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Can Circuit Breakers Weaken? (Interesting Facts)

People use circuit breakers as a protection mechanism for electrical circuits to prevent damage from current surges, but they can weaken over time.

When a circuit breaker weakens, it cannot provide the protection your household and electrical appliances need. It will not trip when the current is higher than normal. If left as it is, this can potentially lead to damage to the appliance, and there is a risk of fire at the breaker panel and the appliance end that can spread along the circuit.

This article gives information on what causes a circuit breaker to weaken, how you can check for signs of weakening, and what to do if and when that happens to avoid greater problems in the future.

Circuit breakers are generally reliable, but they can indeed weaken. As for causes, several factors can cause a circuit breaker to weaken. The most common are frequent short circuits, circuit overload, poor breaker quality, and low life expectancy. Common signs of weakening are frequent tripping, failing to trip, a noisy breaker, overheating, and a burning smell.

Factors that Weaken Circuit Breakers

Various factors can affect the life expectancy of a circuit breaker and weaken it.

Ambient Environment

One thing that weakens circuit breakers over time is the ambient environment. Evidence supports the idea that certain weather conditions do not suit breakers to work optimally, especially in humid environments.

Circuit Overload

Circuit overload is caused when too many devices or appliances are connected to the same circuit, sharing the same circuit breaker with a capacity that is too low to support them together.

This can cause the circuit breaker to trip frequently, leading to a power outage and the breaker to weaken over time. In other words, circuit overload occurs when the current is too high for the circuit and circuit breaker to handle, which happens when plugging too many things in simultaneously, causing the breaker to trip.

old fuse outlet

Repeated Tripping

Another reason may be repeated tripping of the breaker due to overload. Such frequent tripping can affect the durability of the breaker in the long run.

Short-Circuiting

Circuit breakers can also get weak if a short circuit occurs.

This can be caused because an AC circuit is composed of two main types of wires: one live and one neutral. If both come into direct contact, it will cause a short circuit. Aging and older wiring can also be a reason for short-circuiting.

Ground Fault Outage

A ground fault outage is related to a short circuit, but the difference is that it occurs when an electrical current takes an unexpected pathway to the ground. It radically intensifies, as a result of which it causes the circuit breaker to fail or trip. It puts you at an even higher risk than a short circuit alone.

Breaker Quality and Life Expectancy

The quality of the breaker is another important factor. If the breaker is cheap, it may be of low quality, so it will not be that much of a help. It will probably trip frequently and weaken quickly.

Related to the quality of circuit breakers is their life expectancy. It is usually around 10 to 15 years, but it mostly depends upon the quality of the breaker used. If it is of low quality, it may wear out too soon or may not even trip and cause greater damage than the cost of the breaker itself.

Therefore, quality must be considered when buying a breaker for a long life expectancy.


Signs of a Weakening Circuit Breaker

How do you recognize that a circuit breaker may have weakened?

Here is a list of common symptoms that show a circuit breaker may have weakened:

  • Frequent tripping of a circuit breaker may be a symptom, as it is usually caused by faulty appliances or having too many of them on the same circuit. However, if there is no overload, the risk of an electrical fire is high.
  • Failing to trip – Another symptom might be when the breaker should trip, but it does not do so. Such a breaker is useless because it fails to perform its function.
  • Noisy breaker – If your circuit breaker is noisy, you should have it checked, whether it needs replacing.
  • It is overheating the breaker. This is usually caused by a circuit overload when multiple appliances simultaneously connect to the same circuit.
  • A burning smell is another symptom of a weak circuit breaker. It usually indicates wires or lining overheating, which causes a burning odor. If this happens, you should shut off the power to the electrical circuit and call an expert to look at it because it could lead to a fire.


What to Do if a Circuit Breaker is Weak

Having read the above, you know that if a circuit breaker is weak, it should be replaced.

The reason is simple. If it’s not replaced, it might fail to work and not perform its function, protecting your appliance on that circuit from getting damaged due to excessive current. It will also ensure you don’t create a fire hazard.

a burning circuit panel

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About Sam Orlovsky

AvatarCertifications: B.E.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Electric Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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