An Electrical Panel is the central hub for a building’s electrical system. It is where electrical circuits are connected to control devices like lights, appliances and motors. It is also where the currents that power them are controlled and monitored. The panels can be found in residential homes, businesses, and factories.
The electrical service panel, or breaker box, is usually located in the basement, utility closet or garage in most homes. It is a gray metal box that has a main breaker on top that can shut off the entire house’s electricity. Below this are two vertical rows of branch circuit breakers that can be turned on or off to supply power to different parts of the home. Depending on the size of the home, there may be up to 24 circuits. These circuits can be labelled to identify which rooms they control, or to help a future owner understand the setup. For example, a label that says “Steven’s room” won’t mean much to someone who doesn’t live there; it will be more helpful to use a clear name that indicates what the room is used for, such as “upstairs west bedroom.”
There are two types of electrical panels: North American distribution boards and European consumer units. Distribution boards are typically housed in a sheet-metal enclosure with the breaker switch handles covered by a door. These panels are designed with a ‘dead front’, which means the front of the panel is not live and cannot be accessed without disconnecting the power. The front can be removed to expose the breaker switches, but a cover should always be used when this is done.
In a typical North American residential panelboard, the three service conductors (two ‘hot’ and one neutral) feed into the main breaker at the top. From here, the current is routed down through two columns of breaker strips to each individual breaker. Each breaker is secured to the busbars using either a bolt-on connection or a plug-in connection that uses a clip.
Most newer houses have a panel that can handle up to 200 amps of current. Older homes have a maximum of 100 amps. If you have more than this in your home, you’ll need to install additional panels, known as subpanels. It’s important that a qualified electrician be consulted to install any additional panels. When a subpanel is installed, it is important that all of the wires are properly connected and labeled. Failure to do this can lead to short circuits, which can cause fires and electric shock. A professional can also help you decide how many subpanels your home needs and what the best layout for them will be.