The Purpose and Function of a Breaker Box

April 4, 2023
Electrical panels in Seattle, WA

Your home’s breaker box, also sometimes referred to as a circuit breaker or breaker panel, is the central hub for electricity in your residence. This box can usually be found recessed in a wall inside a closet, but it may also be located in a garage or other area of your home. A breaker box is how electricity gets routed through your home’s wiring, so it acts as a distributor for electricity that comes from your local power provider.

Manually Cutting the Power

Your home’s breaker box is also where you can manually cut the power to specific areas of your home or shut off power to your entire house. Each circuit breaker inside your breaker panel is designed to trip when too much power flows through it. This mechanism protects your home’s electrical system from getting overloaded.

Whether you turn a breaker off or it gets tripped due to a power surge, great care should be exercised if you attempt to flip switches on the breaker panel. If a breaker box has been improperly installed or you don’t know which switch controls which part of your home, you can potentially end up injured or cause property damage. This is why you’re encouraged to contact one of our qualified electricians at Brennan Electric for any type of breaker box repair, maintenance, installation, or replacement.

What’s Inside a Breaker Box?

When you open the door to a breaker box, you will see an array of switches. Each of these is connected to specific outlets or sections of wiring in your home. Your breaker box should also include a written or printed list on the inside of the panel’s door. This list tells you which switch correlates to which area of your home. You should not see any exposed wiring inside this box. If you do, you’re encouraged to contact a qualified electrician for assistance as soon as possible. Never attempt DIY service on a breaker panel that shows exposed wiring.

What Do Breaker Box Switches Do?

A breaker box switch acts as a circuit breaker. This means that flipping a switch will either break an electrical connection or engage it. Breaking a circuit does more than just turn off an electrical device – it stops power from flowing through the wiring entirely. You may find that you need to shut off a breaker box switch if you’re working with an appliance that uses electricity or when testing an electrical device. For any complex electrical work around your house, contact us at Brennan Electric instead of attempting DIY service.

Protecting Your Home’s Electrical System

A breaker box also protects your home’s electrical system by acting as a fail-safe mechanism in the event of a sudden surge in power. If too much electricity is sent through your home’s wiring, it can overload electrical equipment and cause damage. Circuit breakers are designed to automatically disengage a circuit when too much electricity is introduced. This prevents overload and the damage it could cause, but you are still encouraged to use a surge protector strip for sensitive electronics like televisions and computers. These types of devices may still experience damage during a power surge despite your breaker box tripping a circuit.

Breaker Box Safety

Although you’re strongly encouraged to contact an electrician for any type of electrical work around your home, you can usually safely flip a circuit breaker switch on and off. In cases where a power surge has tripped a breaker, you may need to manually reset the breaker by looking in the breaker box to see which switch has flipped to the “Off” position. Flipping the switch back to the “On” position should restore power, but you should never attempt this if you’re concerned about an electrical situation. Strong storms and lightning strikes can cause circuit breakers to trip, and you should never handle any part of a breaker box during a storm.

What Can Trip a Circuit Breaker?

As mentioned, a lightning strike can trigger a circuit breaker, but attempting to draw too much power from one area of your home can also cause a circuit to trip. Plugging in too many devices that all have a large power draw in the same room and at the same time may lead to a tripped circuit breaker. You may also experience a tripped breaker box switch if your home has too many devices drawing too much power across the entire house.

A circuit breaker can also be triggered when wiring experiences a short circuit. This occurs when the positive and neutral wires of an electrical line touch one another. This shouldn’t happen as a matter of course, but improperly installed electrical wiring or fixtures can cause a short circuit.

How Much Power Can a Breaker Box Handle?

The amount of power your home’s breaker box can safely transfer depends on the amperage it is rated to handle. Many circuit breakers today can handle 200 amps or more, but older equipment may be rated to handle much less. An experienced electrician can inspect your breaker box and components to determine the safe amperage. They also know the local codes in your area that are developed to ensure a safe system. If an upgrade is necessary to handle all of your home’s electronics and power draw requirements, your electrician can also recommend upgrades and replacements.

Signs You May Need Breaker Box Service

Below are some signs you may need breaker box repair or maintenance. If in doubt, always contact a qualified electrician for service.

  • Breakers that trip for no apparent reason
  • The smell of burning plastic or rubber in the air near your breaker panel
  • Lights that flicker or electronics that turn on and off on their own
  • Hissing or fizzing sounds near your breaker panel or electronics
  • Any type of burned spots near your circuit breaker or outlets

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, contact an electrician for service as soon as possible.

Do Not Attempt to Handle Your Own Electrical Work

As with any type of electrical work around your home, you should always rely on a professional electrician for assistance. Even if you think you’ve cut the power to an area of your home, additional wiring may be in the area that still has electricity flowing through it. Merely turning off the power to one area via your breaker panel does not mean that this wiring is safe to handle.

An electrician has the tools and knowledge needed to safely repair, replace, maintain, and install electrical components. Your electrician can inspect your breaker box and test it to make sure power has been completely stopped before working on your home’s electrical system. Attempting to do this on your own could lead to severe shocks that can cause serious injuries and even fatalities. Additionally, DIY electrical work around your home may increase your risk of a dangerous fire and property damage.

Contact Us for Expert Electrical Box Service

Your home’s breaker box is incredibly important, but it can also be dangerous. Don’t take chances trying to handle breaker box components — trust the experts at Brennan Electric for all of your breaker box repairs, maintenance, installation and replacement needs. Our team of experienced electricians can safely handle circuit breaker concerns and provide guidance to protect your home, property and loved ones. In fact, they can handle the complete spectrum of electrical assignments, including wiring, surge protection, and generators. Schedule your breaker panel service with us at Brennan Electric today!

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