Your Circuit Breaker Box--Is it Time for an Upgrade?

What’s a circuit breaker? 

A circuit breaker is a device that automatically stops the current of electricity. A circuit breaker is designed to protect your home wiring from damage caused by excess current, This happens when you overload a circuit or there’s a short. When this happens it trips the circuit and flips the switch in the circuit breaker box. It’s a safety measure that is absolutely essential in the modern home. Without them having electricity wouldn’t be safe—the risk of fire would be astronomical. 

How do circuit breakers work? 

In all of your wiring, there are actually two little wires in there: a neutral wire and a live wire. The live wire runs the electric current through your home, and the neutral wire runs into the ground. Ideally, these two wires won’t ever touch. But life happens and stuff happens, so there’s always the potential that they will. The switch in your box is connected to an electromagnet or a bimetallic strip, the live wire is connected to two ends of the magnet, and when everything is going okay the electricity flows through. The electricity magnetizes the electromagnet, and as long as the current stays in the safe areas it works fine, but if the current jumps to unsafe levels the magnet becomes strong enough to pull down the lever that controls the switch. 

Why should I upgrade? 

If your home currently has a fuse box you should definitely upgrade to a circuit breaker box. Fuses are older and not as sensitive as circuit breakers and definitely not as effective. Fuses are also one-shot uses, so if something happens and they disintegrate (as they’re designed to) you have to buy a new one, which is just a disaster in the making if your lights go out at midnight on New Year's Eve and you have to wait until the hardware store opens in two days because you didn’t realize you were out. Circuit breakers just need a switch flipped to have your electricity back on. If you already have a circuit breaker panel/box you should still think about upgrading. An older panel probably doesn’t have enough amps to manage all the things in your home. Older circuit breaker boxes can only manage about 60amps; new ones can handle at least 200 amps. 

But how much will it cost?

 While it is possible to DIY a circuit breaker box upgrade, the boxes aren’t much more than $200, you’re still much better off having an electrician help you out. You'll need a permit from the city, and the work has to be done to code, as they will send an inspector out after it's installed to approve it. This step can't be skipped: if there is a fire or other electrical event, the insurance company can use this noncompliance as an excuse not to pay a claim. In addition, the safety and peace of mind when something is done by an experienced professional is hard to beat.