Understanding Your Home’s Electricity And Breaker Panels

electrical circuit breakers

Many know the electric box as a metal panel somewhere isolated in the house, with most people keeping it in their car garage. Something you rarely think of until turning your blender on cuts the power to the entire house, and suddenly it’s the only thing you know at the moment. Newer homeowners probably won’t ever need to visit the electricity service box, or maybe once a year.

For homeowners of an older home, a visit to the electricity box may be routine and know exactly what switch to flick, even in the dark. It is critical to understand the basics of your home’s electricity and breaker panel; in the long run, this will see you saving money when doing electrical repairs, replacing outlets, or renovating your home.

Know The Electrical Service Panel

To better understand the electrical service panel, you need to acknowledge that it works as a connection between external wires from the outside line as the power supplier and your internal home electric wire system. As a central point, the service panel distributes power from outside through the primary wire and into exit wires, known as branch circuits, which split the service to the entire house accordingly. It is essential to know that you are responsible for any repairs related to the electrical service panel as a homeowner.

Fuse Boxes and Circuit Breaker Panels

People know the service panel using several names: fuse panel, fuse box, circuit breaker panel, or federal pacific breakers; however, the universal name is simply the service panel. Identifying the different panels with correct names is essential; although they perform the same function, they operate differently. For instance, a circuit breaker panel mechanically differs from the older fuse box, and they are fitted with different switches.

A fuse box uses a push and pull mechanism, whereas circuit breakers are fitted with rocker-style toggle switches, so are federal pacific breakers. Every home is equipped with an electrical service panel, providing 100, 200, or more. Older homes built during the 1950s may still be fitted with 60-ampere fuse boxes, usually with four fuses. Power is transferred into the service panel lugs and then distributed into different circuits throughout your home from the service drop.

Electric Service Panel Location

The best place to fit the main service panel is in isolation, far from all the house’s main activities. You find them in places like the basement, garage, the pantry opposite the kitchen, closet, or the hallway leading to the garage or outdoors. Although it’s not common, you may find this service panel mounted on the exterior wall in the case of a fuse box.

The easiest way to locate your electrical service panel is first to discover the service drop box outside, as well as the service head on the roof. Inside your house, your service panel should be located precisely below the service drop. However, in a home with buried power lines, the line connects through the front or side of the house.

Components to Electrical Service Panel

The service panel has a few components in it, all working together to keep your home energized and lit. These components include Lugs and main wires that connect to the service drop as a power source, circuit breakers, wires that feed on circuit breakers to individual circuits throughout the house, protective covers around the breakers and switches, and lastly, the door panel to open and close the service panel.

electrical circuit breakers

Safety Considerations

Under normal conditions, the service panel is considered safe when closed; it is also safe to touch when the panel is open with exposed circuit breaker switches. The service panel is deemed dangerous when both the protective front cover and door are removed. Unlike a direct shock from service lugs, a shock from a receptacle is not fatal. A shock from lugs has power running from the main wires fed from the service drop at maximum voltage; such a shock can seriously hurt you or can be fatal. Stay away from anything that is directly connected to these wires unbroken.

When the service panel door is removed, you’re not safe from danger even if the main circuit breaker switch is shut off. Remember, the circuit breaker feeds power to the home’s branch circuits and has no effect on main wires coming from service drop and through the lugs connected to it. You may be extra careful and avoid touching the service panel with your hands, take extra not to touch the panel with any tool in your hand. It may be anything like a screwdriver, wire strippers, wire cutters, pliers, or any item that can potentially touch exposed service wires.

Additional Circuit Breakers

So long as there is enough space in your electrical service panel box, you can install additional circuit breakers and circuits. Many service boxes generally have covered extra spaces, however, should your home not have any additional spaces to fill, calling a professional electrician to replace the entire box for a larger one is an option. An easy way to determine if your box has space is looking for small metal knockouts on the panel, if there are any.

DIY Electrical Panel Remodels and Repairs

As the responsible parties, homeowners have the freedom to work on their own service panel, although many seek professional help for safety reasons and experience. Most homeowners only have experience as little as opening the electrical service panel to flick a switch, with no genuine interest in the what’s and how’s inside the box.

Any work that needs to be done on the service panel interior is allowed from the most common, removing and replacing circuit breakers to replacing the entire service panel box for more space or even replacing faulty wires. DIY homeowners are comfortable with replacing circuit breakers under normal conditions and while protective front covers are intact. When it comes to removing the protective front cover to replace wiring, even seasoned do-it-yourself electricians opt for professional assistance to assist.

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