Most people don't notice their home or office's electrical system until it malfunctions. This is because both residential and commercial electrical systems are designed to be safe, redundant, and usually untouched. Over the years, engineers have continued to advance the safety profile of circuits while also ensuring systems are easy to access when reset or maintenance is required. In the past, fuses and fuse boxes were the most common method of protecting an electrical circuit, later being replaced by the electrical service panel, which is widespread in use today. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about electrical service panels, including their design, function, and common problems that may be encountered.
Electrical panels are metallic receptacles containing all of the home or office's circuit breakers. The circuit breaker is the functional component of an electrical service panel. They are devices that constantly monitor the flow of electricity through a current and can automatically break it if damaging levels are reached. Each of the breakers, which are all separately contained in protective housings, correspond to different areas of the building. Further, every circuit breaker also acts as a switch, allowing the user to control the electricity flowing to various regions of the building as needed.
Grid electricity from the electrical meter is directly routed to the electrical panel before it is then distributed through the building. In the event of an emergency, this line may be shut off through the main breaker found in the service panel. The electrical service panel may be identified as a metallic box connected to a wall towards the back of the building, although newer models may be found inside in a service or laundry room. They are typically grey, although this may vary regionally and internationally. Upon opening the panel's door, there will be one or more rows of smaller black boxes with switches. These are the circuit breakers that were previously explained.
Additional components and wires are often inaccessible to the end-user due to the risk of shock or electrocution, but these elements may be easily accessed by a qualified electrician. The first of these inaccessible components is the hot bus bar, which is where the large wires from the meter feed into the panel. Next is the neutral bus bar, which is a tin-plated aluminum wire termination device that may be identified by its connection to several white neutral wires. Finally, some panels also contain ground bus bars that connect ground wires to the neutral bus bar.
In the event that a circuit becomes overloaded, the breaker will "trip" or cease the circuit to prevent damage. The most common cause of an overload event is when multiple appliances or devices are turned on simultaneously, pulling an overwhelming amount of power from the circuit at once. If this occurs, the user should ensure all devices connected to that breaker are turned off before resetting the tripped breaker by flipping the switch to the on position. Another common issue is insufficient capacity, which occurs when too many devices are connected to the same circuit. This is usually diagnosed by a particular breaker tripping frequently and may be fixed by removing devices from that circuit and adding it to another.
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