Eight Facts about Your Electrical Service Panel
A circuit breaker box, electrical service panel, or load center are all terms which refer to the same thing: a metal box which distributes the power to different areas of your home. It contains the circuit breakers which protect the wiring in each of these areas from an overload situation. Here are some facts about your breaker box which may give you a basic understanding of it:
1) The function of your circuit breaker box is to regulate the amount of power coming into your home and where it goes safely.
2) If a homeowner tries to plug in too many electrical appliances, or there is a short, the circuit breaker ‘trips’ and the power is cut, which saves the electrical wiring, delicate electronic devices and appliances from frying.
3) The main breaker feeds the power to each of the circuits, and protects them by limiting the amount of power coming in. If there isn’t a main breaker in your electrical service panel, it may be located near the meter. It is very important that you find it and everyone in the household knows how to shut the power off in the event of an emergency, such as a flood or leaking roof.
4) Breaker boxes are designated by both the amount of power (amps) they handle and the number of breakers they are designed to handle.
5) Because electrical current passes from the power company’s generator plant, through a transformer to the meter and then to the homeowner’s service box, and then through the wires to different outlets and switches, there are many places where a failure in the system could occur. That’s what makes troubleshooting a challenge.
6) Circuit breakers come in different types. A single pole type is designed to handle 120 volts. A double pole is designed to handle 240 volts, typically needed for hot water heaters and other heavy appliances.
7) Circuit breakers are designed to operate at 80% of their capacity. So, in order to plan for having a breaker box with enough amps and circuit breakers to handle your home electrical needs, your electrician will use the formula watts divided by volts = amps to calculate your needs.
8) Even though some breaker boxes in older homes are only 60 amps, the minimum standard is now 100. Many people find they are more comfortable with 150. The cost of replacing your existing breaker box with a similar model or an upgrade will depend on the conditions your electrician encounters in your home.
As society responds to technology with more and greater electronics, some homeowners find their power needs are greater than their electrical service box can safely handle. Even though computers use less power than they used to and even flatscreen televisions use less electricity than the older models, some people are just using more appliances, electric cars, etc. Nonetheless, everyone's needs/households are different and a good electrician will respect that.
Note: If you find your home has a Federal Pacific Electrical panel, talk to an electrician immediately about replacing it. These are a known latent fire hazard.
Federal Pacific Electrical Panels are known to be a fire hazard. If you have one of these, please contact a qualified electrician.