fire to break out. There are always going to be risks involved but fortunately, there are components that negate these risks, allowing for the safe and practical use of electrical appliances. These components are circuit breakers.

What is a circuit breaker?

Circuit breakers are similar to fuses in that they both complete the same task but go about in different ways. Fuses are usually found in the plugs of electrical devices and protect these devices, as well as your electrical infrastructure and of course you.

They can also be found in a single location within the building in a 'fuse box'. The fuses themselves contain a thin wire which will melt if the current becomes too high. This is what happens when a fuse 'blows.' Although inconvenient to many householders, this mechanism is vital as it is signifying that there is something wrong with either the device or the electrical input. Once 'blown', a fuse cannot be used again and needs to be replaced. This is the main difference between fuses and circuit breakers.

The mechanism behind circuit breakers is much more complex but it allows for multiple uses. Circuit breakers are usually in a single location within the home, sometimes in the basement or ground floor but it differs for each building. The circuit breaker works by holding a switch in the on position using a metal bar. This bar has live and neutral wires wrapped around it which creates an electromagnetic force. However, if both wires have a steady current, then this force is canceled out and the bolt stays in place. If the current changes beyond a set limit, then the electromagnetic force becomes powerful enough to move the metal bolt into the off position and the circuit breaker cuts the power. The circuit breaker can then be reset by flipping the switch back into the on position but it should be noted that if the original problem persists then the breaker will simply switch off again.

Why are they important?

Although out of sight and out of mind, circuit breakers are protecting us each and every day. There are many reasons for a potentially dangerous surge in current, from faulty wiring, faulty devices, water damage or human error, such as cutting through a lawnmower cord. In fact, the risk of cutting or damaging a cord is high when using pretty much any type of power tool. If a circuit breaker wasn't in place and a wire is damaged, then the electricity would still be trying to get through the damaged cord or device and could jump through you. When considering that a powerful enough shock can kill a person in less than a second, it becomes painfully clear why circuit breakers are necessary.

Along with protecting against electric shocks, they also block stray currents from starting fires. This is particularly important when considering that these types of fires can begin anyway and could even start in the night when everybody is asleep. The majority of homes and businesses are protected by circuit breaker systems. However, it is still important to regularly check that your system is working correctly. If you have any worries or you think that your equipment is malfunctioning, please contact a qualified professional.