There are no two homes exactly alike… but there are some commonalities from house to house. For example, every home has walls and windows, and every house has an electrical panel. You’ve seen it before, that grey box that’s usually in a dark and hardly visited corner of the basement.
While you might not think about it often, it’s a good idea to know a thing or two about your house’s electrical panel. An electrical panel is like the home’s beating heart. Generally speaking, it receives power from the municipal power supply and distributes electricity to all areas of the house. All the outlets and light fixtures are powered thanks to your electrical panel.
Electricity brings light to our lives, but it also has the potential to cause fires and dangerous situations. Knowledge is power, so we thought we’d give you some info on the basics of your electrical panel so that you can be prepared if an emergency situation arises.
Before you get going, here are some Dos and Don’ts when dealing with your electrical panel.
* Make sure your hands are dry and that you are standing on a dry surface. If there is a leak in your basement, for example, and your power is out, call an electrician.
* Do not touch exposed wires under any circumstance.
* If your breaker doesn’t respond after a couple of attempts, don’t keep fiddling — call a professional.
* When in doubt, always call an electrician!
Now onto the panel itself. Essentially, your electrical panel operates like one big switch, with a bunch of smaller switches inside of it. Each of the smaller switches correspond to an electrical circuit in your home that is operated by either a light switch or a power outlet. Just like a light switch, if you flip a switch one way, you’ll have power. Flip it the other way and the power will be cut off.
These switches, also called breakers, are there for the safety of your home and its inhabitants. They protect the wiring that carries electricity throughout your home from overloading. They also regulate the electricity so no one gets a shock and so that fires don’t start from surges to the system.
The components of the electrical panel are as follows:
The Main Breaker—this is the main power switch for the entire home. Flip it off and power stops flowing. This is handy to understand in case of an emergency like an electrical fire. Most houses use a 200 amp panel.
Double-Pole Breaker—these come in a variety of amperages, depending on the type of appliance or circuit it controls. Most household electronics use 15 and 20-amp: water heaters and clothes dryers use 30-amps; stoves use 40-50-amp breakers and HVAC units will use 70-amp breakers.
Single-Pole Breaker—these are capable of running lights to electronics.
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters—AFCI breakers prevent fires if there is an abnormal or accidental surge in power.
Empty Slots—these unassigned switches can be used if a homeowner accumulates more electricity-needing gadgets or appliances in the future.
Another great tip we can offer is to keep your electrical panel clearly labeled. Perhaps you’ve moved into an old house where the labels have faded or you’ve built a new house and are starting from scratch.
If your electrical panel is not labeled or labeled incorrectly, grab a friend and a start going throughout the house flipping switches on and off so you can see what is being powered. Having an organized electrical panel will be helpful in case of an emergency.
Finally, what do you do if a breaker trips? This means that the circuit is overloaded and the switch popped off as a safety measure. If a breaker does trip, you’ll be able to identify it because it will be in a different position than the rest. Move the breaker to the fully ‘off’ position, then flip it back to the fully ‘on’ position. And then… let there be light!
If you have any questions or concerns about the electrical panel in your home, please do call in a professional. Electricity is not something to play around or experiment with, for your safety and the safety of your home.