What Happens When Electrical Service Goes Out?

Electrical Service provides the power needed to run appliances, light fixtures and receptacle outlets in homes and commercial facilities. Most of us take for granted that when we turn on a switch or plug in a device, there will be electricity flowing to it. Those that work in the electric utility industry know what can happen when electrical service goes out. When the lights go off, these brave men and women get to work to make sure the electrons start moving again.

Electrical service reaches your home through two 120-volt service wires that offer a combined 240 volts of electricity (voltage is a measure of the force or rate of flow of electricity). The main electrical service comes into your home either through overhead lines that enter a service mast at your house and pass down to an electrical meter or through underground wiring that leads directly to your meter base.

Once the service wires reach your meter base, they connect to your electrical service panel. The panel is the hub that distributes the electricity to exit wires that serve your home and each circuit in it. It’s the central distribution point that is responsible for the safety of your household and your property.

The amount of electrical power your service can supply to your home is determined by the size of your breaker box and its available capacity. This capacity is rated in amps, and the average residential home is equipped with a 100-amp service. During new construction or when you upgrade your electrical system, electricians determine the right amperage to serve your home by computing your expected power needs and adding an appropriate safety margin.

Depending on the age of your home and how much you use it, it may not have enough space in its main breaker panel to support the demands of all your appliances, fixtures and other electrical devices. An electrician can easily add a subpanel that is fed from the main panel to meet this additional demand.

When you look at your service panel, the space inside is usually filled with circuit breakers that have small toggle levers. Each one controls a specific branch circuit that runs to your appliances and lights. If your service panel has no more spaces to add new circuits, an electrician can install tandem circuit breakers that fit into the same-size slots but provide two separate circuits.

You can find your service panel in a hallway near the entrance to your home or, more often, in a garage or utility closet. It should be a metal door that’s clearly marked with the word “electric.” Always keep in mind that you can receive dangerous electrical shock if you touch any exposed part of your service wires. Be especially careful when you use tools such as screwdrivers, wire cutters, pliers and other hand tools near the service panel.

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