We depend on electricity constantly in many aspects of our lives. We rely on our electrical system to power up our appliances and devices to help things running in our home.
When we say electrical system, it includes a whole array of things from power lines, service panel, wirings, switches and many more. The system is designed to acquire power from our local utility down to our homes.
A lot of consumers don’t actually pay attention to how the electrical system works until electrical issues arise or when they need to install or purchase things related to electricity. When it comes to repairs and installations, we recommend that you leave it to the licensed electrician; however, for us, knowing the basics is a must for all homeowners, why?
• For all of us to be educated electrical consumers. This is a big help especially during issues and you have to contact your service provider or electrician, or even when dealing with appliance/device manufacturers. When you are familiar with the terms and have a basic understanding on how things work, it will be easier to clearly communicate with your contractor or service provider. If you know what you are looking at, then using the right terms will paint the picture of the issue faster during calls.
• You will be able to practice a better safety attitude when you understand how things work and have an idea when there is a problem. If you are not aware, you may be looking at a major issue but continue to ignore it just because you do not have the proper knowledge of the basics. This is detrimental to keeping your family and property.
• As mentioned, the electrical system involves a lot of things. You have to be able to distinguish which part of your electrical system is handled by the electrical company, and which side is actually your responsibility (so you’ll know who to call). Though of course if in doubt, a trusted electrician will be able to help you whether your electrical company is responsible or not.
Here are some electrical terms that you should be familiarize with:
Electrical Service Connection and Meter
The electricity that you have at home starts with the meter and power service. Your electric meter could be fed underground or overhead and is attached to the service entrance pipe. It is also the one being tracked by your electricity provider to gauge your power consumption.
When it comes to service (these are the equipment and conductors responsible for delivering electricity from your electric company to the wiring system in your home), there is typically only one in your home with a minimum of 100-amp service needed. Note that in case of issues related to the service, never attempt to make any repairs and call your provider right away.
A weatherproof disconnect is most likely required by your service provider right after the meter connection. This is very important as it will allow you to disconnect the electricity from the utility company from outside your home without going through the electrical panel. This is very useful in case of house fires (you or firefighters can turn off the electricity safely without the need to enter the house)
Main Service Panel/Electrical Panel/Fuse Box/Breaker Box
The main function of your main service panel is to distribute electricity throughout your house. After the power comes into the main breaker, there are individual breakers that will then distribute to the branch circuits.
If you turn off the main breaker, the power will not flow into the branch circuit. While for your branch circuits, in case of issues, like overloading, the breaker will then trip itself off automatically. (Read here for more information on circuit breaker and common issues)
Quick tip on how to reset a tripped breaker
1. Unplug all devices or appliances
2. Go the main breaker panel and locate the tripped breaker (easy to spot as it would either be in a middle position, between on and off, or in totally in an off position
3. Simply reset to off position then push back to on position.
4. Contact a licensed electrician if it keeps on happening
Basically, everything in your house that is using electricity. From the outlets down to your appliances. Your devices are connected to the individual branch breakers.
Your house will have a dedicated circuit serving one appliance only (like for refrigerator, dishwasher) to avoid overloading and single circuit containing multiple devices.
The technical term for your electrical outlets is receptacles. A standard outlet could have 15-amp or 20-amp for general household equipment, and there are special outlets (30 amps or more) specifically for high-demand appliances. Your outlets provide electricity to plug-in devices. If you live in a much older home, then your outlets may have just two holes, while modern houses will have three holes for prongs (which is also safer).
For areas that are near water sources, like in the laundry area, kitchen and bathroom, your outlet should have GFCI (ground fault circuit-interrupter) protection. GFCI has been mandated to be used since the 1970s and has managed to save many people from grounding or electrocution. What makes this type of outlet safe is that it automatically shuts down the power when it detects that there is a difference to the electricity returning from what flowed out.
Another outlet that you home should have especially when you have kids at home are the Tamper Resistant Receptacles of TRRs. Did you know that each year according to the National Fire Protection Association , about 2,400 children suffer from severe shocks and burns? Due to their natural inquisitiveness, many children actually stick items to the electrical outlets, resulting in shocks and burns.
There are different styles of switches, from the single pole down to four-way. There are even dimmer and motion-sensing switches. Their main purpose as we all know is to turn on and off the circuits in a designated spot in your home. Through switches, you will be able to control appliances, ceiling fans, lighting and more.
The main function of your home’s wiring system is to carry electricity from your main service panel to the circuits and devices in your house. If you live in older homes built in the 60s, then an electrical upgrade, which will include your wiring system, should be one of your top priorities.
Aside from being able to support your house’s increasing electrical requirements, this will also secure your home by preventing electrical fires. Why? Older homes are using either the knob & tube wiring, which are not grounded and susceptible to damages, or aluminum wiring, which are found to be “55 times more likely to encounter electric fires than houses that are wired with copper”, so the need for electrical upgrades should be in order.
We are definitely not a fan of extension cords and would like to reiterate to homeowners that extension cords should only be used for a limited number of hours and not as a permanent fixture in your home. The main function of extension cords is to of course connect an appliance or device to the main power supply, which is for the convenience of homeowners. But if you notice regularly using extension cords, then call your trusted electrician immediately and have additional outlets installed.
Quick safety tips on using extension cords:
• Use extension cords properly according to its ratings. Is it outdoor or indoor? What is the maximum power it can sustain? If for outdoor use, the extension cord will have higher ampere ratings and has extra protective coatings to resist outdoor environment.
• Always check for damages before using. If you notice that your extension cord is hot or there are signs of damage, don’t risk it.
• To avoid the possibility of electrical fires and damage to insulation of your electrical cords, do not use them through ceiling, walls and pinch in windows and doors.
• To avoid tripping, avoid using extension cords in areas with frequent traffic from people and even pets.
Anything related to electricity could be tricky and even overwhelming. This is why every homeowner should have a go-to licensed electrician that would handle complicated electrical home requirements, as they are trained and have the necessary skills and experience to do the job safely. Do not attempt to DIY unless you are prepared for the possibility of injuries and destruction of properties.
In addition, all the terms or concepts that we have mentioned above will equip you to at least have the basic knowledge on the electrical system in your home. Knowing how it works will help you apply the proper care and would help you spot possible problems.
Also, to make sure that everything is in order with your electrical system, make sure to have a regular electrical inspection and be mindful of possible electrical issues and safety tips to apply to your home.
Do you need to find an electrician near you? Click the link.