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Electrical Basics 101

Learn The Basics

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We depend on electricity to light our homes, turn on our television sets, and even cook our meals. When the power goes out because of a storm, a short circuit, or another problem in the electrical circuit, understanding what the basic components of an electrical system is a must.

1. Electrical Service Connection

A look at electrical service connection basics.
Tim Thiele

Your homes’ electricity starts with the power service. This is where the electric company connects their wires to your homes’ feeder wires that attach to the meter on your home or power pole. This is the device that measures the amount of electricity your home uses and determines the amount of money the electric company charges you on a monthly basis.

From here your meter either feeds a disconnect switch or a main breaker or fuse panel. A typical home has a single phase service consisting of an “A” phase and a “B” phase, a neutral and a ground wire.

2. Disconnect Switch

A photo of a weatherproof disconnect.
Tim Thiele

A disconnect switch is mounted on the outside of your home close in proximity to the meter on the outside of your home or power pole. The advantage of having a disconnect switch is for safety. In the event of a fire or flash flood, you can shut the power off from the outside of your home verses having to enter a burning home or a flooded basement.

The other instance is having a transfer switch in which you can switch between live power and a generator for backup power.

3. Breaker and Fuse Panels

A photo of an electrical service panel.
Tim Thiele

A breaker panel consists of a main breaker that is sized according to your homes’ load needs. Typically, homes have a 100 amp or a 200 amp service.

A main breaker of 100 amps will only allow 100 amps to flow through it without tripping. In a tripped state, no current will flow throughout the panel. It is the interrupt between the service and the branch circuits of the panel.

This main breaker protects the main service wires from damages that would occur given an overload. In that case, the wires would heat up and eventually could cause a fire.

4. Switches

A photo of electrical switches.
Tim Thiele

Switches are the devices that turn on and off lights and fans in your home. These switches come in many different styles and colors to suit your design needs. There are single-pole, three-way, four-way and dimmer switches. Their purpose is to alter the flow of current to your lights and fans in a home.

5. Outlets

A photo of an outlet.
Tim Thiele

Electrical outlets are used to plug portable devices into. Televisions, lights, computers, freezers, vacuums and toasters are all good examples of devices that can be plugged into an outlet.

Outlets consist of a hot feed, a neutral and a ground. Some outlets are used especially for wet areas.

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