If you're not overly familiar with circuit breaker boxes (many homeowners are not), you may be a bit mystified the first time you open your box. You'll likely notice that some circuits have two poles--or what looks like two light switches connected together. Other circuit breakers consist of only one pole or light-switch-like piece. Why do some circuits have two poles, while others only have one? Read on to find out.
Double-pole breakers carry more current.
In the United States, most electrical connections throughout the home are designed to deliver 120 volts of electricity. You can plug a few small items, like lamps, toasters, and computers, into a line that carries 120 volts. However, if you plug in appliances than draw more than 120 volts in total, you will cause the circuit breaker to flip. The circuit flips for your own safety, since pulling more than 120 volts through the wires can cause them to overheat or to surge, breaking your appliances.
There are some appliances which, on their own, draw more than 120 volts of electricity. Furnaces, electrical hot water heaters, and stoves are typically among these appliances. If you were to hook one of these appliances up to a 120-volt line, it would instantly flip the circuit. So, the solution is to hook it up to two 120-volt lines. That's where a double-pole breaker comes in. Essentially, appliances hooked up to a double-pole breaker can draw up to 240 volts before triggering the circuit to flip.
Upgrading your breaker box may help prevent frequent flips.
Now that you know the basics about double versus single-pole breakers, you can use that knowledge to your advantage. Do you have a certain single-pole circuit breaker that always seems to flip? Chances are, you have too many appliances wired into that one circuit. Your toaster, fryer, and lamp, for instance, may draw more than 120 volts when you operate them all at the same time.
Your electrician can fix this issue for you by converting the 120-volt breaker that's always flipping to a double, 240-volt breaker. This gives you more "wiggle room" so you can use all of your appliances without worrying about overloading the circuit.
Most homes have some single and some double-poled breakers in their breaker boxes. Any changes must be made by a qualified electrician. To learn more about circuit breaker type, contact a qualified electrical expert who can give you advice.