Electrical panels have been called many things that mean the same thing: breaker box, electric box, fuse board, fuse box, breaker board, service box, distribution board, circuit box, or even junction box. They all mean the same thing.
Your electrical panel, installed by an electrician either when your home was new, or replaced sometime during renovation, is probably in your basement. Sometimes it is built into a closet in older homes, or in a little cubby with a door. It’s recommended that your panel have 3 feet of clearance around it for safety access.
Your home electrical system begins with the utility company providing wires from their transformer to your property line either with overhead wires, or underground. Once the service wires are on your property, they are your responsibility. The service passes through your meter so the electric utility company knows how much power your electrical service is using in order to bill you accordingly. Once it connects through your electricity meter, the service wires connect to your main panel in the service side of the electrical panel. They connect to what’s called a main breaker. In older homes, it can be rated under 100 amps. All new homes must have a 100 amp main breaker or greater depending on the load calculation of your home. If you have less than 100 amp main breaker in your panel, your electrical system is out of date.
The main breaker protects the wires from overload conditions, such as a short circuit, or too many appliances drawing too much current. The main breaker, if the electrician sized it correctly and didn’t add any extra loads that weren’t there during the calculation, would only trip under that short circuit condition. The main breaker connects the main service wires to the busbar of your panel.
The busbar in the panel is what all the other circuit breakers connect to in order to “branch out” to their circuits. These circuits that feed your plugs, and lights, and other appliances are called “branch circuits.” To safely connect the branch circuits to the busbar, circuit breakers are used as a connection. When adding a new circuit to your panel, an electrician will size the circuit load, install the correct circuit breaker and wire the entire circuit. The individual circuit breakers perform the same task as the main breaker, they protect the wire from overload circuit conditions which would damage the wire, and potentially cause a fire.
Each breaker is of the size and type specially engineered and designed for what is connected to it. If it is for general lighting and power such outlets and switches, it will be 15 amps, and arc fault protected (a fire guard to protect against dangerous arc or sparking conditions.) The arc fault breaker is filled with electronics that send a signal down the circuit to test for dangerous conditions that lead to faults and fires. Special appliances such as your dryer and range use 30 or 40 amp breakers in the 2 pole design, which means they supply 240 volts to the appliance. All of the breakers are designed for special purposes which is why it’s critical to have an electrician perform your residential electrical work, maintenance service, new electrical, or electrical renovation.
Breakers should be tested once a year, by turning them off and then on again along with the specialty arc fault breakers and ground fault breakers. Your residential Calgary/Edmonton service electrician will have the correct tester(s) to test arc faults and ground faults in your circuit and educate your options for testing and bringing your panel up to date.
How Much Money Can LED's Save You?
A surprising number of homes haven’t made the switch to LED lighting. Either by changing their entire light fixture or simply replacing their light bulbs from incandescent or compact fluorescent to LED. Having an electrician analyze your electrical system and review options for upgrading your home lighting system can be a great opportunity to customize your home lighting the way you want. Having LED lighting is the best way to increase electrical efficiency and cut down your electricity bills.
So how much can investing in LED lighting save us as a homeowner? If we compare a standard 60 watt incandescent light bulb with its standard LED counterpart that uses 9 watts of power, already we can see a difference in the number of watts used. That’s about 85 percent less power used. Now imagine if you change all the light bulbs in your home to LED. LED light bulbs can have a usage rating of up to 50,000 hours. Using that 12 hours a day can last up to 11 years, so you multiply your cost savings by 11 years and it adds up to quite a bit!
So what are the physical differences between a LED, incandescent, and compact fluorescent(CFL) light bulbs? Incandescent light bulbs produce light by passing electricity through a filament inside a vacuum to heat that filament. The filament glows and produces heat and light. A CFL bulb, or compact fluorescent light bulb uses a miniature ballast and electrodes to fire electrons into an argon gas filled tube. The argon gas gets excited and lights up. It uses significantly less power than incandescent but more than LED lights. It’s lifespan is also less than that of an LED. LED lights are short for light emitting diodes, which emit a high amount of light when a small amount of current passes through them. Much less of this energy transferred is converted into heat, which means an increase in efficiency. The lower heat generation also increases the LED life.
Dimmers play a critical role in increasing the life and efficiency of lighting power usage. The power used has a direct relationship with the current being drawn. In fact it is a squared relationship. So if we run a full power switch to our incandescent light bulb of 60 watts, it is drawing 0.5 amps. If we run it through a dimmer switch, which limits the power to 50%, it draws 0.25 amps and that equates to 15 watts used. (P=I2R) There’s a lot of math at work for this, but the short of it is that dimmers save you money! Having an electrician in Calgary or Edmonton assess and install dimmers in your home's electrical system can and will save you money.
Electrical power outages can be a major inconvenience for most and a critical problem for a few people. Whether you have sensitive data on a computer or critical health care appliances, having your electricity randomly turn off can have catastrophic results. Surges often accompany these power outages be they scheduled or unscheduled.
Here are some steps to prepare for unwanted power outages. Having an electrician install a whole home surge protector in your panel is the first line of defense against the surges that accompany unplanned power outages. By installing the whole home device in your electrical panel, it can eat most of those power spikes as they enter your home's electrical system. Further utilizing “point-of-use” surge protector strips, commonly a power bar with surge protection to plug our electronics into as well, will help, but care must be taken not to overload the entire circuit as only 12 amps are available for each circuit. Having an electrician analyze your system and educate you on your options is your best course of action to determine how to begin protecting your home.
Your second area of protection for your critical powered appliances, such as computers, life safety/healthcare appliances, etc is to install Universal Power Supply backup systems on each of your appliances. There are many options available with different battery backup times, which during the unscheduled electrical power outages can give you an opportunity to save and backup your work, prepare to suspend online meetings that are taking place, or give your home’s backup generator time to turn on and transfer power to all your critical circuits.
Having an electrician install your residential solar panels, along with battery storage to protect your home from unplanned electrical outages is another option that can be explored with our electricians. Although it currently takes a long time for the panels to pay for themselves, they are an environmentally friendly option. Although it may not protect the entire household load, it can protect a few critical household appliances, such as your fridge and furnace.
The ultimate residential protection from unscheduled, or even utility scheduled electrical power outages is to install a whole home backup generator. Having an electrician analyze and estimate your electrical system for sizing and installation of the generator and transfer switches, you can have your whole home backed up in the event of such power failures, be it long or short. Transfer switches in the backup system automatically or manually switch the power source from the utility company, to your backup system.
Have you ever wondered at what kind of cool technology is available to add convenience and efficiency to your home? Perhaps while watching a movie you saw some neat things take place with automatic lights, or doors, or devices controlled by someone's hand held device. Having a consultation with an electrician to assess your home electrical system for compatibility with such an amazing home upgrade is the first step to bringing that convenience and electrical efficiency to your home. Convenience and efficiency can translate into cost savings as well as reduced impact on our environment.
One of the most common ways we see home automation put into action is our lighting. Having dimmers in place to reduce unnecessary light levels in our houses can play a big role in saving money and electricity usage. When we couple with LED light bulbs we reduce so much of the electrical usage our homes utilize. An LED light bulb, comparing wattage from a standard 60 watt incandescent bulb, uses about 10 to 12 watts. That’s a significant amount, especially if you count up all the light bulbs in your home. Couple that with a dimmer to control that light, you’re saving even more. For example, if you have 40 sixty watt light bulbs in your home, that’s 2400 watts, compared to 40 ten watt light bulbs, that’s 400 watts. You can have an electrician in Calgary or Edmonton go over those numbers with you to find out what the true cost savings would be to change out your light bulbs to LED.
There are a few very neat options to go with when selecting dimmers for an electrician to install. There are stand alone dimmer switches that are for use on a single switch leg, which is one switch that controls one or more lights in your home. Having an electrician replace a single switch to a dimmer switch on your wall can add mood ambiance and energy savings. Moving to a more upgraded option, installing that electrical dimmer in the wall and coupling it with a wireless dimmer switch, that you can take with you. Instead of wiring multiple switches to control one switch leg, a switch paired with a wireless partner switch can add convenience to your new dimmer switch and you can install the second switch anywhere, as it is mobile it can move around with you!
Further growing our options for home automation is bridging our new dimmers together with our home network. Adding the next level of our home automation will bring the convenience of being able to remotely control our lights. Even when we aren’t in our home we will be able to monitor which ones are on or off, and make adjustments as we wish. If you will be home late and wish to turn your lights on for your pets, or have your outdoor lights on to light up your walk into your home, the option to log in on your handheld device and make adjustments to your lighting is very easy. Having an electrician connect the bridge and switches to your home electrical system is the best way to ensure your home system has been installed correctly, and will add value to your home.
