What are electrical panels exactly? Which one you should choose for your property? What can you do by yourself and what do you need a professional for?
Since Nikola Tesla developed his induction motor that ran on alternating current power system and we know that it is possible to transmit high-voltage in long distances, everything has changed. Electricity surrounds us, defines our daily lives, and makes our lives definitely more comfortable. Nowadays, electricity has become so prevalent that it is an essential part of every household and business, because we use and need it every day.
But remember, electricity can be a blessing and a particular challenge at the same time. You need to use it wisely and control or let it be controlled so that it serves your needs. This is where an electrical panel comes into action.
What is an electrical panel?
An electrical panel, also known as distribution board or breaker panel is the heart of the electricity supply system. This is where you can find the breaker switches for your home or other property. It has a crucial role in distributing power safely.
The types of electrical panels
Main breaker panels
The main breaker panel is the mother of all panels. It can be mounted outside – in this case with an extra protection against weather conditions such as snow, rain, sunshine, etc. or inside the building in the form of a metal box built into a wall.
Main breaker panels always have a so called dead front which prevents the operator from touching live electrical parts or wires. Some panels are fitted with a door as well. The function of this, in addition to the extra protection, is that this essential equipment doesn’t ruin the appearance of the inner design. However, you can put a covering on it or hang a picture above the panel, to hide it, it is important to pay attention that the electrical panel must be available anytime without serious effort. . In general electrical panels can be located only in places which the local electrical code allows.
The task of the main panel is to receive the incoming electrical service wires and to route smaller cables throughout the whole property.
Sub panels are also electrical panels that get their energy from the main panel. They are built in when there is no room for more breakers in the main panel or if an additional panel is needed in another part of the property such as in the garage, in the workshop or in the garden shed.
100-amp or 200-amp panels
Calculating the electricity demand of houses is a multi-step, complex process that takes into account the floor space of the house and the large consumers installed in the house.
Basically, houses have a 100-amp main panel and it is enough for all electrical needs of a household. Nowadays there are new-built homes with special needs, the builders install a 200-amp panel to ensure more capacity. In condos 60-amp panels are typical and are enough to supply power.
Electrical panel vs. fuse panel – are fuse panels still safe?
Earlier, fuse panels were also very popular but they are not seen often anymore, because a fuse requires replacement so that the circuit can be used again, but a breaker can be reset as many times as needed. Circuit breakers are unbeatable in terms of the speed at which a short circuit is eliminated. CEB panels or fuse panels were manufactured from the 60’s to the 80’s. The main problem with them besides the fact that they’re quite outdated that they are also hazardous. It can happen that the fuse does not shut off the power and as a consequence the wire overheats and fire can break out in the building.
How does an electrical panel look like?
As above mentioned, an electrical panel looks like a big metal box from the outside. But of course it’s much more than that… the inside is where the magic happens.
What do you need to know about the main breaker?
An electrical panel is at first glance full of different breakers with odd numbers next to them. But there is a larger one, to put it very simply, a big ON-OFF switch, usually a bit separated from the others. This is one of the most important parts of an electrical panel: the main breaker. It has a crucial role by helping to limit the amount of electricity and, if needed, it disconnects the entire panel and hence shutting off power to the entire building. In case of major works on the system, you have to shut off power to the entire house with the help of the main breaker.
What is the purpose of breakers in the electrical panel?
The difference between the main breaker and other breakers is that the main one is designed to handle large amperage load of the feeder wires.
All the other circuit breakers or so called branch circuit breakers have the task to shut off power in the individual circuits of the house if they overload, or short-circuit therefore they protect the wires of drawing more power than they can safely handle.
What is a bus bar in an electrical panel?
Bus bar boxes are also essential parts of electrical panels. Bus bars are metal bars used as a junction or conductive element to distribute electrical power. Electrical bus bars are usually manufactured of aluminum or copper.
How to install and wire an electrical panel? Can you do it alone?
While for replacing a light fixture or a switch you don’t need to contact your local building department, it is not the same with placing a control panel in service. In general, installation and wiring must be according to both national and local electrical codes to ensure all components are installed safely and function properly. These guidelines are for protect people and their homes so it is essential that everyone follows them.
The installation and connection of an electrical circuit breaker panel to the main service wires, is a complicated and very dangerous work if you don’t have the expertise to carry out such tasks. It is definitely not a DIY project of homeowners.
Can you connect a portable generator?
Another frequently asked question is whether you can connect a portable generator to your house. Portable generators can provide energy in case of the main power source goes out. Of course they are not for providing power to every electrical appliances but only for the most essentials like lighting or fridge. It is actually possible to connect a back-up generator to your home but only with engineered plans and given specifications.
What are the requirements in Canada?
In Canada every electrical works have to meet the requirements of the Canadian Electrical Code. In Calgary homeowners are allowed to carry out some electrical works on their own without permit, such as adding a sub-panel or tying in to the main panel. However it seems not so complicated, and many think that they can spare some money by doing these tasks themselves, it is very easy to make a mistake which results in a violation of the electrical code or something even more dangerous. For repairing or changing something in an electrical panel you need to call a certified electrician and the complete work has to be inspected by local authorities. In case of an upgrade a permit is required from local authorities.
Hiring a professional is recommended not only for safety reasons but also because they can navigate the permitting process and ensure that everything will meet all the inspections.
Best manufacturers of electrical panels
There are many different manufacturers of electrical panels. The best ones, which you’ll never go wrong with:
The US Company has a century long rich history in manufacturing electrical equipment of many kind
The European family company has a long past in the business and has ensured that Life is On since the 19th century. At the beginning of the ‘90s Square D joined Schneider Electric.
The Munich-based company has been manufacturing on a broad specter of energy, industry, health-care and infrastructure and got a real reputation for their German precision.
Homeline is a part of Square D/Schneider Electric and is well known for its smartness and innovative features.
Basically it can be said that you can choose any products – electrical panels or breakers – of all the above mentioned manufacturers, and you will definitely purchase a product of high quality. But remember, that not all parts of them are interchangeable, even if they come from the same manufacture family. It can be that a breaker fits a box of another panel and will work, but it will not pass an official inspection. Interchanging between brands is not safe and acceptable.
We can’t emphasize it enough that electrical work is not easy at all and how important is to ask for help and let a qualified electrician to do every works with electrical panels and breakers instead of doing it by ourselves.
Professionals have the expertise and knowledge to make a decision what kind of panel will be large enough to fit all power requirements and electrical safeguards your home needs based on the square meters of the living space, heating and air conditioning, water heaters, cooking appliances, charging units of vehicles and any other loads.
Trust the job to a certified electrician and do not take chances with your family’s life and your home’s safety.