An Overview of the Electrical Service in Your Home
Electricity is a vital part of our lives. We use it in many different ways every day. It is important to understand the basics of how electricity works and how your home’s electrical system is connected to the power grid. Understanding how these systems work is especially important if you plan to make any major electrical modifications or additions. This article will give an overview of the electrical service, or breaker box, and how it works with the rest of the home’s electrical system.
The Electrical Service is the main connection from the utility company to a home. It consists of two 120 volt wires and a grounding neutral. Any flaw in the wire to or from these points could cause an accidental shock or fire. This is why it’s essential to have a professional inspect your home’s electrical service on a yearly basis.
The electrical service in a home can be either overhead or underground. The overhead cable is called the service drop, while the underground line is referred to as a service lateral. Residential homes are usually served with overhead lines, although buried lines are becoming more popular. Whether or not the wires are buried is important, as it will affect the cost of installing a service upgrade or underground conversion.
Overhead cables are typically insulated to protect them from damage and weathering. Underground cables are not insulated and are bare. The service head or meter box is located directly beneath the service drop at one of the lower levels of the house.
Inside the service panel, also known as a fuse box or breaker box, you will find individual circuit breakers with small toggle levers that control each of the different branch circuits running throughout the home. These are numbered and labeled to allow for easy identification and tracking of the total amperage of each circuit. Each of the circuits in a home have specific amperages they are able to handle, depending on the load and wiring requirements.
It is always recommended that you contact a licensed electrician for any service changes or repairs to the main electrical system. If you choose to do it yourself, it is imperative that you are aware of the dangers involved in working with live electrical wiring. It is never a good idea to touch any of the service wires with anything other than a clean metal tool. Screwdrivers, pliers, wire strippers and a variety of other tools can easily transmit an electric shock. Even if the power is off at the meter, it should always be left off until a professional has inspected the service. This is important to ensure that the proper amount of capacity and voltage has been provided to the home. This will help prevent overloading of the system that can lead to a fire hazard. Also see our Home Electrical System Safety Video and our Virtual Home.