Power Circuit Breakers

Written by Will Baum
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Power circuit breakers use the basics of electricity--voltage, current, and resistance--to keep homes and business free from fire and catastrophe. These words may mean little to you if you haven't revisited them since high school.

You may be only vaguely aware of how the electricity where you live and work functions. That doesn't matter. Power circuit breakers don't need you to know what they do. They can do it without your help. But why not take a look at the ABCs of power circuit breakers?

How Power Circuit Breakers Work

At the most basic level, power circuit breakers ask a simple if/then question. If electrical current is below a certain amount, then electricity will be allowed to flow. However, if the electrical current goes above the allowable limit, then that current is cut off.

Easily said, but how does it work? First, electricity gets from power plants to its destination over the power distribution grid. A charge travels through a large circuit which is then divided into smaller circuits until it reaches your appliances. The circuit has two ends, a hot wire, leading to the power plant, and a neutral wire, which is grounded. Power is delivered at 120 and 240 volts (at least in the U.S. Other countries operate with different systems, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical razors, regardless of adaptors).

Each appliance has a different "load," which describes the resistance each offers to the incoming current. A light bulb has a high load--the current has to push with might to get through the filament, heating it up, causing it to give off light. When things go awry and the current leaps, the circuit breaker acts as electricity cop, and "arrests" the flow of current. With a simple flip of a switch, power is restored. The home is saved.

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