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Circuit Breaker Troubleshooting and Maintenance

A circuit breaker is an electrical switch that is designed to safeguard a circuit from being damaged either due to a short circuit or an overload. It is automatically operated so that the moment it detects a fault, it breaks continuity to stop the flow of electricity. Circuit breakers can be reset easily and do not need to be replaced like a fuse. They come in different sizes and can protect all kinds of electrical devices from a small household appliance to high voltage circuits that power an entire town or city.

Listed below are a few questions answered by electricians on issues related to circuit breakers.

I have a circuit breaker that connects to my hot water heater. It tripped and made a sizzling noise. What does that mean?

There are a few reasons why this could have happened. The three most common reasons are that there could have been a short in the circuit, a loose connection or wire, or finally, a problem with overload.

The circuit breaker box in my newly rented apartment doesn’t have a cover and is mounted over the right rear gas burner. I am a little worried that this could lead to a grease fire. Also, is it a code violation?

The fact that your circuit breaker has no box is a huge safety concern in addition to a code violation. It would be best for you to get in touch with the management and have them correct this immediately.

If a circuit breaker is faulty, how would I know?

What you need to do is get a volt meter to test your breaker. In case you don’t have one, you could try swapping the breaker with another one in your box that has the same amperage and check to see if that makes a difference.

If you have a volt meter, put one lead on the neutral bar in the panel and the other one on the screw that the wire is connected to on the breaker. You should get a reading of about 120 volts. If you don’t, this could indicate a fault in your breaker.

I have a malfunctioning 20 amp circuit breaker. It didn’t work when I plugged in an electric power washer, so I plugged the washer into another outlet to check and there was no problem. Now there’s no power where I plugged the washer in the first time. When I went to look at the breaker box, I noticed that a 20 amp breaker was off. The moment I turned it "on", it buzzed and switched back to "off". What do I do?

You probably have a short if it’s buzzing and tripping. What you could do is check the outlet that you were first using, along with a junction box or any outlet between it and the panel.

Circuit breakers are designed in various sizes, and 10, 15, and 20 amp breakers are the ones that are usually used at home to power most electrical devices. However, certain appliances like freezers, washers, and dryers will need larger circuit breakers. Usually, when the power goes off and a breaker trips to the “off” position, it can simply be switched to the “on” position and the power will come back. However, if the breaker keeps tripping even after being flipped, there could be a problem with the wires, the electrical device or the breaker itself could be faulty, so it’s most sensible to call an electrician.
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