Familiarizing yourself with the basic parts and functions of your breaker box is an important step in protecting your home. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to deal with a problem if it occurs in the future.
Accessible Parts of an Electrical Panel
Unless you are an electrician these are the only parts of the panel you should ever touch.
Main Breaker / Disconnect Switch: Also known as the main breaker, this is where the power enters the home and controls the power for the entire house. It is typically located at the very top or bottom of the breaker box and is larger than the other circuits. In any emergency that requires the house’s power to be shut off completely, this needs to be switched into the off position. (Note: this switch may need to be turned on after the power company connects or reconnects a residence).
Circuit breakers: These control how the power is distributed throughout the house. Each breaker usually controls 120 volts with designated circuits for appliances including the dishwasher, washing machine, and furnace. Other circuits power several lights or outlets in a room, and then there are joined circuits that power the 240 volt outlets used by the range, water heater, and dryer.
Inaccessible Parts of an Electrical Panel (do not touch!)
While it is unlikely that you would ever see the inside of an electrical panel it is good to familiarize yourself with some basics. Most importantly never open an electrical panel without shutting off the main breaker.
Underneath the Circuit breakers on each side are the Hot Bus Bars: This is the site where the thick service wires that feed into the circuit breaker from the electric meter. These are on the left and right sides of the panel.The circuit breakers than snap onto the hot bus has and distribute the power through the panel.
Neutral Bus Bar: A circuit conductor that carries the current back to the source. It is connected to the ground at the main electrical panel or meter and again at the transformer of the supply. The neutral wires will be white within the breaker box.
Ground Bus Bar: Some electrical panels have a bar bus for ground-wire connections and in main service panels is connected to the neutral bus bar.
When to Call for Help with Your Electrical Panel
- 1 or more Circuit Breakers keep tripping. This is a sign of a bigger problem and should be addressed immediately! Leave them off at this point.
- You need a new circuit breaker installed
- You need an upgraded panel
- Before you buy a house – make sure your electrical panel is inspected.
Call your friendly neighborhood electrician at Wentzel’s Heating, Air Conditioning, Electrical, and Insulation whenever you need help with your electrical system.