Whenever you move into a new home, one of the first things you should do is locate the electrical circuit breaker box. This contains the circuit breakers for your electrical system.
The circuit breaker is one of the most important safety mechanisms in your home. Whenever electrical wiring has too much current flowing through it, the circuit breakers cut the power until somebody can fix the problem.
Without circuit breakers (or the alternative, fuses), household electricity would be much more dangerous, resulting in fire hazards and general mayhem when there are electrical problems.
So knowing where your electrical breaker box is a must. For one thing, when breakers trip (shut down) it’s where you go to reset them (though if you’re tripping circuits, you should seek the advice of an electrician as to why). It’s also the place to shut down electricity while electrical work is being done.
So when you make that first find of your circuit box, you’ll want to check if your circuit breaker box has been labelled. Each breaker controls a certain area of wiring in your home. Trip one breaker and you may be shutting down the electricity in the kitchen. Another may cover a bedroom, and so on.
If you’re lucky, the previous owner labelled the circuit breakers. If the previous owner ignored the box, you would have to start from scratch. There’s also the chance that the previous owner did label the box, but not in a particularly helpful way. After all, if a breaker is labelled “Brian’s room,” that’s not much help unless you knew Brian and where he slept.
Labelling your own circuit box can become a rather tedious job of turning off a breaker, and then wandering around the house trying to figure out which electrical outlets have been shut off. The opposite strategy is to turn all the breakers off, then flick one on and wander around figuring out which outlets are now live.
One problem, however, is that circuits don’t always neatly correspond to rooms. A room can have more than one circuit running through it. To label this probably, you may have to write “the north side of the master bedroom,” or “The hall light and the socket in the small bedroom by the closet.”
Other circuits are designated for major things like air conditioning and water heaters, which also need to be labelled.
Looking at your circuit box, you may wonder how all that’s going to fit on the labels. It probably won’t, and you should consider creating a full chart of all your circuits to be posted next to the box.
Most electrical codes now require clear labelling of circuit breakers in new homes and that usually includes a directory of each circuit and what it powers.
Whether buying a new home of labelling the box in an older home, you may want to inventory what electrical devices are on what circuits (refrigerator, washer dryer, water heater).
This is where our electrical contractors can help—especially in a large home with interior and exterior lighting. We can help chart and number your circuits.
A good circuit chart is proportioned like the layout of the circuit breakers (or fuses) themselves and leaves you plenty of room for detailed descriptions of what is being powered by the circuit. Or it could be an actual map of all your rooms, with circuit numbers placed where the electrical items are.
Our electrician can also help you spot anomalies. You may have double breakers in the box that are actually sub-mains, powering several circuits. Or, it could be feeding a “subpanel” (which has a number of circuits of its own) elsewhere in the house that you don’t even know about.
And if you spot something that does not turn off when its apparent breaker is off, then you may have a miss-wiring somewhere that needs to be addressed.
If all this sounds like a lot of work just to find out how the circuit breakers work, it is. And since it can get pretty complicated, and results of wrongly labeling the circuits can be dangerous, it might be something you want to handle with the help of our trained professionals.
Do you live in Gloucester County and need help understanding how your circuit breaker box works? Give us a call at 856.769.3932.