Ah, the mysterious electrical panel (or, as it is often called, the breaker box) that resides in all of our Calgary residences and businesses. It can be quite intimidating for the majority of property owners, and with good reason. For those who aren’t trained, working with electricity can be very dangerous. We would never suggest anyone other than a certified journeyman electrician such as us at A-Star Electric perform any sort of work on their electrical panel. But it is a good idea to get to know and understand how your home or business’s power delivery functions.
How Electricity Gets into Your Home or Business
Electricity is delivered to your home or business through underground or overhead line services, which transport power from the main city grid to your building through your service point. Your breaker box is provided power from the service point through service entrance conductors.
The brains of your entire electrical system, your electrical panel delivers all of the electricity throughout your home and business, and it does so silently and reliably for the most part. Several branch circuits from electrical panels serve different building sections. One way to think of your electrical panel is as a big switch broken up into several smaller switches, which are actually circuit breakers. If you turn off the “big switch” (or if something like bad weather causes an interruption in service), the panel will not receive electricity from the grid and your entire home or business will be without power. If you turn off a smaller switch, then a smaller section of your home or business will be without power.
Components of Your Electrical Panel
Electricity is essentially a current of electrons carried throughout your building by copper wiring. Note that homes and buildings constructed before the mid 1970s in Alberta may have an electrical system comprised of aluminum wiring, which is no longer being used during construction because of its low heat resistance. Aluminum wiring is prone to sparking, which can cause short circuits and fires. If you have aluminum wiring in your home or business you should consider replacing it with copper wiring.
The components of your electrical panel include:
- On/Off switch – At the very top of your panel you should see a large (most commonly black) switch on its own that is the main on/off for your entire system. A 200-amp electrical panel will work for larger buildings upwards of 2,000 sq. ft., while a 150-amp electrical panel can service anything smaller.
- Double-pole breakers – The “two-pronged” switches are called double-pole breakers and control two separate circuits. They are usually rated for 20 to 60 amps, providing 240-volts to large appliances such as washers and dryers, ovens and air-conditioning units.
- Single-pole breakers – Single-pole breakers are rated for 120 volts and 15 or 20 amps and control smaller appliances, lighting and outlets.
- Wires coming out of the top or side of your electrical panel – Generally there are three different types of wires coming out of your panel: 8-, 10-,12- and 14-gauge. These range in size from largest to smallest, with the largest (8-gauge) serving heavy-duty appliances and sub-panels, and the smallest (14-gauge) serving outlets and light switches.
- Ground wires – These do not carry electricity. They are meant to stop currents from being carries back to into the box by a frayed or damaged wire. Appliances should be connected back to the grounding bus of your box, and then grounded to the earth (and away from your box) by buried ground rods.
- Empty slots – These allow for you to add additional breakers for when you renovate or add outlets and switches.
- Surge protector – Surge protectors stop extra electricity from entering your home due to over-voltage from your power company. Sensitive electronics like computers and entertainment systems can be badly damaged by an electrical surge. Surge protectors can block the electricity entirely or help disperse it through your ground wires.
- Arc fault breaker – These are special breakers that help prevent electrical fires by breaking the circuit when they detect an electric arc.
When You Should Consider Replacing Your Electrical Panel
As mentioned, if your home or business still has aluminum wiring, it is time to switch it out for copper wiring. This is an opportune moment to also upgrade your electrical panel.
You should also consider upgrading your electrical panel when:
- You don’t have enough outlets and are using numerous power bars and extension cords
- Circuit breakers are often “tripping” or “blowing” in certain sections of your home
- You can’t use several appliances at once without tripping a breaker
- Appliances don’t seem to be working properly due to lack of power
- The lights dim when you run certain appliances
Choose A-Star of Calgary for Your Electrician Needs
We at A-Star Electric are a group of certified journeyman or apprentice electricians that are committed to providing the very best in electrical service for your home or business. We offer electrical panel repairs and replacements, aluminum wiring repairs, wiring upgrades, lighting design and installation, electrical work for renovations and overhead line service. Contact us for more information