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Understanding Your Home's Electrical System

Familiarize yourself with your home’s electrical system

A lot of people won’t plug in their new TV or toaster without reading the instruction book at least once. But many will move into a new home without understanding the electrical system that makes everything work. Would you know how to trip the main circuit if someone was being shocked at an outlet somewhere?

The electric cooperative handles the line portion of a consumer’s service, which includes everything up to and including the meter on the side of the house. Everything beyond that point is called the “load side.” Everything on the load side is the consumer’s responsibility.

The meter measures the amount of electricity your home uses and determines your bill each month. Tampering with it is both extremely dangerous and illegal.

You’ll find your electrical service panel inside your home. It keeps everything inside running. The service panel sends electricity to the light switches, outlets and appliances. If your electricity short circuits or an overload shuts down power, your service panel is where you will go to restore the flow.

Circuit breakers help your home’s electrical system from overloading, thus preventing an electrical fire. (Homes built before 1965 may still use fuses.) The main breaker will cut all power to the home, and the individual circuit breakers administer power to individual parts of the home. If you look in your service panel, all of the circuits and what they power should be labeled. A couple times a year, try turning each breaker on and off. This helps familiarize you with each component of the box and will keep them from getting stuck.

Homeowners should make sure no circuits are overloaded. A general rule when setting up your breakers is to have only one big ticket item on a circuit. That means you would not put your refrigerator and washing machine on the same circuit. If your circuits frequently overload, it may be time to contact an electrician to add more circuits to your service panel.

Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International, Boston Building Resources


Fixing an Overload

Resetting a Tripped Breaker
  • Unplug or turn off appliances in the room.

  • Find your main breaker panel and open the cover.

  • Locate the tripped breaker. A tripped circuit breaker will be in the “off” position or in a middle position between “on” and “off.”

  • To reset the breaker, switch it to the “off” position and then back to “on.” If the problem continues, there may be more serious issues. Contact an electrician to identify the problem.

Replacing Fuses
  • Unplug or turn off appliances in the room.

  • Find your main fuse panel and open the cover.

  • Locate the blown fuse.

  • Unscrew it.

  • Match the replacement fuse with the amperage rating of the circuit.

  • Never replace a fuse with one that has a larger amperage rating. This is a very dangerous practice and a serious fire hazard.

  • Throw the blown fuse away.

Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International


Electric Lingo

When you call an electrician to assist you with a problem, it’s helpful to know the lingo. Here are a few electrical terms to know:

  • Electrical Service Panel: Distributes electricity to switches, outlets and appliances. This is where you can restore the flow to an overloaded circuit or shut down the power to the circuit.

  • Fuse: Safety devices used to protect individual circuits installed in homes before 1965. Each time a fuse is blown it must be replaced.

  • Circuit Breakers: Standard safety devices used to protect individual circuits. When a circuit is “tripped,” it just has to be manually reset to resume operating.

  • Arc Fault: A dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated or stressed electrical wiring or devices.

  • Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs): AFCIs are protective devices that replace standard circuit breakers in the electric service panel. AFCIs provide enhanced protection against additional fire hazards known as arc faults.

  • Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRRs): A wall outlet that features an internal shutter mechanism.

Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International


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