A breaker panel can use a variety of breaker types, limited only by the number and size of the available slots.
The primary types of switches on the breaker panel include:
- Single-pole: The normal 120v breaker for most circuits with outlets and lights
- Double-pole: The 240v breakers for major appliances
- GFCI: Switches with ground fault protection for an entire circuit (like the GFCI outlets in wet areas)
- AFCI: Switches with arc fault protection (now required by National Electric Code [NEC[ in living areas and bedrooms)
Circuit breakers come in different sizes for the load being supported. Sizes of circuit breakers are dependent on the size of the wire that is carrying the current. For example, 14 Gauge wire, used mainly for lighting circuits, must only be supported by a 15 Amp circuit breaker.
As you increase the size of the wire, you can use a larger current capacity circuit breaker. For example, a #8 Gauge copper wire (#8 AWG) can support up to 50 Amps of current, according to NEC.
Something to watch out for: we see a lot of kitchen remodels these days where our customers are changing out electric / 240V ovens in favor of a gas model. The new unit still needs electric and the cheapest way to do it is to re-use the existing 240V wires for a new 120V outlet.
Make sure, though, that the circuit breaker gets stepped down to a 20A accordingly and you’ll be safe.
Keep learning about your house’s electric: it’s good to know.