How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

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What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates a circuit breaker’s life expectancy at 30 to 40 years, with an average of 35 years. It is the same for GFCI, AFCI, and standard breakers. Because a breaker is a mechanical device, a humid outdoor location or the corrosive atmosphere of a room where pool chemicals are stored, for example, will shorten the lifespan. And, conversely, an indoor and dry location with only modest temperature variations will extend it. Also, frequent tripping due to repeated overcurrent events will hasten failure.

    Here’s a graph comparing the life expectancy of circuit breakers to other electrical components in a home.
   The primary purpose of a circuit breaker is to protect your home from a fire caused by overheating of the wires due to too much current flowing through them. When the current flow exceeds its marked amperage rating, the breaker is supposed to trip, cutting off the electricity to the problem circuit. A malfunctioning breaker fails by doing nothing—NOT cutting off the electricity. There is no outward indication that anything is wrong until wire insulation starts melting and you smell smoke. 

   So you may want to consider having an electrician replace the breakers in your  electric panel if it is more than 40-years old as a safety precaution. The panel box itself lasts longer, and typically remains in good shape for 60 years or more. If the troubleshooting of a problem with your electrical system turns up a bad breaker in an older panel as the culprit, that would be a good indication that it is time to replace them all.

   Circuit breakers for popular brands like Square D and GE are not expensive, costing between $4 and $20 each for sizes up to 30-amps, with GFCI or AFCI breakers at around $40. But, if your panel was made by a company that is no longer in business, such as Zinsco or Federal Pacific, replacement breakers are much more expensive: up $100 each in some cases.

   One way to extend the life of your circuit breakers is to “exercise” them once a year by flipping each breaker on and off three times. Because appliances with compressor motors can be harmed by repeated power interruptions, you should first shut off or unplug any freezers, refrigerators or air conditioners in the home before exercising the breakers.

  Also, see our blog posts My circuit breaker won't reset. What's wrong? and How accurate are the average life expectancy ratings of home components? Are they actually useful?

    Go to our blog post What is the average lifespan of the parts of a house? for rating of other house components. To understand the basis, potential use, and limitations of lifespan ratings, see our blog post ”How accurate are the average life expectancy ratings of home components? Are they actually useful? 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 

Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about ELECTRIC PANELS:

What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?  

What is the maximum number of circuit breakers allowed in an electric panel?

When should a corroded or damaged electric panel cabinet or disconnect box be replaced? 

What is a tandem circuit breaker? 

When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?

Can an electric panel be located in a closet? 

Can an electric panel be located in a bathroom? 

Can you add circuit breakers by different manufacturers to an electric panel if they fit?

My circuit breaker won't reset. What's wrong?  

What is a split bus electric panel?

How do I identify a combination AFCI (CAFCI) circuit breaker? 

What does a circuit breaker with a yellow or white test button indicate? 

What is the maximum gap allowed between the front of a recessed electric panel box and the wall surface surrounding it? 

What are the requirements for NM-cables entering an electric panel box?

Why is a fuse box/panel an insurance problem for homebuyers? 

Why is bundled wiring in an electric panel a defect?

What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers? 

Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?

What happens when you press the "TEST" button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)? 

What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?  

What is the difference between "grounded" and "grounding" electrical conductors? 

What does it mean when a wire is "overstripped" at a circuit breaker?

Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?  

Who is the manufacturer of those "bad" electric panels?

Why is the circuit breaker stuck in the middle? 

What is a double tap at a circuit breaker?

What is the right electric wire size for a circuit breaker in an electric panel? 

Why do some breakers in my electric panel have a "TEST" button on them?

What is the right size electric panel for a house? 

• What do I need to know about buying a whole house surge protector? 

What is the maximum allowed height of a circuit breaker (OCPD) above the floor?

• What is the maximum height you can mount an electric panel above the floor? 

• What is the code required clearance in front of an electric panel?

What is the main bonding jumper and where do it find it in an electric panel? 

   Visit our ELECTRIC PANELS and LIFE EXPECTANCY pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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