Electrical Circuit Breakers

July 15, 2015

If you have ever had an electrical panel maintenance check-up performed by one of our electricians, you may have wondered why the electrician expressed concern over some mismatched breakers inside your electrical service panel.

Electrician with PanelWith the average Lower Mainland home changing hands every 5 years, some electrical panels now have a history of modifications, updates, and alterations to accommodate the specific needs of the changing households. Our electricians are discovering that some of this work is often done by amateurs who usually know just enough about electricity to be dangerous. This explains some of the ‘interesting’ wiring techniques they have come across.

Some electrical panels in older homes are now obsolete and replacement parts are not readily available. Instead of calling an electrician to source out the correct breaker, homeowners may be tempted to install the wrong size of breaker or whatever “looks right and seems to fit”. This is a dangerous practice.

Unlike most other electrical devices such as receptacles, switches, dimmers, etc., electrical breakers must be matched specifically to the panel in order for the electrical panel to operate properly and safely. Manufacturers refuse to warranty their panels if another brand of breaker has been installed.

Are circuit breakers interchangeable?

Even though a breaker from another manufacturer may fit into the panel space, it is the part of the breaker and the panel that you cannot see where the potential for disaster lies. Different breaker mounting techniques such as bolt-on, clamp on, snap-in or slide-in methods determine unique and proper connection points. Variations in buss bar thickness or no buss bar at all but rather a mounting bar, not to mention the tension of the breaker contacts that the manufacturer has designed for your specific brand of panel, are only a few of the reasons breaker replacement must be done correctly.

Some manufacturers also carry different series of panels, each requiring their own specific breaker. For example the manufacturer of Square D panels makes a QO series as well as their Homeline series. Although these breakers may look very similar, again it is their internal construction that makes them panel specific. Remember, panel manufacturers will not assume any responsibility for damage to your electrical system if an incorrect breaker has been installed.

So, to answer the question of whether the breakers in an electrical panel are interchangeable, the answer is, NO. Each brand and model/series of service panel must only be matched with its exact corresponding breakers.

If you suspect that the safety of your electrical panel has been compromised in any way, please Contact us here or give us a call. We will send out a trained, licensed, certified electrician to do a complete panel safety inspection. You will have the peace of mind knowing that any questionable modifications or service repairs have been identified and addressed.

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