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How to Size a Circuit Breaker and Wire Sizes Danie l Snyde r
Staff Writer

▸ Ranked #2 of out 15
experts in Electrical
Systems & Lighting
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Publishe d: Dec 1, 2010


Update d: Dec 1, 2010
Circuit breakers are overcurrent protection devices (OCPD) that are designed to break the circuit and prevent 0 Comments
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equipment damage or fire. When too much current runs through a circuit the heat in the circuit exceeds the
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However, a CB most frequently is applied in equipment at 80% of its rated current under NEC Sec. 384-16(c). If you understand why this Ponds
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Since the current path, both the CB and the conductor, reacts to heat, the overall operating temperature of the equipment becomes a factor in ▸ Plumbing, Leaks &
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sizing a CB in an enclosure.
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Other factors that may affect this equipment operating temperature include:
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A circuit breaker either carries a standard rating (80%) or a 100% rating. The standard rating is subject to the NEC sizing rules. CBs that are
100%-rated are permitted to be loaded continuously at their full rating as long as the assembly is listed and conductors are properly connected. Vie w more >

Instructions
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Determine the total electrical load required for the circuit you are sizing. All electrical appliances and equipment list the operating load they need
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to operate properly somewhere on the component, usually on an attached sticker or plate. For example, if you are planning operate a refrigerator
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rated at 8 amps, a toaster oven rated at 6 amps and a microwave rated at 6 amps on the same circuit, you need a breaker that that will safely carry

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4/14/2011 How to Size a Circuit Breaker and Wir…
a 20 amp load. 0

Share 0
Calculate the size of the circuit breaker needed to safely carry the load. Circuit breakers are most commonly found in 15, 20, and 30 amp sizes. For
the load calculated above, 20 amps, the smallest circuit breaker you could install would be a 20 amp breaker. However, following the NEC 80 Share 0

percent rule, the proper breaker for this application would be calculated as follows: 20 (amps) times 1.25 (125 percent) = 25 (amps). This Share 0

application requires a 25 amp circuit breaker. Share 0

Wire Sizing

Wire size is a very important part in sizing a circuit. For circuit breakers up to 15 amps, use 14 gauge wire or larger. For a 20 amp breaker, use 12
gauge wire or larger. For up to a 30 amp breaker, use 10 gauge wire or larger. These are the most common sizes for household use.

Wire is manufactured to a specific group of sizes that are designated by numbers known as gauges. The gauge of the wires that carry the power
from the transformer to your home and within your home are chosen in size to ensure that they do not overheat at their rated amperage. In fact,
there should be no noticeable heat on the wires at any time.

For this reason simply increasing the size of a circuit breaker without also increasing the wire size can lead to a potentially dangerous situation
that can result in fire and death.

Choosing the correct wire gauge within your home, wires that run from the electrical distribution panel to various appliances and receptacles is
crucial. You do not want the wire to act as a fuse and burn should a short circuit occur.

The table provides the correct gauge of wire for electrical circuits in your home depending on the rated load.

It is also very important not to use devices labeled for copper only on circuits with aluminum wire. Look for these markings on your existing
circuit breakers and receptacles and if you have aluminum wiring in your home it is best to hire a licensed electrician to make any alterations to
your electrical system.

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