Circuit Breakers Tips

When it comes to Circuit Breakers, we've been there, done that, now serving 100 tips in 14 categories ranging from Busways to What is a Circuit Breaker.

I smell something burning and see sparks. Is this my electrical system?

Symptoms of Electrical System Damage

If your Westinghouse circuit breakers or other types are somehow damaged by flood waters, or if your electrical system is damaged, you will notice symptoms which require immediate shutdown of your mains until the problem can be addressed. A circuit breaker which does not trip properly will allow an overload in your system to create excessive heat and other potential problems.

When the power is restored after a floor or other structural damage to a home or apartment, do you notice a burning smell? If you can't locate a fire or open flame, that smell could indicate your wiring is overheating, melting or burning. A properly functioning Westinghouse circuit breaker will trip before this happens, but when you have building damage, it's possible your breakers may also be affected. Do you notice sparking or hear a sizzling sound? These are also indications you should shut off your Westinghouse breakers and contact a qualified electrician.

What should I do if the area near my breaker panel is flooded?

Circuit Breaker Safety

If there is flood damage in the area where your breaker box is installed, it is very important to use caution if you must access your Westinghouse circuit breakers or the mains. The best policy is to call a qualified electrician, but if there is a safety issue that requires you to switch off your mains immediately, use the following precautions.

  • Do not stand in water while accessing your Westinghouse circuit breakers.
  • Access your breaker panel during daylight hours for maximum safety.
  • If you need a light source, use a battery-powered light, no gas-powered light sources or candles.
  • If you are blocked from accessing the panel by standing water, use a wooden pole to try to switch off your mains. Do not use a wooden pole with a metal attachment or fitting.
In most cases it's best to let an electrician handle these issues, but safety may demand you shut off the power immediately. Always remember that the presence of water near your Westinghouse circuit breakers seriously increases the danger of electrocution. Use extreme caution if you must access your breaker panel.

What should I do to protect my electrical system in case of a flood?

Floods And Your Circuit Breakers

If you are in a known flood plain and there is a threat of damage to your home, you may be able to prevent extensive damage to your electrical system by shutting off your Westinghouse circuit breakers and mains before evacuating the area. Even if you only expect minor damage, shut off the mains and breakers to avoid problems later on. In addition to turning off the Westinghouse circuit breakers, if there is time to unplug your appliances, it's advisable to do so. If you experience flood damage you may have hidden problems that won't manifest themselves until the power comes on again. Having your appliances unplugged may prevent them from being affected by those hidden faults once the Westinghouse circuit breakers are switched back on again.

What are "replacement only" circuit breakers?

What are "Replacement Only" Circuit Breakers?

Some circuit breakers made for home use may be labeled "for replacement use only" and "not for CTL assemblies". It may be rare to see this type of labeling on modern Westinghouse circuit breakers or other brands, but it does cause some confusion when it is encountered for the first time. An example of a CTL assembly is a lighting/appliance "load center". These are designed to accept only a full-sized circuit breaker and should not have half-size or mini-circuit breakers placed into them. A circuit breaker made in a smaller size than what is required in the appliance load center may be labelled "not for CTL assemblies" since installation into an appliance load center would be a potential hazard.

What would happen if my circuit breaker did not trip?

What Happens if My Circuit Breaker Doesn't Trip?

Your Westinghouse circuit breakers are designed to trip when there is an overload or similar problem in the electrical system. If you run a hair dryer and an air conditioner on the same circuit, for example, there is too much of a power draw on that circuit. Too much power is a hazard, and the circuit breaker trips to cut the power before an electrical fire or other damage can result.

If the circuit breaker did not trip, the overload would most likely result in a fire. Electricity generates heat as it flows through the system. The normal amount of heat created does not pose a danger to your home or appliances, but when there is too much demand for power, the extra electricity causes the system to heat up even more. Once there is enough heat to melt insulation or ignite nearby materials, a serious fire hazard exists. The Westinghouse circuit breaker is made to cut off the electricity before a dangerous amount of heat is generated.

Can I use a flashlight to see my circuit breaker panel during installation of new breakers?

Before You Attempt Circuit Breaker Replacement

Ask any electrician about replacing circuit breakers and the first piece of advice you will get is to turn off the mains before you start working. This is a vital step to avoid electrocution injury, but there is still an electrical hazard in the panel itself because the wires going to the mains still carries current. Your hot bus bar may also have current, and you will need to be especially careful if you have never opened the circuit breaker panel before.

Before attempting any circuit breaker replacement, ask yourself how you will accomplish the job with all the lights out. Some people believe a flashlight will do the trick, but it is very important to have a steady light source such as a battery powered lamp or "electric lantern" that you don't need to hold. You need to be able to clearly see the potential danger spots in your electric panel at all times. Accidentally touching the live wires from the power company can cause a fatal shock. Being able to see and avoid them at all times is crucial. Do not attempt to install new breakers unless you can clearly see all parts of the panel and use both hands to do the work.

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Barbara Gibson