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Circuit Breakers: How They Work

Electricity is the most important and useful utility in our lives. We cannot imagine a day without it. All our major daily used appliances, equipment and machineries, at home, in office, in an industry or an organization, work on electricity. Along with being useful it may turn out to be dangerous if not managed properly. Uncontrollable fire can shoot up if a high voltage of electricity is suddenly passed through the wires. To make it safe and protective, circuit breakers are used. These circuit breakers automatically cut the power supply until some electrician comes and solves the problem properly.


A circuit breaker is the simplest and the easiest way to monitor an upcoming problem, before it creates a disaster. Here, we will discuss how circuit breakers work and cut the power supply when needed. To understand this, let us have a look at what the electricity actually is. Electricity has three main elements: voltage, current and resistance. Voltage is the pressure which persuades the electric charge to move or flow. Current is the rate at which the electric charge move or flow within a conductor i.e. a wire. Resistance, is actually a force which is produced when electric charge move within the conductor and is dependent on the size and composition of the respective conductor.


So, the electricity is flowing with the help of voltage and the amount of current flowing depends on the level of resistance and voltage. Inside our homes the electricity is supplied from the main power supply grids with the help of high voltage wires. The electric charge then moves in a large circuit and is further divided in smaller circuits for each different unit. One end of the circuit is connected with the high energy source (power plant) with a hot wire, and the other with a neutral wire is connected to the ground. The current which flows this way with a complete circuit is known as alternating current (AC) as it can rapidly change its direction.

The power supply grids usually deliver a consistent voltage of electricity, normally 120 or 240 volts. The resistance varies inside the house depending on each type of the electrical appliance. A light bulb may have a different amount of resistance while a refrigerator will have some other. The hot wire and the neutral wire never touch each other. All the appliances work smoothly on a lower level of current being supplied to protect the appliances from any harm.

At some occasions, the neutral wire can touch the hot wire. The reason could be that an excessive flow of current heated and melted the wires and they touched each other, or any other thing may cause the connection of hot and neutral wire. When it happens, there is a minimal amount of resistance in the wires and a huge amount of voltage and current is transferred in the wires, causing them to catch the fire. Here, comes the circuit breaker to cut the power supply and stop the flow of current. It is especially designed in a way to jump in whenever the flow of electricity exceeds a certain defined safe level.

A circuit breaker is a kind of a fuse, in which a thin wire is used and whenever the large amount of electricity flows, it breaks the wire and opens the circuit. But, fuses need to be replaced again and again. Circuit breakers do the same, open the circuit to stop the flow of electricity but they can be used again and again. A circuit breaker has a switch attached to an electromagnet, and the hot wire is connected to both the ends of the switch. When the switch is on it will let the current to flow with the help of an electromagnet. When the electricity touches an unsafe level the powerful electromagnet turns off the switch, hence restricting the current to flow. This is how a circuit breaker works and makes our lives safe and sound.

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