Understanding Your Electric Circuit Panel

If you do not know where your electric circuit panel is, this article will help you locate it and understand what you need to know about it.

The electric panel distributes electric power to lights, outlets and appliances throughout your home and protects each circuit separately with a fuse or circuit breaker, which shuts off the power in case of an electrical short.

Your electrical panel can be located in many different locations in a home, it generally has a greyish or white cover with a swing door, although you may find that your panel has been painted a different color, boxed in or covered with a painting or something else to hide it.

If you have an overhead power line coming to your home from the utility poles along the street, you can follow that line to find the electric meter (which most of the time will be on the outside of the house), this will help in locating your electric panel.

Places to look to find your electric panel:

  • Outside of your house – You may find the Circuit panel next to or attached to the meter.
  • In the Garage – If you found the electric meter and it is on the outside garage wall, there is a good chance the circuit panel is in the garage on the same wall.
  • In the Basement – If you have a basement, look for the panel in the same area as you found the meter outside.
  • In a Closet – In many smaller homes, that do not have garages or basements, you may find the panel in a utility closet or pantry.
  • In a Hallway – In older homes and apartments, you may find the electric panel in the hall way leading to the bedrooms or den.
  • In the Attic – On the rare occasion, where the home owner wired their own house before building codes, you may find they installed the panel in the attic.

If after you have exhausted this list and you have not located your electric panel, please call a professional, as it is important for you to know where it is located.

Now that you found your panel, you will want to open it and see what is inside. You will have either fuses or circuit breakers.

Fuse Box
Fuse Panel
Circuit Breaker Panel

If a fuse blows you will see a small piece of metal under the glass that will have a separation in it. It then needs to be replaced.

When a circuit breaker trips, the lever should go to the center position and feel loose if you move it. You need to  move the breaker to the off position before turning it back on.

One of the issues with many panels is they are not properly marked, so when you need to turn off the power to a particular circuit or appliance in an emergency you have no clue where to start. In this situation, hopefully the Main Breaker is marked and you can cut power to the whole house.

Making sure that your panel is correctly mark is a fairly easy process but takes some time and best done with 2 or more people and some testing equipment.

Some of the tools that can help in this process are listed here, but you can just use a light you know works or a radio.

A Plug-in Circuit Tester works well for checking if there is power to an outlet.

An AC Voltage Detector will check outlet, light and wiring for power.

My favorite is a Circuit Breaker Finder, which will not only show you if the circuit is working but will show you which breaker belongs to which circuit.

Labeling your panel to include as many items or rooms on a circuit is best. See the video on the next page for tips on accomplishing this task.




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