Working With Circuit Breakers And Fuses

How to safely work with and change a circuit breaker or fuse.

Circuit breakers and fuses protect your house from power overloads caused by spikes in the power supply. Without these, an appliance such as your dryer or microwave oven could easily overheat and catch fire. For this reason you must use extreme caution when working with them. Keep in mind that any electricity is dangerous. If you feel you are in over your head at anytime, don't hesitate to call in a professional electrician rather than risk fire or electrocution.

Electricity, in order to work properly and power your home, must have a complete circuit. That is, it must be continuous from beginning to end - from the light pole, down the wires, to your house, through the electric meter, past the breaker box or fuse box, to the wall outlet, and into your electric lamp, and then back again on the same line (or circuit). If there are any interruptions in the circuit, i.e. the lamp is turned off, then the electricity will stop at the interruption and go back the other way, thus completing the circuit. Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to "trip" when the electricity along the line reaches certain amperage. For instance, if your lamp blows a light bulb, it could cause a surge of electricity to travel back up the line. The circuit breaker or fuse will trip, thus shutting off the flow of electricity. If the circuit breaker didn't stop the surge, the power could cause other appliances to overload and catch on fire.

When a circuit breaker trips, you will hear a click and then only a portion of your home will be without power. That is, the circuit that breaker is responsible for is shut off. It is fairly easy to tell which circuit breaker is to tell which circuit breaker is to blame for the outage. All circuit breakers are marked "on" and "off", when everything is working properly all of the circuit breakers will be in the "on" position. If one is tripped, it will be in the "off" position. Most times simply switching the small lever to the "on" position will solve your problem. However, this may not always work. Let's say, for instance, every time you run the blender, the circuit breaker trips. After a few times, you may not be able to switch it back "on", in this case the breaker would need to be replaced. To do this switch "off" the Main circuit breaker. Then gently remove the broken breaker. Most types will only require a gentle tug to get them out, since they are attached with metal clips. But be ware, not all breakers are created equal and you must pay close attention to what method is used to attach your particular breakers in the breaker box.

Take the broken breaker to the hardware store and get one of the EXACT same style, brand, and amperage. This is extremely important because if you get one that is not the same style or brand it won't fit in your breaker box. The wrong amperage can be dangerous, too small will cause it to trip more often, too large and you will run the risk of overload, thus causing a fire.

When a fuse goes out, you may hear a pop or you may not depending upon the type of fuse you have. But as with the circuit breaker, when the fuse fails only part of your home will be without power. Also, like the circuit breaker it should be fairly easy to locate the offending fuse. The bad one may be charred in the middle, or it may have a broken element, or perhaps the center will be black instead of clear. This varies widely between styles and brands of fuses, but it will be very obvious which one has failed.

Turn "off" the main power switch before removing or touching anything. Then carefully remove the failed fuse and take it to the hardware store. Be sure you replace it with the EXACT style, brand and amperage, because, just like the circuit breaker, it is dangerous not to.

There used to be a habit in the 1930's of replacing failed fuses with copper pennies. Unfortunately, this practice can (and did) lead to electrical fires that were quite devastating. For this reason it is advised that you replace any broken fuses (or pennies) with the appropriate size and style of modern fuse.

Things to Remember:

* Turn off the Main power before touching anything.

* Always replace circuit breakers or fuses with the EXACT same style, brand and size.

* If the problem is deeper or more complicated than a circuit breaker or fuse, call in a trained electrician. Do not risk fire or bodily injury, it's not worth it.

© High Speed Ventures 2011