Most of us refer to our home’s main electrical panel as the breaker box. This is because it breaks the circuit which is required to do electrical work. However, it’s technically referred to as the load center.
Overview of the Main Panel
The main panel functions like a switchboard for the entire home. Essentially, it takes the power coming from the main utility and directs it toward each of the circuits powering appliances, lights and other devices in the home.
Most homes function with one main electrical panel, but others will have subpanels that are used to power specific areas like an addition or a detached garage.
Circuit Breaker Switches
Open the door of the electrical panel and inside you will see a series of switches for each circuit breaker. Each circuit breaker has an on and off position that allows you to manually control the power to the circuit.
When a circuit is overloaded, the switch moves to a neutral third position between on and off. This is a good thing and is designed to fail safely to prevent fires.
Each switch should be clearly labeled depicting which area or appliance it is connected to.
Older homes predating the 1960’s may have fuses versus circuit breakers.
Beneath the Dead Front Cover
Most homeowners never go below the layer of the electrical panel where the circuit breaker switches are located. The cover where the switches are is referred to as the dead front cover. This is typically held in place typically by a screw in each corner.
To upgrade the electrical panel, an electrician first turns off the power to the main circuit breaker, then removes the dead front cover.
The main circuit breaker is typically located at the top of the panel. It takes the power incoming from the utility and feeds the branch circuit breakers controlling individual circuits. The main circuit breaker also determines the total amperage capacity of the panel. The standard for newer panel is 200 amps.
A bus bar is a metallic strip or bar, housed inside the panel for local high current power distribution. The service wires from the main circuit breaker feed two hot bus bars in the panel. The circuit breakers snap into place onto the bus bars to provide power to the circuits.
Once power leaves the circuit breaker, provides power to your appliances, lights, etc. it comes back into the breaker via the neutral wire which is connected to a neutral bus bar.