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If you have never replaced your Federal Pacific breakers before, the thought of opening and working in your circuit breaker box can be quite intimidating. The circuit breaker box, also known as the electrical service panel, is the heart of your home's electrical system. You will need to know how to access this box sooner or later, so it's good to get familiar with it.
When you open the breaker box you will see a set of FPE circuit breakers (or whichever make and model are used in your home) which are assigned to various parts of the home. At the top of the series are two circuit breakers called "mains". The mains are connected to the power cables from the electric company--the main flow of electricity, hence the name. The mains are your first line of protection in case of a power surge caused from outside the home. If there is a lightning strike in your area, the mains will trip to prevent the surge from flowing through the entire electrical system.
An FPE air circuit breaker uses compressed air to kill the electrical arc when the circuit breaker interrupts the flow of electricity. In some cases the contacts that keep the current flowing may be shifted into a sealed chamber to break the circuit. Like other circuit breakers, an FPE air circuit breaker can be reset to restore the flow of electricity. If the breaker was tripped because of a one-time problem such as a power surge, you shouldn't see repeated activation of the air circuit breaker. If there is a problem causing repeated tripping of the FPE circuit breaker, investigate the cause of the problem. Is it caused by too many devices trying to draw power at the same time? Or by a normal load aggravated by the use of an air conditioner or compressor drawing a larger-than-normal load? If you encounter repeated "nuisance trips" of your circuit breaker, these are some of the likely suspects.
FPE circuit breakers and other brands often trip repeatedly when certain conditions are present. Many are quick to blame the circuit breaker or home electrical wiring, but a bit of investigation often shows the real cause to be user-related. If you have installed FPE circuit breakers yourself and notice recurring problems after installation, it's possible you didn't tighten them properly. You may need to shut off the power and have another look at your installation.
A related problem comes when using a new appliance. If you have installed a small refrigerator or air conditioner in a rec room or garage, you may notice tripping when using power tools or other motorized equipment. The FPE circuit breakers trip more often because the combination of the new appliance and the motorized equipment running at the same time is too much for your electrical system. You may need to turn off the air conditioner when running a vacuum cleaner, for example, or run the vacuum on an extension cord from another room. The fault is usually not with the FPE circuit breaker in these cases, even though it appears to be so.
When you purchase and install FPE circuit breakers, the first thing you learn from reading a set of installation instructions is to make sure the power is completely off at the circuit breaker box. Turn the main circuit breaker to the off position and you kill power to the whole house. Are you ready to install your FPE circuit breaker safely at this stage?
Yes and no. Before you do the installation is is very important to use a volt meter to make absolutely certain there is no power coming to the electrical panel. Never assume that turning off the mains has actually stopped the flow of electricity until you can verify it with the volt meter. To properly install your FPE circuit breakers, you need to connect wires to the ground bus bar and the neutral bus bar. If any current is flowing, an electrocution hazard is present. The only way to tell is by using the volt meter.