An Electrician Explains Circuit Protection Devices

Electricians install and replace circuit protection devices in many homes every year. They are an important part of an electrical system. The devices are also a crucial part of keeping your home safe.

Circuit protection devices automatically stop or reduce an electrical current's flow when a problem occurs in the system. The most well-know electrical problems are an overload or a short circuit in the wiring system. Common circuit protection devices include fuses, circuit breakers and ground-fault circuit interrupters.

Fuses and circuit breakers interrupt the electrical current when it goes past a safe level. The devices are located in your electrical panel to prevent overloading and fires. Overloading occurs when appliances demand more electricity than the electrical system can handle. Lightning can also cause the system to overload.

If the current goes past a safe level, a fuse opens once to stop the electrical current. A fuse must be replaced to reconnect the circuit. If you are unsure about replacing a fuse, then make sure to call an electrician to help.

A circuit breaker “trips” its switch to open the circuit. The circuit is reconnected by closing the switch manually. There are mainly two different types of circuit breakers used in houses. One has a control handle that swings all the way to “OFF” position when tripped. The other has an intermediate position close to the “ON” position. This position is sometimes it is difficult to see. An electrician can help pinpoint what is tripping your circuit breaker if you are uncertain. Both types of circuit breakers must be reset manually after you figure out what is overloading the system.

Fuses and circuit breakers prevent wires and other components from overheating. If the devices fail to work for some reason, it can cause an electrical fire.

Ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, are used to prevent electrocution. Ground faults happen when a small imbalance occurs between the hot and neutral conductors. If the GFCI senses a change in the current, then it interrupts or stops power. The most common places for GFCIs are in outlets, however they may also be located as part of a circuit breaker. Many homes built before 1973 do not have GFCIs. They were not required before then. Homeowners who do not have GFCIs should have an electrician install them as the National Code specifies. Outdoor areas where tools are used should also have GCFIs.

An inspection by an electrician can determine if anything in your electrical system needs replacing, including circuit protection devices. It is important to maintain your electrical system for the safety of your home.

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