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Serving the Buffalo Area since 1995

Scherer Electric Blog

Looking Closer Into Circuit Breakers


One of the most important jobs we do for our many customers is replacing indoor electrical panels in Buffalo, NY and throughout Western New York. Too many homes have outdated electrical panels, or even ones that were never safe in the first place. There are also older homes in the area that still use fuse boxes rather than a circuit breaker panel. We also handle replacing electrical panels that have sustained damage and are no longer reliable or safe.

Today we want to look in more depth at the circuit breakers in your electrical panels. Please note that this isn’t a DIY guide: you shouldn’t attempt to repair or replace any circuit breaker yourself, as this can create major hazards. Always trust licensed professionals like us. We’re offering this information to help you understand circuit breaker problems and when you’ll need to call for assistance.

The function of circuit breakers

A circuit breaker is a safety device designed to protect your electrical system from suffering damage in case of a short circuit or voltage overload. What this does is stop electrical fires from starting because of excess voltage in the electrical system. When there is an electrical overload in the breaker, indicating a short or overvoltage, the breaker “trips,” cutting the flow of electricity to that particular circuit.

Is this the same as a fuse?

Although fuses and circuit breakers serve the same job, they do it in different ways. A breaker trips to cut off power, and to reset it only requires resetting the breaker—flipping it back to the “on” position. A fuse burns out from excess voltage, and when this happens, the fuse must be replaced with a new one. Because of the higher electrical demand in modern homes, fuses are no longer effective: they must be enormous to handle modern electrical loads, and fuses this large are dangerous. (Plus, circuit breakers are so much more convenient.)

Is a circuit breaker the same thing as a surge protector?

No. A surge protector is designed to protect the appliances in your house from a massive voltage surge (such as from lightning or a downed power line). Circuit breakers defend the electrical system itself. All homes need circuit breakers, but surge protectors are optional. However, we strongly recommend having this defense for your many electrical appliances. (Ask us about the installation of surge protectors.)

How can I tell if I need to replace circuit breakers or the panel?

Like any mechanical device, circuit breakers wear down over time and may fail. A breaker may permanently shut off power to a circuit. Worse, it might not shut off power when necessary. It’s important to have any of these problems dealt with quickly. A common warning sign of a failing breaker is when it continues to trip. When a breaker fails like this, look for signs of scorching and discoloration on the breaker. Also listen for a buzzing sound and smell for a burning odor. Do not attempt to replace the breaker on your own! Call us right away to examine the panel. We can tell if we need to replace the breaker or if the whole panel is damaged and you need a new one. 

Contact us if you have any other questions about circuit breakers and your electrical system. Scherer Electric Is Western New York’s Favorite Electrician!

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