20 Amp Breaker 101 – Everything You Need to Know
Our modern-day way of life is powered by electricity in nearly every aspect imaginable. But despite our near-inseparability from electricity, the nuts and bolts of how it works tend to be too complex for most.
If you’re building a new home, rolling your sleeves for a remodeling project, or expecting an electrical installation inspection, the question of circuit breakers is likely to pop up. Maybe you’re wondering if you need a 20 Amp breaker. If so, read on as we break down some of the most common questions we hear regarding 20 Amp circuit breakers so you can make sound and informed decisions.
What is a 20 Amp Circuit Breaker?
A 20 Amp circuit breaker is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an electrical safety device designed to automatically stop the flow of power in a 20 Amp circuit. This helps protect the equipment and your house from the risk of fire due to a short circuit or overcurrent.
When we talk of a 20 Amp circuit, we’re referring to the amperage the circuit can handle (or how much current can flow through it safely). The maximum amperage directly translates into the Watts that can be delivered to devices or appliances on the circuit. Amp ratings also give us insight into the receptacles (outlets) that can be safely installed on the circuit.
But keep in mind that a 20 Amp rating of a circuit does not mean that you can push it to the 20-Amp limit. The rule is to ensure the power load does not exceed 80% of the circuit breaker’s limits (i.e., 16 Amps).
What is a 2-Pole 20 Amp Breaker?
In your search for 20 Amp circuit breakers, you might come across mentions of single-pole and 2-pole 20 Amp breakers. What are the differences? Well, both types of breakers serve the same function: trip when they detect an overload or short in the circuit.
As shown below, the difference comes down to the amperage, voltage, wiring, and recommended use:
Single-pole Circuit Breakers
- Provide 120 volts
- Handle 15-20 Amps
- Have one neutral and one hot wire
- Ideal for low-power appliances, such as lighting outlets, fans, and vacuums.
2-Pole 20 Amp Breakers
- Provide 240 volts,
- Handle 20-60 Amps
- Two hot wires that share one neutral wire
- Typically used to protect heavy machines like electric water heaters, electric dryers, ranges, and central air conditioners
How Many Outlets on a 20 Amp Circuit?
As mentioned earlier, the Amp rating gives us guidance on the number of outlets that can be installed on a circuit. So, how many outlets can a 20 Amp circuit accommodate without the risk of overloading it? Here’s how you can calculate the number.
- Determine the amps your appliances are expected to draw. A common estimation is 5 amps.
- How many “devices” do you have? Let’s say you have 12 of them.
- 5 amps x 12 appliances = 18 amps
The above calculation suggests that having 12 outlets, each with a device connected, exerts a load of 18 amps, which is below the 20 Amp circuit breaker’s limit. But contrary to what you may assume, this may not be safe.
According to the National Electrical Code, you cannot exceed 80% of a circuit breaker’s limit. This means that the above load of 18 amps exceeds the limit of 16 amps on a 20-Amp breaker.
For this reason, the generally accepted number of outlets that can be safely installed on a 20-Amp circuit breaker is 10 (i.e., 1.5 amps x 10 = 15 amps).
Compatibility of 20 Amp Circuit Breakers
You’ll notice that there are several brands of circuit breakers and panels in the market—from Siemens to Cutler Hammer and Square D. Each brand tends to have its pros. For example:
- Cutler Hammer 20-Amp breakers are a popular option, beloved for their variety of options and availability.
- Square D 20-Amp breakers enjoy a rosy, long-standing reputation for their reliability and high quality.
- Siemens 20-Amp breakers are known for their ergonomic designs, high-quality materials, and durability, which make them a top recommendation for professional electricians.
- Eaton 20-Amp breakers are often designed for easy installation. They are also high quality.
The brand you pick often depends on the power requirements, the quality of components, the location of your panel (can it handle the atmospheric condition?), and safety measures (does it hold enough capacity to protect your home?).
Now let’s say you’ve determined the ideal breakers for your building, but a couple of them need replacing after a while, or you decide to add a new one to your panel. What next? Must you use breakers from the same brand as the panel? Probably yes, but not necessarily.
Some circuit breakers are designed to be electrically and mechanically interchangeable with those manufactured by other brands. This is a great convenience for consumers.
Here are some ways to determine if a particular circuit breaker (say, a Square D 20-Amp breaker) is compatible with your panel (e.g., a Cutler Hammer panel).
- Check the panel manufacturer’s manual for a list of compatible models and brands
- Does it fit? Then maybe it’s mechanically compatible but check for electrical compatibility.
- Consult an electrician for professional advice.
Where to Get a Quality 20-Amp Breaker?
Looking for high-quality 20-Amp breakers? We got you covered. We have one of the largest inventories available to meet your every need.
As a one-stop supplier of circuit breakers, we house products from all the most recognized brands in the market. Give Circuit Breaker Wholesale a call at (800) 211-4962 and let us know what you’re looking for!