The Many Types of Circuit Breakers: A Brief Analysis of The Pros and Cons of Each

We’ve all seen what a circuit breaker looks like.

Little black rectangle, a switch on the front, you plug it into a box in your basement. Doesn’t get much simpler than that, right?

The truth is there’s actually quite a bit more to circuit breakers. In fact, there are a number of different circuit breakers used today, each with their own strengths and applications you should be aware of.

Miniature Circuit Breakers (MCB)

The most basic type of circuit breaker used in home electrical applications today, a miniature circuit breaker or MCB is rated to withstand as high as 100 amps. It’s a great choice for anyone looking to provide current overload and overheating protection to some of the more basic electrical devices around the house.

You won’t be able to alter their tripping characteristics so low-level devices are perfect for these particular breakers.

Molded Case Circuit Breakers (MCCB)

A bit heavier-duty than MCBs, molded case circuit breakers (MCCBs) can withstand amperage levels of up to 2,500 amperes. It’s also used for overload and fault protection, though normally for more energy-intensive systems. What’s more, it’s trip settings are also typically adjustable, giving you far greater flexibility in how you use it.

The adjustability of MCCBs make them particularly useful in main electric feeders as more circuits may eventually be added to the system and thus, will possibly require a change in the overall trip settings. Motor protection is also a common application for MCCBs.

Single Pole vs. Double Pole Circuit Breakers

Most household electrical devices and appliances run on either a 120-volt or 240-volt system. Simple devices like light fixtures or small televisions can normally use the 120-volt system while appliances like electric ranges or dryers tend to require 240 volts.

When it comes to circuit breakers that offer protection for each, MCBs and MCCBs both come in single-pole (120 volts) breakers and double-pole (240 volts) breakers, each in a number of different amperage ratings.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)

You may have seen these types of interrupters in the bathroom or the kitchen. The ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI for short) monitors both the flow out from a hot wire and the flow in to a neutral one. If there’s a difference between the two, it could indicate a short circuit and, as such, the GFCI immediately breaks the circuit.

This breaker in particular is instrumental in protecting people from electrical shock instead of focusing on the integrity of your home or office’s wiring.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)

Protection from electrical discharges is the name of the game with arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). AFCIs use sophisticated electronic technology to determine if a circuit is experiencing any dangerous current arcs.

Some devices or appliances (like furnaces) are meant to create an arc and are usually not dangerous. Others, however, can come about as a result of a malfunction and could potentially cause an electrical fire.

Types of Circuit Breakers to Meet Almost Every Need

As you can see, there are quite a few different circuit breakers to choose from, each with their own applications and strengths. And these are just the most common ones. There are actually many more variations available on the market today.

And with this short guide, you’re one step closer to knowing which circuit breakers are suited to meet your specific needs.

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