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Suppose I want to reduce risk of a circuit breaker malfunctioning and failing to disconnect a shorted circuit.

What if I install two identical breakers sequentially (one after another) so that if one of them fails the other one steps in and disconnects the circuit? Is there any problem with such installation?

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    As I recall, circuit breakers aren't there to disconnect shorts. They're to disconnect based on excessive load. As it happens, when there is a short, it will frequently cause excessive load, but that's incidental. Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:37
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    Often? Yes. Almost always? Hardly. Circuit overloading is all too common. Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 13:27
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    @TheEvilGreebo Most modern circuit breakers offer both overcurrent and short-circuit protection (as well as ground- and arc-fault protection). You'll see two ratings on the breaker, the normal current rating on the handle that everybody pays attention to. This is the overcurrent protection rating, and it is usually a time-delayed mechanism. The other rating is the short-circuit rating, and is typically 10kA or so. During a short-circuit, current in the circuit will raise very fast. A time delay could be dangerous, so the short-circuit protection is usually "instantaneous".
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 13:56
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    One problem I see is that if the circuit ever loses power, you'll have to check in two places to figure out which breaker tripped.
    – Tester101
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 13:59
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    @Jason The more important question is why was I using a toaster and more than one hairdryer at the same time?
    – bib
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 18:57

7 Answers 7

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There is no problem here.

In fact, this is often how subpanels are configured; the main panel has a breaker that feeds the subpanel, and the subpanel has individual circuits protected with their own breakers. The subpanel will have an amp rating. The minimum of the subpanel rating and the ampacity rating of the wire feeding the subpanel will dictate the appropriate breaker for the main panel.

Appliances that require their own local disconnects (such as air conditioners, water heaters, etc.) frequently use a small enclosure with space for just one circuit breaker. This could be a good option for whatever application you are thinking of.

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    As another example: Many workshop power strips have their own local circuit breaker, which is in series between the house's breaker (of course) and the load. These are often "fast-blow" breakers, designed to fire before the main breaker does and thus save you a trip to the basement.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 4:04
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Most generator manual transfer switch-over panels require you to do just this. The wire coming out of the breaker and going to a load (normally) is disconnected and channeled over to a second panel with another breaker and then then the biter-end coming out of the second panel is tied back to the load. In short, two breakers in series.

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"Suppose I want to reduce risk of a circuit breaker malfunctioning and failing to disconnect a shorted circuit."

If you have a good quality panel... Square D, Eaton, Siemens, etc.. you really have no reason to worry about a circuit breaker malfunctioning in such a way that it doesn't trip if your load is greater than its ampacity. I have never seen this happen to any manufacturers circuit breakers not named Zinsco. In short, circuit breakers work and they work well you dont have to be afraid of them failing. If you are really nervous, install a arc fault circuit interrupter breaker in the existing ones place... any arcing and it will trip. Or an arc fault/ GFI combo breaker that will protect you from every angle.

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Two breakers in series would reduce the risk of one failing in a way that stays in a closed (conducting) position. But modern breakers today have an extreme low risk of this happening. If I were that paranoid, I'd put a breaker and a fuse in series. But I'm not.

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Logically, this makes some sense.

Practically, there is no breaker panel configured to let you do this. You cannot modify the panel, physically, without invalidating the U/L certification.

Actually the system availability goes down for mechanisms in series, because you multiply the individual available availabilities.

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  • Isn't that what he wants? A higher chance of shutdown (either or both would disable), just in case one breaker doesn't trip as fast as he would like.
    – bib
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 13:18
  • What he wants is merely a single-circuit subpanel -- and there's nothing in the NEC or any UL listing that forbids such; in fact, single circuit breakers in dedicated enclosures are standard catalog items. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 2:22
  • There is no single panel that does this (+1). Unbeknownst, the OP is asking if they should install a sub panel for redundant safety.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 21:04
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I have to agree: Connecting two circuit breakers of the same frame size and trip rating in series could be dangerous, depending on the application. When two circuit breakers of the same trip rating are connected in series it is impossible to predict which circuit breaker will trip first on a fault condition or on overload. The proper operation of the circuit breakers and clearing time would be affected. Connecting two circuit breakers of the same frame size and trip rating is simply not a good practice.

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    There is no problem. It's a common practice. See @longneck's answer. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 16:16
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Putting two breakers of same size and rating in series can be dangerous. manufacturers give the short circuit breaking current for ONE device. Modern CB operated with the magnetic force generated during the short circuit. This magnetic repulsion of the contacts is linked to the energy generated during the short circuit. The breakers are designed to open according to this energy generated during the short circuit. the opening time and speed is defined according to this energy. If two breakers are in series it impossible to predicte the energy at the level of the two devices. The energy is distributed over the two devices. And the operation time and openning speed can be slower than with only one breaker. Putting two breaker of same size and same rating can be dangerous.

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    This is incorrect. Breakers are designed to have minimal load on the protected circuit, and to function under a variety of load conditions. If you had two breakers in series then one breaker wouldn't know that the other one was even present, and so would function just fine. Commented May 22, 2016 at 15:58
  • Perhaps this answer is assuming two breakers feeding a circuit in parallel rather than in series as the OP is asking. That's the only part I can figure from the "energy distributed over the two devices".
    – BMitch
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 12:30

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