Every home that has electricity also has a device called an electrical panel that is the heartbeat of all electricity running throughout it. Most smaller homes have one panel, but larger houses may have two, located in different areas inside or outside of the home. This panel is the central system through which all electricity flows, so it is important to know how it works and what components perform which tasks.
Behind the Door
When you open the door to your electrical panel, you should see several switches attached to black plastic boxes. These boxes are known as breakers. The breakers should be either placed vertically or horizontally, stacked inside and secured within the panel housing. Each switch performs a different job, and therefore should be marked accordingly. For example, the breaker that controls the upstairs part of your home should have a label indicating this, and a separate label indicating power to your washer and dryer for example. The breaker can be turned on or off as needed. Sometimes it may need to be "flipped" or reset if you blow a fuse or something is not working. It can also be turned off for safety purposes when electrical work needs to be performed by a company like Williams Electric Supply in that part of the home.
The Main Breaker
Along with the smaller circuit breakers, there should be a large main breaker within the panel. This breaker feeds all of the electrical current to your home. It is attached to the meter outside the home, and is what shows the power company how much power your home is using, or pulling, every month. It should appear bigger in size and have two thicker wires attached that are black in color. The two large wires are attached to a double handled breaker and this indicates that it is for the main power feed. Depending on the size of your home or your personal energy needs, this main breaker will be either 200 or 400 amps in size.
There are other important components to an electrical panel. These include:
- The neutral bar and wire which are white in color, and this is where the electricity returns back into the panel. It's designed to help keep the flow of current neutralized when outgoing electrical current returns back to the panel.
- The grounding wire is attached to the neutral bar and is also attached to something like a metal rod or water pipe to help protect the home from damage from events like a lightning strike. All homes must be grounded in order to pass inspection, so this element is essential. It is there to help stop the flow of current from continuing, which can cause fire and other damage.