View Full Version : I'm using a circuit breaker as a switch. Concerns?

07-15-2010, 11:58 PM
My pool pump, that I wired myself a couple of years ago, has no switch. It's plugged into a GFI at the pool end, but most times I choose (lazily) to turn it off by simply flicking the breaker at the main panel.

So, the breaker gets toggled, oohhh I don't know, 30? 50? times a year.

Is this problematic, or are the danged things designed for this kind of activity?

Joey P
07-16-2010, 12:01 AM
I wouldn't worry about it (ignoring any code issues). When I was on a peak time plan with my electric company I used the circuit breaker to turn my water heater on and off. It did break after about 6 months or so, but I was switching it on and off several times a day. I assume you are doing this because you don't want to go outside, but hitting the test button on the GFCI outlet will also cut power to the outlet and any other outlets that this one is protecting.

07-16-2010, 12:13 AM
Breakers aren't designed to be used as everyday switches. You won't kill it as fast as Joey P did, but 30 to 50 times a year is excessive and will cause the breaker to die an early death.

Switches are cheap. If you wired the pump yourself you should be able to easily add one to the circuit.

Dag Otto
07-16-2010, 12:19 AM
Don't do it, unless it's a breaker designed for switch service. Most are not.

When I was working as an apprentice many years ago,I remember a job where a breaker was used as a switch for outdoor parking lot lights. The night the breaker failed it caused phase to phase arcing on a 1600 amp panel. Guy was lucky to get away with just moderate burns.

Get a disconnect or a magnetic starter for the pump.

Edited to add: Or a switch, if the load is low enough.

Joey P
07-16-2010, 12:23 AM
Or even better, get a timer for it. There's a bazillion timers out there that can be hardwired into the circuit and designed for just this type of application (as in, they can handle the load without a problem).

07-16-2010, 12:27 AM
you will wear the expensive breaker out.

you can add a switch next to the breaker panel.

Bryan Ekers
07-16-2010, 01:14 AM
One day the pool pump will be shorted. You'll turn the breaker on and it'll either snap back against your fingers or start vibrating and throwing sparks, or something fun like that there.

Snnipe 70E
07-16-2010, 02:06 AM
It is not the best use of a breaker. And if you have the knowledge then put in a switch or a timer.

I have seen breakers used as switches and turned off daily for over 25 years with no major failures.

07-16-2010, 03:26 AM
I've had this question in mind too....

Using breakers as switches....

I wonder, does it matter whether there is a load on the circuit at the time when it is switched?

We've got a 220 outlet in the shed, for the air compressor, welder, etc. Whenever we leave, the breaker is switched off (NOT with any motor or welder running). I also switch it off when I unplug one thing to swap in another (only one outlet, but three things that need 220)..also, NEVER under a load.

Would load or no load make a difference in using the breaker as a switch?

Audrey Levins
07-16-2010, 05:18 AM
Oh dear. The bar I work at has outside "over the door" lights that we switch on and off on the breaker, twice a day.

Does it make a difference that these are two 60 watt bulbs? IOW, not some huge lighting/neon/etc display?

FTR this has been going on for a decade....should I still worry?

Richard Pearse
07-16-2010, 05:35 AM
I used to fly an aircraft that had a number of circuit breakers that doubled as switches. They looked like a normal switch but if there was an overload they would switch off. Not a great system as you'd just think you hadn't turned it on in the first place and just turn it back on again. Anyway, I guess those switches were designed to do that.

07-16-2010, 05:44 AM
Whenever we leave, the breaker is switched off (NOT with any motor or welder running).Why would you do this? Seems a pointless waste of time, and excessive wear on the circuit breaker.

Would load or no load make a difference in using the breaker as a switch?Not much. The problem is the excessive wear on the mechanical parts inside the breaker. Switching it off while under a load will cause some arcing and possible additional wear on the electrical contacts, but the mechanical parts will probably wear out first. No load reduces the electrical wear, but that is not the part that wears out first.

07-16-2010, 08:19 AM
When I was doing commercial electrical work cheap stores would opt not to have switches installed all the time. It saves them multiple hours in labor not to have a switch bank put in. So everyday the employees are turning on and off the lights on breakers.

Yes it wears out the breakers faster then normal. Yes turning a breaker on and off under load will wear it out faster.

The breakers will still last for years. A twenty amp breaker is still only like 5 bucks. For a retail store it makes sense to do it that way because the need to regularly have electricians in the store for other crap too, so it's not like they are paying for a service call just to change a breaker when they wear out. Changing a breaker only adds 5 minutes to whatever else they have going on.

At your house switching something with a breaker is fine if you are prepared to change the breaker yourself or are prepared to pay 150 bucks for an electrician to change it.

Switches wear out too but are better suited to every day on and offs. They are also ten times cheaper then breakers.

07-16-2010, 08:57 AM
I think I'll look into timers. Thanks.

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