The 3 Types of Circuit Breakers and Why Your Life Depends On Them

Circuit breakers are automatically operated electrical switches designed to protect against damage caused by electrical overload or short circuit. Its basic function is to interrupt current flow after a fault is detected. There are three types of circuit breakers: standard, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI). Each type handles different amp capacities and operates in different locations depending on the necessity of defense.

Standard circuit breakers are found in homes all across the world and monitor the flow of electricity as it enters the home and makes its way to outlets and appliances. These circuit breakers prevent the overheating of electrical wires and diminish the potential for electrical fires and are either single- or double-poled. Single-pole breakers are most commonly used in homes and protect one energized wire. They supply 120V to a circuit and handle 15 to 30 amps. Double-pole breakers occupy two slots on a breaker panel and protect two energized wires. They supply 120V/240V or 240V to a circuit and range in capacity from 15 to 200 amps. These breakers are required for large appliances such as a dryer or water heater.

Similar to standard circuit breakers, GFCIs cut power to a circuit when an overload of current or short circuit occurs. Where a GFCI differs is when a line-to-ground fault occurs. A line-to-ground fault is an unwanted path forming between an electrical current and a grounded element and in this case a GFCI would cut power to protect against these specific occurrences.

AFCI circuit breakers protect against an unintentional electrical discharge in an electrical cord or wiring that could cause a fire. Once the breaker senses the electrical jump and abnormal path, it instantly disconnects the damaged circuit before the arc builds enough heat to catch fire. An arc fault is a high power discharge of electricity between two or more conductors. This discharge generates heat that can break down a wire’s insulation and trigger an electrical fire.


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January 8, 2020

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