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Electrical Service Panel Basics

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A View Inside an Electrical Service Panel

A View Inside an Electrical Service Panel

Copyright Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com
Many home renovators may perform some electrical repairs on their own, but they often avoid the electrical service panel. Here are some basics of this oft-ignored but highly essential part of the electrical system.

Is the electrical service panel the same as a fuse box?

Yes and no. It used to be called the "fuse box," "fuse panel," "circuit breaker panel," or any number of other terms. Today, most homes have what we call the electrical service panel, or simply, the service panel. It's not literally the same thing, but it does provide the same function.

Is the term "fuse box" not accurate then?

It still applies to older homes. Older homes still have what is best called a fuse box because they have actual fuses which screw or pull in/out. Homes built between 1950 and 1965 may have these 60 ampere fuse boxes, often with 4 fuses. However, homes today have modern electrical service panels.

So what does the electrical service panel do?

The electrical service panel provides 100, 200, or more amps of power to a home. Power comes into the house from a "service drop," connects to the lugs within the service panel, and is split into separate circuits throughout the house.

Can homeowners work on the electrical service panel?

Most homeowners only have the experience of opening the outer door of the electrical service panel to flip on a disabled circuit breaker. However, it is perfectly allowable for a homeowner to work on the inner section of his or her electrical service panel. For example, it may be necessary for the homeowner to remove and replace a circuit breaker.

What is inside the electrical service panel?

After removing the outer panel, the homeowner will see: 1.) lugs connecting to the service drop, 2.) roughly 20-30 circuit breakers or spaces for circuit breakers, 3.) a tangle of wires. It is far less complicated than you might think.

Is it dangerous to work on the electrical service panel?

Yes. Unlike the shock from a receptacle (which may or may not be fatal), a shock from the lugs will most certainly be fatal or seriously hurt you.

I don't have enough circuit breakers inside my electrical service panel. Can I add some?

It is doubtful that all of the available spaces are taken up by circuit breakers. So, yes, it is possible to add more circuit breakers if there are more spaces. Generally, you can determine if there are more spaces by looking at the metal "knock-outs" on the panel itself. Any space that is not knocked out is available to put in another circuit breaker.
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