Home Electrical Basics: Everything You Need to Know

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Electricity is necessary for many people, but it can be hard to understand how it works. It's hard to know what to do when your electrical supply gets a problem. You might not know how to fix it yourself, and you might not be able to get help from professionals right away.

Electrical Basics will teach you everything you need to know about electricity. You'll learn the basics of how electricity works, along with some basic terms related to electrical work. With this knowledge, you'll be able to understand and fix common electrical problems yourself.

Electrical Connection and Meter

The first thing you need to understand about residential panel electrical wiring is the connection point. There are a few different types of connections, but a normal house will have a meter and customer service. The meter measures your household's electricity consumption each month and sends the number to your power company.

Electric Connections and Meter
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The meter is usually located next to the electrical panel that distributes electricity throughout the house. In front of the meter is a circuit breaker to help control electricity in your home.

A big black wire runs underground to your neighbor's house from the meter. This is also an electrical wire that brings power from their home over to yours. It goes through the panel at your house and attaches to a large copper bar called the service entrance conductor. It can be identified by its thick insulation around the copper.

Electrical Wire Types

There are different kinds of electrical wires that you'll notice at the connection point. Here are some of them.

Electrical Wire Types
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  • Black Wires: These are called “hot wires” because electricity is pushed through them. They are always on, whether the power switch for that circuit is on or off. Black wires carry high voltage and low amperage to your lights or appliances.
  • Red Wires: They're called ”neutral” because they return the electricity back to the utility company after your appliances or lights use it. The utility company's generator pushes electricity through red wires at a high amperage and low voltage.
  • White Wires: These are called ”grounding wires” because they provide an alternate path for electricity to push back to the ground, usually the concrete outside your house. This helps prevent electricity from pushing through you in case of an electrical malfunction.
  • Green Wires: These wires are connected to the grounding terminal found at the outlet box. They provide a way to shut off the current of electricity going into any electrical device.
  • Yellow Wires: Blue and yellow wires are used for heavy appliances like stoves and ovens. These wires are required to provide a minimum amount of electricity required by these appliances, which is more than the lights, or other low-energy devices would need.
  • Bare Copper: Finally, there's the bare copper wire that is commonly used as grounding wires.

The Main Service Panel

This is also known as the circuit breaker panel or the breaker point. This is where all of the electrical wires in your house connect. The main service panel usually has room for 100 to 200 breakers; every breaker controls a different electrical circuit.

There are two types of main service panels: load side and line side. The load side is where each individual wire connects to the panel, whereas the line side contains the main power line coming into the house. The load side is where you should be performing any work on your electrical system. You must know that power from these panels to the meter is always live, and you should shut it off before you start working on them.

Main Control Panel
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Some panels have a test button that can help determine if it's necessary to replace the panel entirely or just upgrade its circuit breakers. If this button works, use it to test each breaker, in turn, to see if it stops the flow of electricity. If it doesn't, you'll know the breaker needs to be replaced.

The Disconnect Switch

The disconnect switch is usually installed in many homes to serve safety purposes. The switch is found inside the main panel and is usually installed inside a narrow metal box or cut into the wall. If you don't have one, you can install one yourself by following your local safety codes for electrical work.

To test if this switch works properly, turn off all appliances, including air conditioners or heaters. Open up your main electrical panel and look for the switch. Once you find it, turn off its main power supply by throwing all of its breakers to the “off” position.

Now use a voltage tester and test if the switch will open when you throw its main breaker. All switches can be reset after they are turned off, so make sure to test this switch every week. If this switch does not open when you throw its breaker, get a qualified electrician to fix it for you.

Electrical Boxes

This is usually a plastic or metal box placed inside your home. It usually has many fuses or breakers that will trip if the power gets too high, and it also has wiring that goes to various rooms throughout your home. Every room in your home should have at least one junction box (a junction box is a smaller, plastic electrical box).

Electrical Boxes
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These boxes have wires going to them that are usually color-coded. If you have a 3-way switch, there will be two more white wires coming out of this junction box. A 4-way switch will have three additional white wires.

Electrical Outlet

Electrical outlets or receptacles provide power to the devices or appliances plugged into your home. One basic home wiring basic you should know is how to wire an outlet. Home outlets come in 15-amp and 20-amp. The wiring color codes and outlet types are different for 15-amp and 20-amp.

The standard home outlet has two vertical slots and one horizontal slot in the middle. The left slot is wider than the other two to accommodate a wide blade plug. The right side slot has a round grounding hole below it, while the middle one has no such cut-out. As such, depending on which slot you plug into, the outlet is designated for either a 15-amp or 20-amp load.

Electrical Switches

Switches are devices used to turn the power on and off. They are located near the entry point of electricity, either outdoors at the main breaker box or indoors in a room. Switches often use screws (a screwdriver is included) to allow for manual control. Many switches also come with an electrical box when mounted on a wall. In these cases, wires from the power lines connect directly to their respective lugs on the switch.

Electrical Switches
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As with outlets, switches come in 15-amp and 20-amp versions. Switches are marked as such — a small triangle accompanies the number to indicate its amperage load.

Common Household Electrical Problems

You're likely to experience many problems with your household electrical supply. Most of these problems are common with old wiring systems. Some of them include flayed insulation for lack of proper grounding. Most of these wires were not made to handle modern heavy-duty appliances.

However, even with the new wiring system, you're also not immune to home electrical problems. Some of the common ones include;

  • Frequent electrical surges result from overloading of circuits, faulty appliances, or damaged power lines.
  • Circuits fail to switch on when turned on for the first time after a power outage. This occurs because household appliances and other devices still draw power from the outlets even when switched off.
  • Circuits that stay on after the appliances they serve have been turned off. This is a sign of an electrical wiring problem.
  • Wiring system malfunctions like blooming switches, faulty ground wires, and broken circuit breakers can all contribute to your home's electrical problems.
  • Light bulbs are burning out often.
  • Too bright or too dim lights

How Much do Electrical Projects Cost?

If you're thinking of wiring your home, it's important to understand electrical project costs to be prepared. If you're wiring your home from scratch, expect the project to cost between $2,000 and $4,000. This estimate includes labor, materials, supply runs, new outlets, and switches.

Depending on how much work is needed to make your home safe for electricity, you may be able to do it yourself or hire an electrical contractor. If the wiring needs repair instead of replacement, you can save a good bit of money with some tinkering.

Final Verdict on Home Electrical Basics

Residential electrical supply isn't as complicated as industrial ones. However, it's not always safe to work on electrical wiring yourself without any training. Getting an electrical contractor is the best option if you're not sure about doing it yourself. If you're willing to take the risk, then there are lots of information available online to help you out with your project.

 

Kristina Perrin

Kristina Perrin

Kristina is a stay-at-home-mom and an expert chef. When she's not cooking or experimenting with new recipes, you can find her writing about her favorite kitchen appliances on Kitchen Infinity blog.

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