Should You Worry About Your Home's Outdated Breakers?

Should You Worry About Your Home's Outdated Breakers?

14 June 2023
 Categories: , Blog

Circuit breakers are one of the most essential safety equipment items in your home, but did you know that circuit breakers come in a few different varieties? You probably know that different circuits in your home have different load capacities, but circuit breakers also come in standard, ground fault interrupter (GFCI), and arc fault interrupt (AFCI) styles.

If you have an older home, your breaker box probably primarily contains standard circuit breakers. On the other hand, newer homes will mostly use AFCI and some GFCI breakers. What's the difference, and when should you worry? This guide will demystify these terms and help you decide whether to update your home's older breakers.

What Do Circuit Breakers Protect?

A common misconception among homeowners is that circuit breakers are people protection devices. While a standard circuit breaker does exist to keep you safe, it only does so indirectly. Standard circuit breakers interrupt the power flow when they detect excessive current. In other words, a 15-amp circuit breaker will trip when its circuit tries to draw more than 15 amps of current.

This design prevents the conductors in your walls from overheating and causing fires, but it won't necessarily prevent situations that can cause electrocution. Standard circuit breakers also tend to react too slowly, so even a condition that draws too much current may not cause your breaker to trip quickly enough to prevent electrocution.

How Do GFCI or AFCI Breakers Help?

Both ground fault interrupter (GFCI) and arc fault interrupter (AFCI) breakers do more than detect over-current conditions, although they work in very different ways. AFCI breakers are similar to standard breakers in that their primary role is to prevent a fire. Unlike standard breakers, AFCI breakers can detect arcing and over-current conditions, substantially increasing electrical fire safety.

Conversely, GFCI breakers directly protect against electrocution hazards. GFCI outlets use relatively complex internal logic to detect ground faults, which are unintentional shorts between a conductor and a grounded surface. GFCI breakers react extremely quickly, helping to prevent situations that can lead to electrocution.

Should You Replace Your Older Breakers?

Modern building codes typically require AFCI breakers on most circuits for living spaces and GFCI in certain situations, usually for rooms where water sources may be near receptacles. However, these codes are relatively new in most places, so most older homes will have breaker panels with few AFCI/GFCI circuits.

GFCI circuits are a worthwhile upgrade for safety in kitchens and bathrooms. AFCI circuits are more controversial, but upgrading your old breakers can be a good idea if your home has older or suspect wiring. Older standard breakers are not inherently dangerous, but bringing your breaker box up to modern code standards will enhance your home's safety. 

For more info, contact a local electrical company

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