Cir­cuit breakers help en­sure home safety

Orlando Sentinel - - EXTRA HOMES - By Tim Carter

plas­tic and switched off the power. Had they been else­where or asleep, the out­come could have been far dif­fer­ent.

It’s im­por­tant to re­al­ize the plas­tic in­su­la­tion on wires can do the same thing. If the wire gets too hot, the in­su­la­tion can melt, start to burn and cre­ate a dev­as­tat­ing house fire. The Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion re­ports that be­tween 2012 and 2016 there were 44,880 res­i­den­tial house fires in the United States di­rectly re­lated to elec­tri­cal fail­ure or mal­func­tion. Thou­sands of peo­ple died and were in­jured in these fires. The to­tal prop­erty dam­age es­ti­mate ex­ceeded $5 bil­lion.

An­other key point is the wires in your home are not all the same size. This is what the num­bers on the breakers are for. You need to match a breaker to the min­i­mum size of the wire on a cir­cuit. For ex­am­ple, a 12-gauge wire is nor­mally rated for 20 amps. You’d then use a 20-amp cir­cuit breaker to pro­tect the wires on this cir­cuit.

There are quite a few dif­fer­ent cir­cuit breakers. The most com­mon one is a sin­gle-pole breaker that op­er­ates much like a sin­gle wall switch you might use to turn on and off a light in a bath­room. This com­mon breaker takes up one slot in the elec­tri­cal panel.

You can also pur­chase unique tan­dem sin­gle-pole breakers, where two dif­fer­ent cir­cuits are con­trolled sep­a­rately yet the two breakers only take one place in the elec­tri­cal panel.

There are other breakers used to con­trol ap­pli­ances that need ex­tra power. Elec­tric ovens, elec­tric clothes dry­ers, well pumps and ex­te­rior air con­di­tion­ing com­pres­sors are ex­am­ples. These re­quire a breaker that will switch off all power to the ap­pli­ance if it senses a prob­lem on ei­ther of the two wires that are re­quired to pro­vide the ex­tra power to the equip­ment.

Decades ago, a breaker was de­vel­oped to pro­tect your body from elec­tri­cal shocks in wet ar­eas. You may be fa­mil­iar with the ground fault cir­cuit in­ter­rupters, or GFCIs. These breakers can be found in the elec­tri­cal panel, or they might be a point-of-use tiny breaker right on the face of the out­let in your bath­room, kitchen, garage or an ex­te­rior wall out­let.

Not too long af­ter the de­vel­op­ment of the GFCI, a newer breaker be­came avail­able that could sense elec­tri­cal arc­ing in a cir­cuit that can lead to fires. These are arc-fault breakers, and the Na­tional Elec­tri­cal Code has adopted the wide­spread use of these through­out most new homes. They are a very good idea.

I’m cur­rently test­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. You can now pur­chase a plug-in mon­i­tor that is con­stantly check­ing all the wiring in your home for mi­nor arc­ing that will even­tu­ally grow and lead to ma­jor arc­ing that would even­tu­ally trip the arc-fault breakers. The new mon­i­tor is con­nected to the in­ter­net, and you get an alert via email should it sense a prob­lem in the early stages long be­fore it could cause a fire.

I rec­om­mend that you do pre­ven­tive main­te­nance on all out­lets that draw lots of cur­rent like your bath­room, kitchen and any other area where you plug in things that con­sume lots of elec­tric­ity.

You should check to make sure the wires are tightly con­nected to the out­lets. You should also make sure that out­lets don’t move when you plug some­thing in or you pull the plug out of the out­let.


If you find your­self rou­tinely re­set­ting a tripped cir­cuit breaker, you should be very con­cerned.

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