Tips for circuit breaker maintenance

July 28, 2015

Having the lights go out during an important event or task is frustrating. This can often be prevented with proper circuit breaker maintenance.

Tips for circuit breaker maintenance

1. How it works

  • Your service panel distributes electricity through your home. If you have an older home you likely have a fuse box. If you have a newer home, around post-1960, you likely have a circuit breaker.
  • If your electrical system is newer, your "service panel" is probably a circuit breaker. Your service panel's purpose is to distribute electricity throughout the house via branch circuits; it also prevents individual circuits from drawing too much power — if that happens, your wires could overheat (and increase your risk of fire).
  • Each circuit is protected at the service panel by an "over-current protection device" — either a fuse or a circuit breaker.
  • Aside from resetting a tripped breaker or replacing a blown fuse, there's not much maintaining to do to fuse boxes and circuit breakers. Repairs and upgrades are jobs for licensed electricians.
  • Look for signs of moisture and rust in the service panel; if you see any, call an electrician.
  • Once a year, trip and reset circuit breakers to prevent corrosion from setting in. A corroded breaker may not trip when it needs to work.

2. Replacing a fuse

  • At the main service panel, trip the circuit breaker or remove the fuse that controls that circuit that you're working on.
  • Use a voltage tester to make sure the switch or outlet you want to work on isn't live.
  • To turn off power to the entire house, trip the main breaker in the circuit-breaker panel; if you have a fuse box, remove the main pull-out block or turn the lever switch to "off."
  • Plug a radio into the outlet you want to work on and turn it up loud enough that you can hear it from the service panel. Switch off breakers or unscrew fuses until the radio goes off.
  • Make sure that you're standing on a dry surface. Using one hand only, open the service panel, turn off the main power switch, grasp the blown fuse by its glass rim, and turn it counterclockwise.
  • Replace the fuse with one of the same amperage rating, never with one of a higher rating. (A fuse whose amp rating exceeds its circuit's capacity could overheat wires and cause a fire.)

3. Safety first

  • The Canadian Safety Association's Canadian Electrical (CE) Code sets minimum safety standards for wiring. Even if your home's electrical system was up to code when it was installed, it's a good idea to keep on top of new code requirements (check local building codes, too, as they are often more stringent than the CE), and consider upgrades that could make your house safer.
  • Before altering or adding to your electrical system or undertaking anything but minor repairs, call your electrical or building inspector for up-to-date code information and any necessary permits.
  • Heavy power tools and large appliances, such as air conditioners and clothes dryers, usually need more power to start up than they do to remain up and running. Though circuit breakers can withstand these momentary start-up surges, standard fuses often can't. Installing a higher-amp fuse is definitely not the answer.
  • Replace the standard fuse with a time-delay fuse of the same amperage. Time-delayed fuses are designed to handle power spikes without blowing.

4. Working in the dark

  • This is a good idea in case you have to replace a fuse or reset a breaker in the dark: Attach Velcro to the wall and to the flashlight to hold it in place.
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