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Understanding the Design and Function of Your Home’s Breaker Panel

You’ve probably experienced an issue where you turn on something like a hair dryer or vacuum and suddenly the lights in the room go out. The outlet you’ve plugged your item into doesn’t have power. Whenever this happens, it usually isn’t caused by a power outage. Instead, this means that a circuit breaker has tripped. Most homeowners will experience issues with tripped circuit breakers on occasion. Any time a circuit breaker trips, you’ll need to open the door on your electrical panel and reset the breaker. The electrical panel is essentially the brain of your home. It’s important that you know where it is, what it does, and how it works.

How Your Electrical Panel and Circuit Breakers Work

A breaker panel is what controls and supplies power to your home’s electrical system. A power line connected to the municipal electric grid feeds into the panel. Each circuit in your home is wired into the panel and connected to a circuit breaker. Some older homes don’t have a breaker panel, and instead, all of the circuits are wired into a fuse box. If your home has a fuse box, you should have your electrical panel replaced as soon as possible. Fuses aren’t nearly as safe as circuit breakers.

Your electrical system isn’t one continuous network that feeds your entire home. Instead, different rooms or areas of the home are wired independently on different circuits that each feed into the panel. Each breaker in the electrical panel controls one circuit, and the breaker allows you to turn the power on and off for that circuit. There is also a main breaker in the panel that enables the power to your home’s entire electrical system to be shut off.

Circuit breakers are essential safety mechanisms that work to prevent a circuit from becoming overloaded. They also help to prevent major damage to your electrical system and everything that is connected to it. An overload occurs when there is more power flowing through a circuit than it is designed to handle. This can be extremely dangerous. The additional power can cause the wiring in that circuit to heat up and start to melt or catch fire. Circuit breakers prevent this issue, as they will automatically trip and stop power from flowing through the circuit if it gets overloaded.

You will usually have both single-pole and double-pole breakers on the panel. Single-pole breakers are smaller and power 120-volt circuits. Double-pole breakers are for 240-volt circuits, and these will have two breakers side by side connected by a single handle running in between them.

Locating Your Electrical Panel

Electrical panels are most commonly found in a basement or utility room. Some homes have a main panel and then one or more subpanels elsewhere. Some homes and commercial buildings have their breaker panels located outside.

If you’re unsure of where your breaker panel is, you’ll want to look for a gray metal box with a hinged door on the front. The panel is usually mounted into the wall so that its face is flush with the wall. Knowing the location of your breaker panel is important. You can reset the breakers if any of them ever trip. It is also essential so that you can shut the power off if you have any electrical issues, such as an outlet that starts smoking.

How to Know Which Circuit Each Breaker Controls

Each breaker in your panel should be clearly labeled so that you can know which circuit it controls. For example, a specific room, part of the home, or appliance should be visible. Larger appliances like refrigerators, clothes dryers, water heaters and even microwaves will be controlled by a double-pole breaker. They should always be on a dedicated circuit that only supplies power to that appliance and nothing else. Your HVAC system, including the thermostat, is also on an independent 240-volt circuit.

If the circuits in your panel aren’t labeled, you will want to have an electrician check which breaker controls which circuit and then label everything in the panel. Some circuits are easy to identify, as the lights will go out in one room or part of the house when you trip the breaker. Having the panel properly labeled is again essential so that you can shut off the power to your circuits any time you need to.

If you need your electrical panel replaced or any other electrical services in the Charlotte, Concord, and surrounding areas, All Temp Co., Inc Air Conditioning, Heating, Plumbing, & Electrical is ready to help. We also offer professional HVAC and plumbing services such as indoor air quality assessments, furnace installation, air conditioning replacement, and even the installation and maintenance of wine cellars. Contact us today for any of your home service needs.