A Guide to Buying Circuit Breakers

Like if this guide is helpful
A Guide to Buying Circuit Breakers

The development of inexpensive and efficient electricity changed the way that people around the world lived their lives. For the most part, household power is electricity that is often taken for granted until there is a power outage or natural disaster. For the most part, the safety risks that come with household electricity are typically ignored. This is mainly because of a simple device that every home has, but few people think about; the circuit breaker.

The circuit breaker is a device designed to prevent electrical overloads that can cause damage to electronic devices and appliances, and even fires in some cases. Since circuit breakers are so important, it is generally a good idea to get a reliable option when replacing one, or when building a new home. Circuit breakers can be purchased in hardware stores, as well as online at eBay. When looking for a circuit breaker, it is helpful to look at types of circuit breakers available, as well as other considerations like power capacity and whether or not an individual circuit breaker is compatible with a breaker panel.

Types of Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are designed to monitor the flow of electricity through an electrical system that generally includes wiring, outlets, and any items drawing power from them. Although the purpose of a circuit breaker is fairly straightforward, there are several kinds available, distinguished both by how much power they are capable of monitoring, and how they respond to energy overloads.


A circuit breaker's voltage level refers to how many volts it can handle without any risk of fire. Every circuit breaker is therefore delegated as low voltage, medium voltage, or high voltage.

Type of Circuit Breaker

Maximum Voltage

Low Voltage


Medium Voltage


High Voltage

Anything higher than 1,500

In some cases, the voltage for circuit breakers is rated in kilovolts, but the maximums are the same. High voltage circuit breakers are generally designed for industrial applications, and are therefore much larger and more difficult to work with than a low or medium voltage circuit breaker.

Oil Circuit Breakers

For a long time, high voltage circuit breakers were known as oil circuit breakers. The reason for this was that these breakers had their contacts drenched in oil. There was therefore a container of oil attached to the breaker that could be used to quench an electrical arc. This system can work to interrupt and cool a flow of electricity, but the oil can be flammable. Oil circuit breakers also require a good deal of maintenance as the oil must be changed and refreshed periodically. Newer high voltage circuit breakers use gas instead of oil, which makes them safer and more environmentally friendly.

Standard Circuit Breakers

Aside from voltage considerations, circuit breakers also differ in how they respond to energy overloads. Standard circuit breakers are the most common circuit breakers for homes and small buildings. Every standard circuit breaker is built to maintain electricity within a certain range. Once there is an overload or a short circuit, the breaker trips and stops the flow of electricity. Standard circuit breakers are usually made up of single or double pole breakers that provide roughly 120 volts to a circuit. Single pole breakers are commonly found in homes for most rooms, although large appliances use a double pole breaker.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Circuit Breakers

Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuit breakers are designed to be used with appliances, or large electrical equipment that is grounded. Rather than protecting and delivering power to one wire, GFCI breakers are designed to work with an entire circuit and as such can cover multiple wires. Generally speaking, GFCI breakers are meant to be used to charge high power appliances, or power tools that are not always on, as that can trip the breaker at any moment. Rather, they are meant to protect against large surges of power that may damage the entire circuit altogether.

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter Circuit Breakers

Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) circuit breakers are very similar in appearance to GFCI breakers. In fact, they are also built with test buttons and coiled wires. However, an AFCI breaker has a very different purpose. AFCI breakers are designed to protect a home against unintentional energy spikes that may cause a fire. An example of such a spike is a frayed wire on a lamp's electrical cord that suddenly discharges. A standard circuit breaker is not designed to compensate for sudden, sharp bursts of power, so they can not shut off in the way that an AFCI breaker can. In many cases, AFCI breakers are legally required to be installed in homes where connections lead to lighting, or other places that are not protected by a GFCI breaker.

Load Capacity

Similar to the way in which a circuit breaker should not be allowed to handle more voltage than it is built to handle, circuit breakers are also designed with what is known as load capacity. While circuit breakers can handle a maximum amount of electricity, this does not mean that they should be exposed to maximum levels at all times. In fact, many countries regulate load capacity, and stipulate that circuit breakers are only to be exposed to 80 per cent of the maximum in order to maintain safety standards.


While there are many manufacturers of circuit breakers, they are not all compatible with each other. For anyone planning to replace the circuit breakers in their home without replacing the panel, it is important to make certain that the breakers are made by the same manufacturer as the panel. In some cases, panels may contain information regarding what kind of breakers are compatible, which may include some made by other manufacturers, but not all. Incompatible circuit breakers can cause both the breakers and the panel to suffer problems, and may even be a safety concern.

Used Circuit Breakers

Use circuit breakers are available in many locations as well as online at eBay, and they can be perfectly safe as replacements or upgrades. However, if a used circuit breaker shows visible damage that might interfere with function, or leave an electrical current exposed, it is not a good idea to purchase one. For the most part, used parts are perfectly safe, and even scratches, chips, and dents should not interfere with function. Refurbished circuit breakers are a popular option as they have been tested and repaired to make them fully functional, although they typically cost less than new breakers.

Buying Circuit Breakers on eBay

Circuit breakers, along with many other electrical supplies and the tools to install them, are found on eBay. Buyers can search for new breakers, as well as used or refurbished ones, that can be used to replace or upgrade their existing system or simply to build a new one. The best way to find a circuit breaker on eBay is to simply enter a search term into the search bar on any eBay page. This search term can be simple, such as 'circuit breaker', or it can be more complex. It is advisable to make sure that circuit breakers and panels are either made by the same manufacturer, or are otherwise compatible. This can be done by adding the manufacturer name to the search term in the search bar.

Be Thorough

Even though used circuit breakers are generally safe and can be purchased as a way of saving money, it is always helpful to read the product description that accompanies each product sold on eBay. This product description can contain information about different features and can help novice buyers understand exactly what kind of circuit breaker they are looking at. It is also helpful to read any seller feedback in order to make an informed purchase.


Circuit breakers are an essential part of a home's electrical system, which means that they are an essential part of modern life. Circuit breakers have a fairly simple purpose, but there are several options to choose from when buying one. The first consideration to make is voltage, as not all circuit breakers are designed to handle the same amount of electricity. Circuit breakers also differ slightly in terms of how they react to too much power. Standard circuit breakers flip when they experience a power surge beyond their stated parameters. Other circuit breakers either respond to sharp surges of power, or to surges throughout a whole circuit as opposed to a single wire.

It is also important when buying a circuit breaker to determine what the legal load capacity is for any given location, and then find circuit breakers that exceed that. Buyers looking for a less expensive circuit breaker can make use of a used or refurbished circuit breaker, as long as it does not have serious damage that may leave parts exposed. With a clear understanding of what kinds of circuit breakers are available, it is now possible for anyone to find the right product for their needs, whether it be as a replacement or an upgrade.

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides