Electricians call your electrical panel the “main breaker box” or just the “breaker panel”. It performs two important functions: it carries electricity to the outlets and fixtures in your house and it prevents overloads that could cause house fires. It also regulates the amount of voltage (current) that flows through those outlets and fixtures. The power to run your appliances typically starts at a power plant, travels long distances over high voltage wires, then through a local transformer–one of those big “cans” you might see on telephone poles along the road–to step down the voltage, and then passes through your meter and through the main breaker panel in your home.
Your breaker panel is a metal box that houses circuit breakers. It has a door on the front that you open to expose the circuit breakers and other devices inside. A breaker panel can contain anywhere from 6 to 24 circuits that you turn on and off to supply electricity to different parts of your home or business. A single breaker panel can serve an entire house or there may be a sub-panel serving only a specific area such as a new kitchen or bathroom.
You’ll find a main breaker switch on top that controls all of the other breakers in the panel. The main breaker will have a number identifying its amperage capacity, which is usually 100 amps. In older homes, you may have fuses instead of breakers. You’ll also find several switches labelled with numbers indicating their amperage, such as 15, 20, and 30 amp breakers, which control standard outlets or lighting, as well as higher amperage (30, 40, and 50) circuits for high-use outlets like dishwashers and laundry washers.
Each breaker switch is rated based on the amount of electrical current it can safely carry, and when you flip one of these to the on position, electricity flows from the main breaker box to its assigned space in your house. For example, a 15-amp breaker might control only your lights and standard outlets, while 20-amp breakers could power most of your home’s outlets, and 30 and 40 amp breakers are for larger appliances like dryers or washing machines.
Some breaker panels have tandem circuit breakers, which fit in the same slot as regular breakers but can serve two separate circuits. This allows you to easily increase the number of outlets in your house without having to install a larger service panel.
A breaker panel can also have push buttons and pilot lights that allow you to start and stop production, or provide status updates, in your industrial setting. These can be a useful tool in controlling costs by reducing the amount of time technicians have to spend on maintenance and troubleshooting issues.
If you’re able to access the inside of your breaker panel, it’s a good idea to label all of the breakers and their amperage ratings as soon as you move in or add a device. This will help you identify which breakers need to be turned off when an appliance or circuit trips and will make it easier for you to determine what caused the trip in the first place.