People often think of electricity as this invisible force that just works for us. You flip a light switch, and the light comes on with no questions asked. You may not give much thought to the electrical wiring in your home until something goes wrong. Then it can be a major headache to track down and fix the problem.
This comprehensive guide will highlight the key components you should be aware of to ensure your home’s safety and proper function. We will outline the basics of home electrical systems, from basic electrical terms to detailing how electrical wiring in your home works. We’ll also give you tips on how to stay safe while working with electricity in your home. So whether you’re upgrading your panel or just want to understand what all those mysterious black boxes are for, read on! Our goal is that you’ll be well-educated on home electrical systems when you finish reading this article.
Electrical Terms You Should Know
As a homeowner, you should familiarize yourself with a few basic terms related to residential electricity. This will help you better understand your electrical system and make more informed decisions about your energy usage. Here are four key terms to know:
Alternating Current (AC)
Most homes in the US are powered by alternating current, or AC. The voltage provided by utilities oscillates between positive and negative values. That means the electricity coming into your home constantly changes direction (polarity). It alternates, hence the name. The utility company supplies the current in your home at around 60 Hz, which means that the current alternates back and forth 60 times per second.
AC is far less efficient in practice than direct current (DC), so it’s not used for large-scale applications like power plants. Instead, it’s used for smaller applications like powering lights and appliances in your home.
The main advantage of AC over DC is that it can be easily transmitted over long distances without losing its potency. That’s why our power grid uses high-voltage AC lines to deliver electricity from the power plant to our homes. Once it reaches your home, it’s converted to lower-voltage AC or DC, depending on what your home needs. The standard voltage in most US homes is 120 volt AC.
Nikola Tesla (the same Tesla that Elon named the car company after) actually pioneered AC.
Direct Current (DC)
A direct current (DC) is an electric current that flows in one direction only. This is in contrast to alternating current (AC), which changes direction periodically. DC is the kind of current produced by batteries, fuel cells, and solar panels. It’s also current used in electronic devices such as computers, cell phones, and LED lights.
In a typical home electrical system, AC from the utility company enters the house through the main breaker panel and is distributed to various outlets and fixtures around the house. In some cases, however, DC is used instead of or in addition to AC.
For example, many homes have DC-powered smoke detectors, and some have DC backup power systems in case of a power outage. With the increasing popularity of solar energy systems, more homes are also using DC to power lights and appliances.
Thomas Edison was a huge proponent of DC power and actually challenged Tesla several times on which electrical setup was better.
An electrical meter is a device that measures the amount of electricity used by a residential home. Many people think their home’s electric meter is simply a way for the power company to track how much electricity they use. But in fact, the meter serves a much broader purpose. It is the keystone of the electrical system in your home, providing information that helps keep both your family and your home safe.
The electric meter measures the flow of electricity into your home and then provides data for billing purposes. But it also serves as a diagnostic tool, helping to identify potential problems with your home’s electrical system.
For example, a sudden spike in your electricity usage could indicate an issue with one of your appliances or fixtures. Similarly, if your meter starts spinning backward, it could indicate a problem with the wiring in your home. In either case, the data from your meter can help you identify potential issues before they cause serious damage or threaten your family’s safety.
Main Service Panel (MSP)
The main service panel (MSP) is the electrical nerve center of the home, and all wiring in the house runs through this hub. This is also referred to as the breaker box in a home. The panel typically contains a circuit breaker or fuse for each electrical circuit in the house. This arrangement provides a quick and easy way to shut off power to a specific circuit in the event of an overload or short.
The MSP also makes it easy to diagnose problems with a particular circuit. For example, if a light fixture suddenly stops working, you can check the corresponding breaker or fuse to see if it has been tripped or blown. Most homes have only one MSP, but larger houses may have multiple panels. Whenever electrical work is being done in the home, it is important to shut off power at the main service panel to prevent shocks or fires.
It’s important to have a licensed electrical contractor upgrade your main service panel to accommodate the increased electrical load.
In layman’s terms, a circuit breaker is a device that helps to prevent electrical fires by interrupting the flow of electricity in the event of an overload. Each circuit is protected by a different breaker in your home’s main circuit breaker panel. When too much current flows through a particular circuit, the corresponding breaker “trips,” halting the flow of electricity and preventing the wires from overheating. This interruption prevents possible fires from breaking out if wires overheat. Breakers are typically either two-pole or three-pole devices; in other words, they can open or close one or two circuits simultaneously.
