A Guide to Your Home’s Circuit Breaker Panel
You probably don’t give it much thought, but electricity flows through your home thanks to wiring installed behind the walls. This makes it possible to plug in any appliance or electronic device for instant, reliable power.
The circuit breaker panel—also known as the breaker box, electrical panel, and main service panel—is the hub of your home’s electrical system. If your wiring is properly configured, you may never need to give this inconspicuous installation a second thought. But if your circuit breaker panel isn’t up to par, you may find yourself checking it to figure out what’s wrong. Use this guide to help you understand your breaker box and explore some reasons you may need to have it serviced.
What is a Home Circuit Breaker Panel?
This wall-mounted metal box connects the power grid to your home’s wiring. It receives electricity from power lines, which may either be buried or strung on poles. From there, the breaker panel acts as a central distribution point, routing electricity along different circuits to ensure all outlets, switches, appliances, and light fixtures receive the necessary power.
Where is the Main Breaker Box Located?
If a breaker just tripped, and you need to reset it, you may wonder where to find your electrical panel. Here’s where to check:
- The garage or basement is the most common location for the breaker panel in a single-family home.
- A lower-level hallway, kitchen pantry, or utility closet is a good place to look if you live in an apartment, townhouse, or duplex.
- An exterior wall may accommodate the breaker box in an older house.
Be aware that some homes have two service panels controlling different parts of the house. The subpanel may or may not be located next to the main one. A two-panel setup is most common in homes with large additions, outbuildings, or backup generators.
What are Circuit Breakers For?
Circuit breakers are important safety devices that automatically shut off power or “trip” the circuit if it becomes overloaded. This can occur if you plug too many power-hungry devices into the same circuit. You can also manually flip breakers to shut off power to specific circuits when performing electrical repairs or installations.
If you live in an older house, you may be more familiar with fuse boxes. These precursors to circuit breaker boxes serve the same function—to protect electrical circuits from overloads—but do so by blowing a fuse. Blown fuses must be replaced to reestablish power, whereas tripped circuit breakers can simply be reset.
Anatomy of a Circuit Breaker Box
The electrical panel cover is usually grey or brown metal, with a rectangular door sitting flush with the wall. When you open the door, here’s what you’ll find:
- The main switch is most often located at the top of the panel. If you turn this off, you’ll shut off power to the entire house.
- Single-pole circuit switches usually have an amperage rating of 15 or 20 amps. These are common for most 120-volt household circuits.
- Double-pole circuit switches feature two switches linked together. These have higher amperage ratings of 30, 40, or 50 and are designed to handle 240-volt circuits for HVAC systems, electric ranges, clothes dryers, and car charging stations.
- Empty slots allow additional circuits to be added to your home later.
How to Reset a Tripped Circuit Breaker
If a breaker trips due to an overloaded circuit, it’s easy to reset it. Simply open the door to the electrical panel and look for a breaker that doesn’t line up with the rest. To restore power, flip the breaker to the fully “off” position and then flip it back “on.” If the breaker keeps tripping, contact an electrician.
Signs You Need Circuit Breaker Services
An occasionally tripping circuit breaker isn’t a cause for concern. In fact, the breaker is doing its job to protect you from overheated wiring and potential electrical fires. However, if you notice any of the following problems, you could benefit from hiring an electrician to service your breaker panel:
- Your circuit breakers trip frequently: Try unplugging some appliances to see if the issue stops. You may need to choose strategic outlets to avoid having two high-powered devices on the same circuit, including hairdryers, microwaves, space heaters, and vacuum cleaners. If you still face frequently tripping breakers, you may need to replace your old 90- or 100-amp breaker box with a higher 200- or 250-amp model.
- You notice concerning electrical problems: If you see scorched wall outlets, hear hissing electrical sounds, smell burning odors, spot melted wiring, or feel hot outlet covers, your electrical system could be in trouble. Minimize your electricity usage and call a professional right away.
- The lights flicker sometimes: This is a sign of uneven power flow through your electrical panel. Minor dimming when a high-powered appliance turns on is normal, but continual flickering could signal a problem.
- You want to add more outlets or install large appliances: Your breaker panel may be perfectly capable right now, but what if you’re planning to install an electric vehicle charging station, add a home generator, or create a dedicated home office? For upgrades like these, you need an electrician’s help to add a new circuit or replace your breaker panel entirely.
- You still have a fuse box: If your home is old enough to still have a fuse box, it’s high time you replaced it. After all, breakers are safer and easier to use. Plus, upgrading your fuse box is a great time to have your electrical system assessed.
Schedule Electrical Services
Whether you need to repair existing wiring, upgrade your electricity flow, or replace the circuit breaker panel, Allen Service has you covered. Our comprehensive circuit breaker services can bring your outdated electrical box up to speed with modern power demands. Call us today at 970-484-4841 or contact us online to work with one of Fort Collins’ most trusted electricians.