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Do Circuit Breakers Go Bad? 

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Your circuit breaker is one of the most important safety devices in your home. It protects you from hazards such as circuit overloads, power surges, and short circuits. Without a circuit breaker, your home would be vulnerable to electrical fires, especially during storms and heavy simultaneous usage.

And, while they are designed to endure years of usage, they do break down, need repairs, and require maintenance. That's why, in this article, we will answer the question: Do circuit breakers go bad? We will begin with discussing the lifespan of circuit breakers, the common signs of a malfunctioning unit, and when it is necessary for repair or replacement. In short, the answer is simple: Yes, circuit breakers can go bad, and we will now explain more in detail:

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What is the Lifespan of a Circuit Breaker?

Ideally, circuit breakers can last 30 to 40 years; however, this estimate can vary due to factors such as wear and tear, overload occurrences, and the quality of the breaker itself.

Additionally, cheaper or defective systems may fail prematurely, leaving your home vulnerable to electrical mishaps. Understanding their internal mechanisms and how they deteriorate over time is crucial for identifying potential issues and ensuring the safety and reliability of your electrical system.

It will also make you understand that, indeed, circuit breakers can go bad, and we will now detail what causes that to happen:

What causes circuit breakers to go bad?

Now that we've discussed the typical lifespan of a circuit breaker, it's also important to mention some of the causes for why a circuit breaker goes bad with a brief mention of some of the internal components that may go faulty.

Let's begin with contact wear:

  1. Contact Wear: continuous operation and the opening and closing of contacts during normal use result in mechanical wear over time. Wear and pitting of the contacts can lead to increased resistance, overheating, and reduced contact surface area, compromising the breaker's performance and reliability.

  2. Spring Fatigue: the springs in the tripping mechanism may experience fatigue over time, losing their elasticity and affecting the speed and effectiveness of circuit interruption. Fatigued springs may result in delayed tripping or failure to trip during electrical faults, increasing the risk of damage to the circuit and connected devices.

  3. Arcing Damage: the repeated formation and extinction of electrical arcs during circuit interruption can cause erosion and damage to the contacts and arc chute. Arcing damage leads to increased contact resistance, reduced arc extinguishing capability, and compromised breaker performance.

  4. Environmental Factors: environmental factors such as temperature extremes, humidity, dust, and contaminants can accelerate the deterioration of circuit breaker components. Exposure to harsh conditions may cause corrosion, oxidation, and degradation of materials, leading to decreased reliability and lifespan of the breaker.

  5. Overload and Fault Conditions: Operating the circuit breaker near or beyond its rated capacity, frequent overloads, and short circuits can accelerate wear and stress on internal components. Excessive stress and heat generated during fault conditions can cause thermal damage, deformation, and mechanical failure of breaker components.

Internal damage as a result of heavy use, faulty components, or environmental factors can make a circuit breaker go bad. Let's now discuss some of the common signs your circuit breaker is bad.

Signs your circuit breaker is bad.

Identifying a faulty circuit breaker can be challenging, but there are telltale signs to watch for, which include the following:

  1. Circuit constantly trips upon reset:
    A normal operating circuit breaker contains an electromagnetic coil or solenoid that controls the opening and closing of the breaker contacts, which allows electricity to flow through the system. When an overload or fault occurs, the electromagnetic coil becomes energized, attracting the armature mechanism to trip the contacts open, interrupting the flow of electricity.

    However, continuous operation puts wear on the contacts, which can lead to increased resistance, overheating, and reduced contact surface area, compromising the breaker's performance and reliability.

    As the components inside the breaker age due to prolonged use, you may have to make multiple trips to the breaker box. When you reset the tripped circuit breaker, it immediately trips again without any apparent reason.

    This frequent tripping indicates a fault within the circuit breaker or a persistent short circuit in your electrical system. Professional attention and assistance are necessary to diagnose and rectify the issue safely.

  2. Bulbs burn out quickly: You may have a faulty circuit breaker if your light bulbs burn out much faster than usual, despite using bulbs with the correct wattage rating for your fixtures.

    Rapid bulb burnout can be a sign of fluctuating voltage levels in your home, potentially caused by a faulty circuit breaker. Professional testing of your home's voltage by an Atlanta electrician can confirm whether your circuit breaker is contributing to the problem.

  3. Flickering lights: Another sign is that lights throughout your home flicker or dim intermittently, especially when other electrical devices are in use. Flickering lights may indicate that your electrical circuit is overloaded or that the wiring is outdated and unable to handle the load. It's essential to address this issue promptly to prevent potential electrical hazards, including fires.

  4. Melted wires and scorching: You may also notice melted insulation around wires or scorch marks near electrical outlets or the breaker panel. Melted wires and scorching are clear signs of overheating, which can result from excessive current flow through a faulty circuit breaker. Immediate action is necessary to identify and rectify the underlying issue to prevent further damage and ensure safety.

  5. Burning smell from breaker box: A distinct burning smell emanates from your electrical panel or breaker box, indicating overheating or electrical arcing. Electrical arcing occurs when electricity jumps across a gap due to damaged insulation or loose connections, generating intense heat and potentially causing fires. If you detect a burning odor, turn off the power to the affected area immediately and seek professional assistance.

  6. Poor performance of electronics: Your electronic devices, appliances, or HVAC system exhibit erratic behavior, such as frequent malfunctions, shutdowns, or reduced performance. A malfunctioning circuit breaker can disrupt the flow of electricity to your devices, leading to performance issues and premature failure. Addressing the underlying electrical issues is crucial to prevent damage to your valuable electronics and ensure their reliable operation.

  7. No power from outlet: Outlets in your home stop supplying power, rendering connected devices or appliances inoperative. This loss of power may result from a faulty circuit breaker or a tripped circuit interrupting the flow of electricity to the affected outlets. Professional diagnosis and repair are necessary to restore power safely and address any underlying electrical problems effectively.

These signs indicate potential issues with your circuit breaker and require prompt attention from a qualified electrician to diagnose and resolve safely. Ignoring these warning signs can lead to electrical hazards, including fires, electrical shocks, and damage to your home's electrical system and appliances. As you can see, circuit breakers do go bad, and it's best to rectify these signs sooner rather than later.

When should a breaker be replaced?

If your breaker exhibits any of the aforementioned signs, it may be time for a replacement. For instance, frequent tripping—regardless of load—signals a potential issue. However, diagnosing the exact cause can be tricky and is best left to a professional electrician. DIY fixes are not recommended, as they may exacerbate the problem or pose safety hazards.

A licensed electrician can accurately pinpoint the source of the problem and recommend appropriate solutions to ensure the safety and functionality of your home's electrical system.

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Electrical Panel Upgrade & Repair Services

In conclusion, the integrity of your home's electrical system hinges on the health of its circuit breakers. If you suspect that your breaker is malfunctioning, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance.

Our team at Estes Services offers comprehensive electrical panel repair and upgrade services to address all your electrical needs.

Schedule a consultation with our licensed and trained electricians to safeguard your home against electrical hazards and ensure peace of mind for you and your family.

We provide service throughout the greater Atlanta area, including Alpharetta, Buckhead, Gwinnett, Lawrenceville, Kennesaw, Marietta, Midtown, Mableton, Morrow, Newnan, Norcross, Peachtree City, Powder Springs, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Smyrna, Snellville, Suwanee, Virginia Highland, Vinings, and Woodstock.

Call or schedule an electrical panel repair service with Estes Services today. It's that easy; It's Estes!