how to size circuit breaker for motor



When it comes to sizing a circuit breaker for a motor, it is essential to ensure that the breaker can handle the electrical load while providing adequate protection. A motor's circuit breaker must be carefully selected to prevent overloading and potential damage to the motor or electrical system. This article will guide you through the factors to consider and the steps to follow to determine the appropriate circuit breaker size for your motor application.

The Basics of Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are protective devices designed to automatically interrupt electrical circuits when a fault or overload occurs. They serve as a safety measure to prevent electrical fires and protect electrical equipment from damage. A circuit breaker consists of a switch mechanism and an overload protection device.

The switch mechanism allows manual control of the circuit, enabling it to be turned on or off. The overload protection device is designed to detect excess current flow and disconnect the circuit when necessary.

Determining the Motor's Full Load Current (FLC)

Before selecting a circuit breaker, it is vital to determine the Full Load Current (FLC) of the motor. The FLC represents the maximum current that the motor draws when operating at full load. Determining the FLC allows for accurate sizing of the circuit breaker.

To calculate the FLC, you will need to gather information about the motor's power rating and its voltage. The power rating is typically given in horsepower (HP) or kilowatts (kW). Once you have these values, you can use the following formulas to calculate the FLC:

For motors rated in horsepower:

FLC (Amperes) = (HP × 746) / (Efficiency × Voltage)

For motors rated in kilowatts:

FLC (Amperes) = (kW × 1000) / (Efficiency × Voltage)

Efficiency represents the motor's efficiency and is usually expressed as a decimal. Voltage refers to the system's operating voltage.

Selecting the Circuit Breaker Size

Once you have determined the FLC, you can select the appropriate circuit breaker size. The National Electrical Code (NEC) provides guidelines for sizing circuit breakers based on the FLC and the motor's application.

1. Protective Device Ampacity Rating (PDAR)

The Protective Device Ampacity Rating (PDAR) is the maximum allowable amperage rating of a circuit breaker for a specific motor. It is determined based on the FLC and the motor's starting characteristics. The NEC provides tables that correlate the starting method and characteristics with the multiplier that should be applied to the FLC to determine the PDAR.

The starting methods may include Direct-On-Line (DOL), Reduced Voltage Starting (e.g., Star-Delta or Autotransformer), or Variable Frequency Drives (VFD). Each starting method has its own unique multiplier to consider. For example, a DOL starter typically requires a multiplier of 6 while a star-delta starter may require a multiplier of 3.

The PDAR is calculated by multiplying the FLC by the appropriate multiplier from the NEC tables:

PDAR = FLC × Multiplier

2. Continuous or Instantaneous Trip

Circuit breakers can have two different trip settings: continuous or instantaneous. The continuous trip rating is intended for normal operating conditions, providing protection against sustained overloads. On the other hand, the instantaneous trip setting provides instant protection against high-intensity faults or short circuits.

When sizing a circuit breaker for a motor, it is important to ensure that it has both continuous and instantaneous trip capabilities. The continuous trip rating should be set above the motor's FLC to allow for startup surges and temporary overloads. The instantaneous trip rating should be set appropriately to quickly disconnect the circuit in the event of a fault or short circuit.

3. Amperage and Voltage Ratings

When selecting a circuit breaker for a motor, it is crucial to consider the amperage and voltage ratings. The amperage rating should be equal to or greater than the PDAR, ensuring that the circuit breaker can handle the motor's load. The voltage rating should match the operating voltage of the motor and the electrical system.

Installation and Further Considerations

Once you have selected the correct circuit breaker size, it is important to follow the installation guidelines provided by the manufacturer. Proper installation ensures that the circuit breaker operates effectively and provides the necessary protection.

Additionally, it is worth considering other factors that may affect the selection and sizing of the circuit breaker. For instance, ambient temperature can impact a motor's performance and should be taken into account. For motors operating in high-temperature environments, it is important to derate the circuit breaker's ampacity to compensate for the increased heat.


Selecting the appropriate circuit breaker size for a motor is a critical step in ensuring the efficient and safe operation of the motor and electrical system. By calculating the motor's Full Load Current (FLC) and understanding the motor's starting method and characteristics, you can determine the Protective Device Ampacity Rating (PDAR) and select the appropriate circuit breaker size. Take into consideration both the continuous and instantaneous trip settings, as well as the amperage and voltage ratings, to ensure optimal protection. Following the manufacturer's installation guidelines and considering other factors such as ambient temperature will further enhance the circuit breaker's performance. Remember, accurate sizing of the circuit breaker is crucial in safeguarding your motor against damage and preventing potential hazards.


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