When we connect our homes smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to our home network, we have the added value of safety. Remotely logging in to the system we can see or be alerted if we have any emergency situations inside our home. Having an electrician install these in your home is a great way to add peace of mind in your home. Adding the appropriate number of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to all locations in your home that new code mandates, including connecting the new life safety devices to your home’s electrical system is the best way to ensure that your home is as safe as it can be for the occupants inside.
Adding a smart thermostat in your home will further create convenience and value to your home. By having a qualified technician install a smart thermostat and an electrician install the smart bridge in your home’s electrical system, you can program your heating and cooling cycles with ease. Adding remote login can control the temperature in your home when you’re not there, to save energy by dropping the temperature inside when nobody is home, to increase the temperature when you’re on your way home!
Coupling all our smart technologies with even more devices to control our home sound system and home theatre, to security, and smart shades, we can maximize the value of your home, and maximize your comfort and convenience as well as your electrical efficiency. And having an electrician install and configure your new smart home will ensure it’s done correctly and connected to your home’s electrical system safely and properly while educating you for all the options.
In today's world of advancing and emerging electrical technologies, most of our devices and appliances that use electricity in our homes, utilize electronics as a method of control and power utilization. Electronics are the circuit boards inside the appliances that utilize tiny amounts of electricity that are carefully directed around complex circuits inside your appliances in order to perform complex tasks and control what the appliances do. Electronics utilize many different electronic components such as diodes, resistors, capacitors, transistors, and optical electronic devices to perform the specific functions they are meant to perform. Most of these electronics are found integrated within their own appliance and don’t need an electrician to install. But it is important to ensure that the electronics and appliances are receiving their correct voltage to work, as over voltage as well as under voltage will damage sensitive electronics.
How do we know if we are supplying the correct voltage to our many electronics in our houses? Well, thankfully code mandates what nominal electrical voltage is to be supplied to our homes so under normal operating conditions, the power in our plugs is going to be 120 Volts, plus or minus up to 10 percent. You may hear people say 110 Volt instead of 120 Volt and there’s no difference there in terms of functionality. The cords from your devices and the receptacles in the wall to receive them are designed to work with each other so you don’t have to worry about the difference in voltage that way. Another way to make sure you have nominal voltage being supplied to your home is to hire an electrician in Calgary or Edmonton to come do a home inspection on your electrical system. A professional electrician will perform the necessary inspection points of your home to determine if the voltage coming into your home is correct, and assess any corrective action that may be needed to ensure your devices are receiving the correct voltage.
Electronics will eventually fail if supplied with the wrong voltage, either too high or too low. So if we have checked our incoming voltage and it appears to be correct, what would cause the electronics to fail? Power surges. An electrical power surge is a spike in your home's electrical current lasting usually a thousandth of a second. Electrical surges happen for a variety of reasons and we can see between 5 and 20 surges every single day. Some of the reasons for surges are; large appliances turning on or off such as, air conditioners, ovens, dryers, any motors, or space heaters. When these items turn on, they have an in-rush of current that affects the entire system connected to it. You may notice your lights have a flicker when these large items turn on or off, this is what a power surge looks like. Some power surges come from outside your home and are part of the main grid. Things like the supply authority turning on or off transformers as they update their service to customers will cause surges, as transformers are large power loads. Any accidental damage to the supply electricity can cause power surges as well, for example a car accident hitting an electrical transformer, or tree branches falling on power lines. These can be fairly large power surges and may even bypass our surge protector point of use power strips. Lightning is the most dangerous cause of power surges and can cause so much havoc to an electrical system it strikes.
So how do we mitigate power surges on our electrical system? There are a few options for mitigation that work well together. A whole home surge protector can be installed at the panel, in order to intercept and eat the power spikes. An electrician will come into your home to install it right into your panel, there are indicator lights to show it’s working and if it has eaten any power surges. Couple your whole home surge protector with point of use power strips, or plug in wall surge protectors is a second level of protection. Adding a UPS backup supply to electronics such as computers can help when a spike occurs, followed by a power outage, will give you time to save your work and power down the computer. Having a home power backup system in place to cover your electrical needs in the event of a power outage is also prudent, especially if you have a need for constant power without interruption.
