The Heart Of Your Home
As a follow up to last week’s article about the parts of a main electrical service, we wanted to expand further on one specific part of the main electrical service, the electrical panel. This electrical device is one of the most important parts of your home, yet is often the most forgotten about and neglected. So why is it important? When should it be replaced or upgraded? What is a sub-panel? Our service experts will dive in to explain all of this and more so that you won’t be “shocked” by electrical problems down the road.
How Does The Main Electrical Panel Work?
The main electrical service panel is what connects your home’s electrical system to the outside electrical wires coming from the street. It is the heart of your home, through which all electricity flows. The power that comes into your home is split into two 120V wires and a ground. Generally speaking, all 120V devices are connected between one 120V wire and the ground, while devices that require 220 or 240V are connected to both wires and the ground. In this way they balance each other when there is a heavy load. There are six main parts to a main electrical panel. These include:
Main Circuit Breaker
This is a large breaker that is usually situated at the top of the panel but can sometimes be located near the bottom or side. This breaker acts like a switch for all of the branch circuit breakers, allowing them all to be turned on and off at once. However, always be aware that even if the main circuit breaker is flipped off, the power remains live between the panel and the utility and that there is still a risk of electrical shock. Reading the label on the main circuit breaker will tell you the total amperage capacity of the electrical panel. The standard for new panels is 200 amps, however it’s not uncommon for panels to have an even higher capacity.
Hot Bus Bars
These are the two metal pieces that each 120V wire feeds electricity to. Circuit breakers attach to one or both bus bars to power them. Single-pole circuit breakers attach to a single bar and supply 120 volts. Double-pole circuit breakers attach to both bus bars and provide 240 volts to a circuit.
Neutral Bus Bar
Once the power has made its way from the service panel and sends power through the electrical devices, any excess power is returned to the service panel through the neutral circuit wire. This wire then connects to the neutral bus bar. The bar connects to the main service neutral and sends the excess power back to the grid. The neutral bus bar also works as the grounding bus bar in many electrical panels.
Ground Bus Bar
Some electrical panels have a separate ground bus bar instead of a combined neutral/ground bus. As the name suggests, it is used to ground the wires from the many circuits by connecting them to itself.
Circuit Breakers are the safety switches of your electrical box and are designed to trip when they detect excessive current. This protects the circuits and keeps the wires from getting hot and turning into a fire hazard. Circuit breakers come in several capacities, the most common of which are 15 amp and 20 amp in residential homes. As mentioned previously, circuit breakers come in single-pole 120 volt and double-pole 240 volt capacities and come in standard, GFCI and AFCI.
These circuit breakers work in tandem with GFCI outlets. These are useful in situations where the outlet is likely to get wet, such as in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or outside use. They are tripped by a short circuit, overload or a ground fault and will cut power to the entire circuit.
AFCIs are similar to GFCIs, however they protect against two kinds of faults–arc and ground. In simple terms, AFCIs protect against fires while GFCIs protect against electrical shocks.
Warning Signs That Your Electrical Panel Needs Repaired or Replaced ASAP
Your electrical panel is designed to last for many years, but you will need to repair or replace it eventually. Signs that you should do this include:
- A warm or burnt smelling/looking panel–more power is flowing through it than it can handle
- Your electrical panel is over 25 years old
- Your home still has a fuse box instead of an electrical panel
- Circuit breakers are tripping far too often
- You can hear clicking or buzzing noises coming from the outlets
- Lights are flickering and large appliances seem to be underpowered
Benefits Of Upgrading Your Electrical Panel
Increases The Safety of Your Home
This one is straightforward. Having an old, outdated, or condemned electrical panel in your home can lead to a serious safety or fire risk. Making sure that your panel is up to date and is receiving regular inspections is the best way to have peace of mind. On top of that, when upgrading your panel you may also save money on your insurance in instances such as upgrading from a fuse box since it lowers your risk.
Provides More Consistent Power To Your Devices
If your electrical service is underpowered you are more likely to overload your circuits. This leads to frequent breaker trips and brownouts, which can kill or severely shorten the lifespan of your electronic devices. By upgrading your panel and service, you will not only improve the lifespan of electrical devices, but also future-proof your home for additional electronic upgrades.
Ability To Add Additional Dedicated Circuits
Some electrical panels may not have the extra space or capacity to add extra dedicated circuits. Upgrading your service or panel will allow you to power your appliances and electronic devices easier by adding additional outlets and circuits. Adding a subpanel to your home may also be recommended, depending on what appliances or devices you are trying to add to your home.
Subpanels, Are They Worth It?
Are you looking to install a hot tub or finally turn your shed into a full-fledged workspace? Subpanels are a great way to extend wiring to parts of a home or outside building that are too far away from the main electrical panel. They work in much the same way as the main electrical panel. However, instead of adding additional power from the utility, they operate off of the power from the main electrical panel. Benefits include:
- Convenience – Circuit breakers are closer to the source, so you don’t have to go as far if one trips.
- Adds more space – They can be a great addition if your main panel is full.
- Lessens voltage drop and saves you money – This is because there is only one much larger line running to your shed, pole barn, etc. instead of several smaller wires. Voltage drop can damage appliances and other electrical items over time. By installing a subpanel you could save yourself a big headache down the road replacing appliances that die before they should.
When attempting to upgrade or replace your electrical panel, it is always recommended to have a licensed professional’s help. Attempting to do so on your own can be extremely dangerous and can lead to serious issues down the road, costing you even more money.
Here at Service Detectives, our service experts are committed to ensuring quality work that will protect you and your home. Give our friendly office team a call today at 618.993.HELP  or book online using the handy button above.
Remember, we care more because your family is our family too!