How Your Electrical Panel Works

by | Feb 19, 2016 | Blog, Electrical | 0 comments

How an electrical panel worksConsidering the fact that most breaker boxes are hidden in back room, storage closet, or outside of the house, it’s no wonder we don’t think of them all that often.  But consider the fact that your circuit breaker is the first point of entry for power to your home.  Without it, everything would be connected to the same firehose of electrical power.  Your circuit breaker doesn’t just protect your devices; it regulates for them.

Circuit Breaker Function

Most people recognize that your breaker box is a safety device to shut off your power in an emergency.  But it also regulates power to multiple circuits throughout your home.  The outlets you plug into are all set at 110-120 volts, but other outlets aren’t.  Appliances, your HVAC system, and higher-voltage outlets in your garage are typically set on independent dedicated circuits to separate them from the rest of your home.

Large appliances, power tools, and your central heating and air conditioning unit all have heavy power requirements.  The wiring in your home is not able to support these heavy demands (the wires are too thin), so to meet the demand (and save you money on expensive, thicker cables) a dedicated circuit is installed that powers these devices.  The heaviest demands are given their own separate circuit entirely, which is why your HVAC unit is alone while your washer and dryer are listed on the same breaker.

Separating these circuits has the added benefit of making many of your devices cheaper.  Without an electrical panel to separate, adjust voltage and current, and protect against high power loads, each individual device would require specialized and bulky equipment to handle those tasks.

How Breakers Work

Of course, the main function people recognize about their electrical panel is how a quick trip to replace a breaker or a fuse can turn the lights back on.  Your breaker circuit is able to do this because of the effects of current and power in a circuit.  As the power demands on a specific circuit increase, current increases as well.  This increase in current and power increases the temperature of all parts on the circuit.  In each circuit breaker there’s a small strip made from two different metals.  Metal expands as it heats, but it does so at different rates for each metal.  As heat increases, the strip bends until it forcible pushes the breaker into an open position.

Each circuit breaker is set to trip when a certain amount of current is being pulled through it.  For most homes, this value is 15 or 20 Amps.  If your circuit continues to trip, it’s a good idea to switch a few devices out

Signs of Aging or Damage

Some breaker issues are obvious.  If you cannot physically move the breaker arm to trip or turn on the breaker, then it needs to be replaced.  Melted plastic, a burning smell, or broken casings are all clear signs that something is or has gone wrong and should be dealt with immediately.

But you should also keep an eye out for other problems.  If the breaker is in the on position but you still are not receiving power, if the breaker continually trips as soon as it is reset, or if the breaker box feels extremely warm you should immediately consult an electrician to find the fault and repair it.

Reasons to Upgrade or Install New Circuits

Most problems with your electrical panel don’t warrant a complete replacement.  But sometimes an upgrade to a new panel, or a needed installation for a new circuit are necessary.  If you plan to add new high load devices, are upgrading to a more powerful central heating unit, or are building an addition to your home you might need to install a brand new electrical circuit.  Higher power demands sometimes require a new circuit to split the load, preventing an overload.

You may also need a brand new circuit breaker depending the type you currently have installed.  Federal Pacific circuit breakers were installed in many homes from the 50s through the 90s.  These panels are, unfortunately, prone to failure and dangerous electrical fires.  If your home is still using one of these outdated electrical panels, it’s time for a replacement.


Whether you need a new panel installed, want an upgrade to a more powerful circuit system, or simply need a repair on your existing panel, Boulden Brothers is your source for quality electrical work!

Give us a call at (302) 368-3848 for any of your Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania home service needs — plumbing, electrical, HVAC, propane, and more!

Call us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any questions you might have.

For more expert tips on maintaining a safe and efficient home, visit us on our websiteFacebookTwitter, and Google+.

 

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