The mitigation costs of power surges are a healthy investment to make considering the amount of connected appliances we have in our home. Many of the surge suppression devices have fairly substantial connected equipment warranty, which means the producers stand behind their quality of work. Have an electrician in Calgary or Edmonton assess your home electrical system and provide options for the right solution for your home’s surge suppression needs.
Electricity Saving Tips
With the cost of power consumption increasing all the time, electricity efficiency is on everybody’s minds. Some of the technology available for use in our homes today can offset the costs to operate our homes. LED light bulbs are one of the best ways to mitigate our electrical usage. Each lightbulb switched from incandescent to LED can save us on average $5 per year. Having an electrician install smart switches or even dimmers can further mitigate our electrical costs.
Adding timer switches to our bathroom fans can save energy, as you should be running your fan to dissipate the steam after a shower or bath. Having an electrician install a timer on your bathroom fan can serve as a piece of mind knowing it will shut off on its own if you have errands to run. Same with adding smart switches to lights. Smart switches can connect to your homes wifi network and you can control them remotely if you forget to turn them off. You can also turn them on remotely as well. Coupling that with a smart thermostat can remotely control the temperature in your home further adding to the convenience of electrical savings.
Another tip for electrical cost savings is turning your electronics off when you go out of the house for vacation or even a few days. Electronics such as TV’s and computers have a stand-by charge that is always on waiting for the input to turn on! So they’re always using electricity even when not in use. If you leave any charges plugged in, even if they’re not charging anything, they are still drawing a small amount of power. Having an electrician instal z-wave receptacles to connect to your home network can add to the convenience of remotely turning off your appliances if you forget to unplug them before holiday.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
A crucial part of your home electrical system is your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. New Alberta code requires new homes to have all their detectors hard wired into their electrical system by an electrician. They require a smoke detector on each storey, and in each sleeping quarter. Also a carbon monoxide detector in shared hallways to sleeping quarters. One of the crucial parts of this safety system is monthly and yearly testing. Some of these detectors have replaceable batteries that are supposed to be changed every year, and new detectors have 10 year built in batteries that don’t need to be changed for their entire life. However the life of any of these detectors are only 10 years, the entire detector needs to be changed at this time. They expire because the sensor inside deteriorates, so even though the test button makes the alarm sound, that is only an indication of the electrical components working, not the sensor properly activating.
Home Maintenance Program
In many of the homes we enter, a common similarity between them is lack of home maintenance program. Most people don’t even think about doing any sort of maintenance on their home electrical system. For example, wear and tear on well enjoyed receptacles, a couple of things will wear out. The receptacle tension when you plug something in, will lose that tension and the plug won’t sit tightly, meaning a poor electrical connection, as well as exposed live metal from the actual plug as it hangs out of the wall. Also, if the wires have been “backstabbed” into the receptacle instead of wrapped around the screw connection on the sides, they have a tendency to become loose as well causing poor connections creating heat where there should be no heat. Having a proper maintenance program in place in your home with a licensed electrician is key to preventing dangerous electrical situations before they come up.
Another item to check for is circuit breaker operation. A circuit breaker is a mechanical device in your main electrical panel, installed by an electrician that the amount of current on a circuit that feeds certain devices. It also protects against short circuits, which causes a massive amount of current resulting in an “arc flash.” It is recommended to operationally test your circuit breaker once a year, that means turn it off and then on again. Because it is a mechanical device, there is a chance that the mechanical part inside the circuit breaker gets worn out, and your electrician will be able to tell whether or not your circuit breakers need to be replaced. It is best to proactively replace these items before they become an issue.
Electrical Home Safety
Everyone wants to believe their home is safe when it comes to electricity. We have strict codes in Calgary and Edmonton for electricians to follow when performing any electrical work in your home. However most people aren’t aware of the need for maintenance within their home when it comes to electrical. If you have for example, a switch that makes a little bit of a zapping sound when you turn it on or off, that can indicate there is a poor connection inside your switch. That poor connection creates a small spark, which is actually very hot and will damage the inside of the switch (wear and tear.) This opens up the opportunity for short circuit conditions which could cause a fire and cause costly repairs in your home.