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Circuit breakers are classified as being trip free or nontrip free.

A trip-free circuit breaker is a circuit breaker that will trip (open) even if the operating mechanism (ON-OFF switch) is held in the ON position. A nontrip-free circuit breaker can be reset and/or held ON even if an overload or excessive heat condition is present. In other words, a nontrip-free circuit breaker can be bypassed by holding the operating mechanism ON.

Trip-free circuit breakers are used on circuits that cannot tolerate overloads and on nonemergency circuits. Examples of these are precision or current sensitive circuits, nonemergency lighting circuits, and nonessential equipment circuits.

Nontrip-free circuit breakers are used for circuits that are essential for operations. Examples of these circuits are emergency lighting, required control circuits, and essential equipment circuits.


Circuit breakers, like fuses, are rated by the amount of time delay. In circuit breakers the ratings are instantaneous, short time delay, and longtime delay. The delay times of circuit breakers can be used to provide for SELECTIVE TRIPPING.

Selective tripping is used to cause the circuit breaker closest to the faulty circuit to trip. This will remove power from the faulty circuit without affecting other, nonfaulty circuits. Figure 2-22 should help you understand selective tripping.

Figure 2-22. - Use of circuit breakers in a power distribution system.

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Figure 2-22 shows a power distribution system using circuit breakers for protection. Circuit breaker 1 (CB1) has the entire current for all seven loads through it. CB2 feeds loads 1, 2, 3, and 4 (through CB4, CB5, CB6, and CB7), and CB3 feeds loads 5, 6, and 7 (through CB8, CB9, and CB10). If all the circuit breakers were rated with the same time delay, an overload on load 5 could cause CB1, CB3, and CB8 to trip. This would remove power from all seven loads, even though load 5 was the only circuit with an overload.

Selective tripping would have CB1 rated as long time delay, CB2 and CB3 rated as short time delay, and CB4 through CB10 rated as instantaneous.

With this arrangement, if load 5 had an overload, only CB8 would trip. CB8 would remove the power from load 5 before CB1 or CB3 could react to the overload.

In this way, only load 5 would be affected and the other circuits would continue to operate.


All the circuit breakers presented so far in this chapter have been physically large, designed to control large amounts of power, and used a type of toggle operating mechanism. Not all circuit breakers are of this type. The circuit breaker in figure 2-23 is physically large and controls large amounts of power; but the operating mechanism is not a toggle. Except for the difference in the operating mechanism, this circuit breaker is identical to the circuit breakers already presented.

Figure 2-23. - Circuit breaker with an operating handle.

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Circuit breakers used for low power protection, such as 28-volt dc, 30 amperes, can be physically small. With low power use, arc extinguishers are not required, and so are not used in the construction of these circuit breakers. Figure 2-24 shows a low power circuit breaker of the push-button or push-pull type. This circuit breaker has a thermal trip element (the bimetallic disk) and is nontrip-free. The push button is the operating mechanism of this circuit breaker.

Figure 2-24. - Push-button circuit breaker.

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You will find other physical types of circuit breakers as you work with electrical circuits. They are found in power distribution systems, lighting panels, and even on individual pieces of equipment. Regardless of the physical size and the amount of power through the circuit breaker, the basic operating principles of circuit breakers apply.

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Q.34 What is a nontrip-free circuit breaker?
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Q.35 Where should you use a trip-free circuit breaker?
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Q.36 Where should you use a nontrip-free circuit breaker?
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