Article
From a packaging standpoint, residential circuit breakers can all look pretty similar – and even interchangeable. But there are options contractors need to consider, based on where the breakers are being used and, today, how much intelligence homeowners might demand from their electrical system.

Learning Some Breaker Basics

Chuck Ross
From a packaging standpoint, residential circuit breakers can all look pretty similar – and even interchangeable. But there are options contractors need to consider, based on where the breakers are being used and, today, how much intelligence homeowners might demand from their electrical system.

For residential breakers, the choice generally breaks down into two options, thermal magnetic and hydraulic magnetic operation.

  • Thermal magnetic breakers incorporate a strip with two different metals bonded together, each with its own thermal expansion properties. The strip is designed to trip the breaker if the current flowing through the system causes its temperature to rise above a predetermined point. However, because they’re so temperature-sensitive, these breakers shouldn’t be used where they’ll be exposed to temperature extremes. So, they’re likely not a good choice if the breaker box is located in, say, a Minneapolis garage, but in a typical basement, these can be a good, all-around choice.

  • Hydraulic magnetic breakers use a special solenoid to trip an overloaded breaker, instead of a thermal magnetic strip. The solenoid incorporates a mobile iron core, a spring and a silicone fluid to control the core’s speed. Current flowing through the coil assembly creates a magnetic field that causes the core to begin moving. If the current gets high enough, that movement will trip the breaker. This process isn’t affected by ambient temperatures, so these breakers can be used in a much wider range of temperature conditions.

  • Smart breakers are hydraulic magnetic units that are equipped with sensor and monitoring technology and a Wi-Fi connection to a hub mounted inside the breaker box. The hub allows communication remotely, through a home’s Wi-Fi router. Smart breakers are especially useful for circuits handling loads like refrigerators, HVAC equipment and sump pumps, whose operation can be critical to home’s well-being.
Photo courtesy of Leviton
ET Series Electronic Controls (Basic/Basic+)
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