Are Breakers Interchangeable?

Does the Brand You Use Matter?

Circuit breaker
CITYEDV / Pixabay / CC By 0

Circuit breakers have become the choice of people building homes, unlike the times of yesteryear had fuse panels. As you may know, circuit breakers and their panels have many different manufacturers and they all look similar, that is, from a distance. But get up close and take a closer look at each of the circuit breaker types and styles and you'll discover that not all circuit breakers are created the same.

In fact, it's just the opposite. Their slot that snaps into the bus bar is different, the mounting attachments are often quite different, and even their physical shape are very different.

To the untrained eye, they may look the same to most consumers, which causes problems when people go out to buy a circuit breaker for a replacement or addition to their electrical panel. Some may choose one based on the price, which is a poor habit to be in when dealing with electrical equipment. Instead, you should always use the same brand and style circuit breaker as is supplied by the manufacturer. Here's the bad news though, I've seen different brand circuit breakers inside circuit breaker panels from time to time and you just need to know that your safety is at risk when performing this act. 

Located inside the electrical panel is a tag that will tell you what style circuit breakers that are used in the panel.

For instance, the Square D panel may be a QO style or a Homeline style. You need to know whether the circuit breakers just snap in, like most electrical panels designed for home installations, or if they screw to the bus of the electrical panel, usually used in commercial and industrial installations.

Someone at your local electrical supply store or home and lumber store will likely have most brands in stock.Keep in mind that your electrical panel may be dated and there is the possibility that there are no circuit breakers even made for your panel. In that case, I'd turn to eBay for assistance.

Breakers...What's the Difference?

From time to time there may be a need to change a breaker or add one to your electrical panel. Most electrical devices, like switches, outlets and such, can be switched out with another brand without any problems. Breakers, however, are brand specific and require the exact replacement type to function properly in the electrical panel. Because of different mounting techniques, the thickness of bus bars, and whether the breakers are press in or bolt on, it is necessary to use the appropriate breaker for the specific panel.

What's Wrong With Using Another Brand?

Although a breaker from another manufacturer may fit in the panel you have, the differences that you don't see may cause an electrical nightmare. Some breakers clamp over the bus bar, while another bolt onto the bus. Some breaker bases clamp onto a mounting bar, while others slide into a groove to secure the breaker.

The tension that the breaker contacts are set for is brand-specific.

Will Another Brand Fit?

Yes, another brand, say Bryant breakers, will fit into a GE breaker slot. The manufacturer will tell you that they are not responsible for damage to the panel if you use a different manufacturers breaker.

Snap-in or Bolt-in?

Electrical panels come in different styles for residential, commercial, and industrial installations. While snap-in type breaker panels are used for residential and commercial installations, normally, bolt-in breakers are used for industrial installations where vibration may be a concern and a continuously tight contact is needed.

Same Manufacturer, Different Breakers

Square D has a Q0 series panel that has a different type breaker than their Homeline panel does. They both accomplish the same thing, but the construction is quite different.

Notice in the photo how the Homeline breaker(left) physically mounts and how there is no way it could replace the Q0 breaker in the center of the photo. These breakers are even made by the same company, making the breaker selection even more critical. Also, notice how the Cutler Hammer breaker mounts. It too is much different. That means, only replace a breaker with an exact match.

How Do I Know What Type Breaker I Have?

The breaker is maker on the side with type and amperage. If you open the panel door and look on the inside cover of the door, there is a label that should also tell you what type breaker that you need.