Checking Electrical Circuit Breakers
Learn how to find, mark and use your electrical circuit breakers so you will know what to do when they are tripped.
The circuit breakers in your home or apartment are overload switches that prevent the current in a given electric circuit from exceeding the capacity of a specific line. In a fuse box, the fuses perform the same function but these are usually in older systems. When you have too many appliances plugged in to a circuit and they need more power than the capacity of the circuit, the breaker will react by switching off or tripping the circuit. What the circuit breaker is doing besides protecting the circuit from an overload is also preventing the wires from being damaged, preventing fires or in case an appliance is damaged, preventing further damage to the appliance.
Amperes are the rating given to measure the maximum current of each breaker. On a typical kitchen range the requirement of a breaker would be 40 to 50 amperes while a typical hot water heater would require one of 30 to 40 amperes. With these types of circuits that are 240 volt lines, a double breaker is to control the voltage. The remaining breakers on a power distribution panel are 15 to 20 amperes and control 120 volt general purpose circuits for such items as small appliances and lights. In most cases the only other breaker on the panel is a very large one that is marked "main." This breaker will turn off all the power in the house if you only have one breaker box and panel.
A circuit map can be found on the inside of the panel door. This tells which circuit breakers or fuses control which outlets. It can also help you to locate wiring problems and prevent overloads, so study it closely. If your circuit map is not filled in get a helper to watch as you turn the breakers on and off until you have located what each one controls. Then number your breakers and write this on your circuit map. Today’s breakers have three positions on each switch. When the power is flowing to the circuit the switch is on. When the breaker is set on off the power is shut off from the line. When the breaker is on tripped, the circuit has been overloaded and is off. In some cases the breakers will only have the on and off position. Some show a red flag in the breaker to let you know it is tripped. When you find a tripped breaker and want to restore power to the circuit you should first remove the overload by unplugging or turning off appliances. Then move the breaker handle to off and then firmly snap it to on.
Any time you are having a continuing problem with a specific circuit breaker you should have it checked by a professional. You should also have any appliance that continues to trip your breaker checked for problems. In some cases if you have room for another breaker and need additional power an electrician can install the breaker to your existing breaker box. If you have problems finding your breaker box they are usually located in out of the way areas. If your house has a basement the breaker box will more often than not be in that area. Most apartments have breaker boxes in one of the closets. In a few cases the breaker box may be located on the outside of your home or building.