What is an Electrical Service Panel? |
Where is an Electrical Service Panel located?
Q. What is a “short” or a “short circuit”?|
A. A “short” and “short circuit” describe the same problem. A short circuit happens when the “hot” wire (the wire carrying the electrical current, most commonly the “black” wire) comes into contact with either the grounded conductor (also called the neutral, most commonly the “white” wire) or the equipment ground (the “bare copper” wire or “green” wire). When a short circuit occurs, excessive heat is generated. A practical example of a controlled short circuit is the spark generated by an arc welder. In the same way, a short circuit that occurs in your home will generate heat and sparks if left unchecked. Thankfully, the circuit breakers in your electrical panel will cut power to the circuit in the event of a short circuit.
Q. What is a GFCI outlet?
A. A GFCI outlet is an outlet receptacle designed to protect you from electrical shock when moisture is present. If your house was built in or after 1981, there is a good chance that your kitchen, bathrooms, garage, and outdoor outlets are protected by GFCI outlets. You can identify a GFCI outlet by the two buttons on the face of the outlet. One button will say “test” the other says “reset”. The “test” button will cause the GFCI outlet to trip (or turn off), and the “reset” button will reset (or turn on) the GFCI outlet if it has tripped. If the outlet will not reset when the “reset” button is depressed, there may be a problem.
A breaker panel, also known as a load center, service panel, breaker box or electrical panel, is a steel box that holds multiple circuit breakers wired to circuits that distribute power throughout your home. Circuit breakers turn the power to your home on and off to protect wiring from damage by “tripping” when an electrical short or overcurrent occurs. You may consider replacing your electrical panel or adding a sub-panel if a need for additional circuit breakers exceeds the capacity of your current breaker panel or if you want to upgrade from fuses to circuit breakers. It’s important to note that a new breaker panel will not provide more power to your home. If your home needs more power overall, use the services of a professional electrician to upgrade the power, a process that will include a new breaker panel as well as other accessories, such as new cables and a new electrical meter. This buying guide will help you understand what to look for when selecting a breaker panel, so you can feel confident you’re choosing the right breaker panel for your needs.
Before purchasing a new breaker panel, take time to assess your present and future electrical needs and plan accordingly. Check with local authorities and your utility company to be sure you select a panel that conforms to code and all local requirements.
Factors to Consider
• Components – Main breaker, circuit breakers, bus bars, neutral bus bars, grounding bus bars
• Types – Main breaker, main lug, sub-panel, transfer switches
• Amps – Varies by need, ranges from 100 to 200
• Circuit Breakers – Single pole, double pole, GFCI, AFCI
Electricity comes into your home through wires that connect to your breaker panel. Understanding the components in a panel can help you make an informed decision when making your selection. A typical breaker panel consists of these primary components:
• The main breaker is a large double pole circuit breaker that limits the amount of electricity coming
in from outside to protect the circuits it feeds. It also identifies your breaker panel’s amperage capacity.
• Circuit breakers are stacked in the panel and have an ON/OFF switch that controls the flow of power.
• Bus bars receive power from the two thick black wires that bring power in from the electrical meter.
The bus bars in turn carry power through the circuit breakers to the circuits.
• Neutral bus bars connect to the main circuit’s neutral wire. The neutral bar provides the contact point
for the white wires that return electricity back to the breaker panel after flowing through the black wires
to power a device. Depending on local codes and configurations, Your home’s main grounding wire
also connects to the neutral bar.
• Grounding bus bars unite all the grounding wires from the breaker panel’s various circuits and connect
them to the ground bar. It is also connected to a grounding conductor that leads underground, the metal
enclosure and, if it’s the main service panel, to the neutral bar; the ground bar is not connected to the
neutral bar at sub-panels.
There are different types of breaker panels to choose from, each of which meets a certain code requirement or application, depending on your area. Check with local authorities to determine which type of panel meets your local compliance requirements.
• A sub-panel is typically powered by a circuit from within the main panel and does not
have its own disconnect.
• The amp rating of the circuit in the main breaker panel must be the same or smaller
than the rating of the sub-panel connected to it. Put another way, if the sub-panel is
rated at 30 amps, the maximum amperage of the circuit in the main breaker would
be 30 amps.
• The only limit for the number of sub-panels you can have is the number of available
circuits in the main breaker panel.
• Automatic transfer switches require a larger initial investment but provide continuous
• Manual transfer switches are less expensive and require you to power up the generator and manually switch the load to the back-up system.
Transfer Switches Buying Guide to learn more about transfer switches.
Breaker panels are identified by the amount of amperage they provide. For example, a breaker panel of 100 amps will only allow 100 amps of electricity to flow through it without tripping. They’re also identified by the number of circuits they accommodate. For example, a 150-amp, 30-circuit panel can handle 150 amps of electricity with room for 30 circuit breakers.
• When replacing your panel you’ll want to match the amperage capacity of your current model, or if your
power needs have grown, upgrade to the capacity you need. The amperage will be identified on your
current panel’s main breaker
• Amps typically range from 60 amps in older homes to as much as 200 in new construction.
• Make sure the wire as well as other devices on the circuit are rated for the proper amps for the install
• One hundred amps is the minimum required by the National Electrical Code (NEC), but 150 is
• While 100-150 amps are generally suitable for most homes, breaker panels are also available in
200- and 400-amp units.
The last factor to consider is to know the number and type of circuit breakers you require. This can vary, based on your needs. When making your selection, be aware that a circuit breaker is sized to operate at 80% of its rated capacity. This means that to operate safely, a circuit breaker rated at 20 amps should only carry a load of 16 amps.
You can calculate the total load for the circuit by adding up the loads of the devices that will run on it. These are usually identified on a sticker or label on the devices or appliance. If the load is calculated in watts, use this formula: amps = watts divided by volts. Example: 1,400 watts divided by 120V = 12 amps.
Different types of circuit breakers include: