Circuit Breaker Types, Brands, and Functions

There’s a lot that goes into a circuit breaker.

For contractors, electricians, or even just homeowners looking to replace minor electrical components, understanding the basics of circuit breakers will help you save money, get the job done faster, and keep you safe.

Circuit Breaker Types

What Type of Circuit Will Specific Breakers Protect?

When it comes to circuit breakers, form follows function. One great way to categorize breakers is by the job they perform and the types of circuits they protect. Here are a few common scenarios:

1. Smaller devices, lighting systems, and low-load circuits (not large appliances)

A lamp needs a very different type of electrical protection than a washing machine. Circuits that do not power large appliances, therefore, typically require only a 120-volt circuit. Single-pole breakers protect these types of circuits.

2. Large appliances

Since appliances like your washer and dryer require more power and more protection, these will be placed on a 240-volt circuit, which is protected by a double-pole breaker. Not only can these breakers protect larger loads, but they take up two slots in the breaker panel instead of just one.

3. Commonly wet or damp conditions

In both residential and commercial buildings, damp conditions require a special type of circuit protection called a Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI). These protect from electrical hazards due to water or damp areas, and are commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, and many industrial spaces. In the event of even a tiny current leakage, the GFCI trips, sending the current straight to the ground (and away from you) in less than one-tenth of a second.

4. Residential spaces and older buildings

While requirements for this type of circuit protection are constantly changing, national electric codes now require Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) on multiple circuits in residential homes, and recommend them in older buildings (even those that are not residential). AFCIs can protect from hazards which are a major contributor to over 67,000 electrical fires every year.

Which Brand is Best for Your Needs? 

For each of the circuits mentioned above, many different brands are available, including Siemens, Square D, Cutler-Hammer, and GE. Each brand has its strengths and advantages, and choosing the right one depends on your individual project. For example, for a top-of-the-line industrial project, you may want to opt for the high-quality (but high-cost) Square D QO line. For a small residential space, you can choose more cost-effective Siemens equipment.

No matter what brand you choose, always ensure you’ve selected UL (Underwriters Laboratory) tested product. This will ensure your safety and the functionality of the unit. Here are some of the most common brands:

What if You Need to Replace a Circuit Breaker?

If you have an existing panel with an established system, you will simply choose the corresponding manufacturer – no brand decisions needed. New construction or replacement systems, however, require you to make a choice based on your needs.

Depending on the brand you choose, you may have even more options. You can buy circuit breakers that are brand new, or you can save money on used or reconditioned circuit breakers. At Circuit Breaker Wholesale, every single one of our breakers, whether new or used, are thoroughly tested and guaranteed to function properly. No matter the job, we’ll rapidly match you to the part you need – even if it’s an obsolete or hard-to-find unit.

To learn more about our nationally-leading inventory, same-day shipping, satisfaction guarantees, and more, contact us today!

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