A typical homeowner should be familiar with the electric panel that controls electricity distribution to all areas of the home. Usually, the electric panel is ignored, unless it becomes necessary to flip a breaker switch. A breaker switch can turn off power to a specific area of the home, such as a bathroom. This does not affect the electricity supply to the entire home.
Should flipping a breaker switch be the extent of attention paid to the electric panel? The answer is a definite no, for the reason that a defective or inadequate electric panel is dangerous. A defective panel could be the cause of electric fire, with possibly disastrous consequences.
In this article, we explain the basic functions of the electric panel, and why it may need to be upgraded under certain circumstances.
What is the purpose of the electric panel?
The electric panel performs three main functions.
- It distributes power in an individual manner to all wired parts of the home. This makes it possible to control electricity flow to specific parts of the home.
- It has devices (breakers) to protect individual circuits from electric overload, which could pose safety problems and possibly fire.
- It provides a master switch that can be used to manually cut off all power to the home. This may be necessary in case of an emergency.
The electrical panel also provides a connection to the grounding bus, which is essential for protection against lightning, rainstorms or electrical faults.
Why would an electric panel malfunction or fail?
When the panel malfunctions, or fails to perform its intended functions, consumers typically know right away. Lights might go off in one room or outlets might begin arcing.
Here are common failure modes of an electric panel.
- The breakers could have become welded to the bus bar. When this happens, the breakers will fail to trip due to electric overload, possibly causing a fire. Only a licensed electrician should fix such a problem, because an untrained person could be in danger of electrocution.
- The electric panel may be too old, if it was installed more than 25 years ago. It will be wise to have a licensed electrician inspect an old panel, and to replace it if necessary.
How would I know that my electric panel needs an upgrade?
When your circuit breakers trip often, it may indicate that there are too many electric devices connected to one power outlet. In addition, it can mean that you have defective wiring or circuits.
Never use an extension cord to power an electric device that has higher ampere rating. To do so will cause overheating of the cord. For example, using a 5-amp-rated extension cord to connect a 15-amp rate device is potentially a fire hazard.
The untrained eye cannot easily detect problems with an electric panel. When any of the mentioned failure modes (such frequent tripping of circuit breakers) occurs, it is wise to have a licensed electrician inspect the panel. A good source for seeking professional help is U.S. Electrical Services, reachable at https://usesi.com