What Are Electrical Control Panels and How Do They Work?

11 July, 2022
What are electrical control panels and how do they work?

The electrical system in your house is among the most important components. While it is best to leave any electrical work to professionals, it is still beneficial to understand the anatomy of the electrical panel box. 

A properly maintained circuit breaker box is the best way to protect your house and your family against electrical fires.

Know the Location of Your Panel

Metal boxes are commonly used for electrical panels, usually grey in colour and mounted on walls.

Doors are usually found on electrical panels. A series of wires and switches can be found behind the door and are referred to as breakers.

Your electrical panel is often in an out-of-the-way spot. Generally, electrical panels are installed in garages, storage rooms, or laundry rooms. Sometimes, you’ll need to search outside to locate your panel in older homes.

Apartments typically have the panel just inside the unit, close to the front door, or behind the bedroom door.

Homes generally have a single electrical panel, though some may have a subpanel. 

What is the purpose of an electrical panel?

When a circuit is overloaded, the circuit breaker trips (turns off). These safety devices keep electrical equipment (as well as the home itself) from being damaged. 

Overloaded circuits could start fires if the breaker did not trip and cut off the power.

Each breaker controls one circuit; usually, one circuit corresponds to one room or one area of the house. Several devices with a large power draw might have their own breakers, such as electric ranges and air conditioners.

When the load on a breaker exceeds its capacity, it will shut off. A circuit can overload if too many devices are plugged into it.

There are various sizes of breakers according to how much electricity they are supposed to handle. Breakers are divided based on their capacity, much like the electrical service in your home. There are 15 to 200 amp breakers; however, most are either 15, 20, or 30 amps.

There are also voltage ratings on circuit breakers. A single circuit breaker supplies 120 volts, the usual amount for lights, TVs, etc. 

Double circuit breakers have 240-volt ratings. 

Large appliances that consume a great deal of electricity, such as a stove or electric dryer, are included in this category. Electric appliances that consume large amounts of power, such as stoves and refrigerators, should have their own circuit breakers.

Resetting the breaker is as simple as flipping the switch when it trips. However, you can’t just reset a blown fuse in an older home with a fuse box. If it blows completely, you need to replace the entire fuse.

Costs: Should you change or upgrade an electrical panel?

Currently, most homeowners have 100-amp service and need to upgrade to 200 amps. Those upgrades cost around $3,500 to $5,000.

To be certain about the cost, have a professional electrician give you a detailed quote.

Reasons to Upgrade:

  • Insufficient power is provided to your home, or your breaker box has fuses instead of breakers.
  • You should upgrade your electrical service if you have a fuse box or if it is under 100 amps.
  • Several homes are running at capacity with 100-amp service, so you might need to upgrade to 200- or 400-amp service.
  • It’s always a good idea to ask an electrician to estimate how much electricity you’ll be using before deciding whether you need an upgrade.

Regulations for Electric Code Circuit Breaker Panel Boxes

Panels must comply with many standards for safety reasons. Building codes change from province to province and municipality to municipality in Canada, but generally speaking, they require:

  • A breaker box must be at a certain height.
  • A breaker box location within the house. The bathroom is not an acceptable location.
  • A breaker box that is easily accessible. Therefore, the box can never be behind a bookshelf, and it must always be accessible through a clear opening.
  • Labels must clearly identify the breakers. They must identify their amperage ratings and which areas of the house they control.
  • The work on breaker boxes and electrical wiring should only be handled by a qualified electrician.

How should you handle a problem?

Tripped Breaker

If a circuit becomes overloaded, the circuit breaker will trip.

Suppose you are blow-drying your hair while simultaneously watching television and using a desktop computer. 

The circuit could be the same even if they’re all plugged into separate outlets. The breaker may trip due to too much power being drawn.

The following steps should be taken if you tripped a breaker:

  • Disconnect the items that tripped the breaker.
  • The electrical panel box must be opened.
  • Locate the trip breaker. Within the electrical panel, there should be a switch stuck in between the on and off positions while all the rest are still on. The tripped breaker should be the only one off.
  • Turn the switch off completely, then on again.
  • Your electrical devices can now be used again.

If the circuit breaker continues to trip after turning off the offending electrical item, there may be another issue.

Not Enough Capacity

Breakers that trip too often (or multiple breakers) may be due to capacity issues.

When there is only one breaker causing problems, you can fix it by moving some electrical appliances to another circuit. 

In the event you don’t have enough circuits (for example, all of your kitchen’s outlets are connected to one), you may need to add or rewire circuits.

An electrician can sometimes add subpanels or tandem circuits to distribute power more efficiently.

You might find that the breakers in your electrical panel and the walls surrounding it are tripping often or that your panel and walls around it are surprisingly warm to the touch. 

This may be a sign that you need to upgrade your electrical service to 200 or 400 amps. This is potentially an expensive endeavour but occasionally necessary.

The short-term solution to capacity problems is not to run too many devices simultaneously, especially power hogs like water heaters, HVAC systems, or washer/dryer machines.

It’s vital to turn off the circuit breaker whenever you are working with electricity. If you need work done or have questions, call a certified electrician. Electricity is very dangerous, causing about 4,000 injuries each year.

For more information or to speak directly with an electrician in Etobicoke, call Hi-Lite Electric at 416-800-5536 or contact us here.

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