The main electrical panel contains a number of circuit breakers, each of which controls a different area of the home. For example, there may be a circuit breaker for lights, another for electrical outlets, and another for appliances.
While circuit breakers are designed to be durable and long-lasting, they occasionally need to be replaced. If you notice that a particular breaker trips frequently, it may be time to replace it with a higher-rated model. And if you’re planning any major electrical work, such as adding new outlets or hardwired appliances, it’s always best to consult with a professional electrician first. With a little bit of knowledge about your home’s electrical system, you can tackle just about any wiring project—no shock required.
Understanding some basics about how electrical circuits generally work can go a long way. They are typically composed of a power source, a switch, and one or more load devices. The power source provides the energy that flows through the circuit, while the switch controls the flow of electricity. The load devices use electricity, such as light fixtures or outlets. For a circuit to work properly, all of the components must be connected correctly. Otherwise, the circuit will be broken, and no electricity will flow.
There are two types of electrical circuits: parallel and series. In a parallel circuit, the load devices are connected across the power source, so if one device fails, the others will continue to receive power. In a series circuit, the load devices are connected in a line, so the entire circuit will be disrupted if one device fails. Most home electrical systems use a combination of both types of circuits.
Electrical circuits are an essential part of any home electrical system. They provide a safe and efficient way to distribute power throughout the home. By understanding how they work, homeowners can ensure that their system is functioning properly and safely.
Wiring is one of the most important aspects to consider regarding home electrical systems. Wiring transfers electricity from the main power source to different outlets and fixtures throughout your home.
To ensure that your home’s electrical system is up to electrical code, it’s important to use the correct type of wiring for the job. For example, THHN wiring is typically used for residential applications. This wiring is made from a durable material that can withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for home use.
If you’re not sure what type of wiring to use for your home, be sure to consult with a professional electrician.
Most people know that electricity likes to follow the path of least resistance to the ground. That’s why electrical grounding is so important in home electrical systems. Grounding provides a low-resistance path to the earth so that if there’s a problem with an electrical circuit, the current will go to ground instead of flowing through a person.
There are three main types of grounding:
Direct grounding is used when there is a metal path between the electrical device and the earth. Indirect grounding means an impedance between the device and the earth, which helps dissipate any electrical current that may build up. Differential grounding is used when two or more devices need to be grounded; this type of system provides a reference point for each device so that they can all be safely connected.
No matter what type of grounding system you have, it is important to make sure that it is regularly inspected and maintained by a qualified electrician.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)
A ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a circuit breaker designed to prevent electrical shocks. When a GFCI detects a loss of current, it immediately cuts off power to the circuit.
In the home, they are often used in bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas with a risk of water exposure. GFCIs can also be used outdoors to protect against electrical shocks from damaged cords or faulty outlets.
GFCIs can be installed in your home’s electrical panel, or plugged into outlets. If you live in an older home, installing GFCIs in all of your outlets is a good idea. That way, if there is ever an electrical problem, you can rest assured that your family will be safe.
The easiest way to identify if it’s a GFCI outlet is if there is a “reset” and “test” button on the outlet!
The Basics of Home Electrical Systems
Few home improvement projects are as essential or as intimidating as electrical work. Even attempting to understand your home’s electrical system can feel like learning a new language with its unfamiliar terms and concepts.
How Electricity Moves
Most people understand that electricity is a powerful and dangerous force, but few know exactly how it works. To safely use and enjoy all the modern conveniences that require electricity, it’s important to have at least a basic understanding of how it moves.
Electricity enters the house through an outdoor service drop or service entrance cable in a home electrical system. It travels to the main electrical service panel through an underground service lateral or an overhead service conductor. From the main service panel, it then travels to subpanels and circuit breakers throughout the house.
Finally, it reaches outlets, light fixtures, and appliances through branch circuits. Electricity must be carefully controlled and directed at each stage in its journey to avoid damage or injury. By understanding the path that electricity takes through a home, you can help to ensure that your family stays safe and comfortable.
Most homes have a variety of electrical devices, each with its own unique purpose. Some of the most common include outlets, switches, and light fixtures. Outlets provide a place to plug in appliances and other devices. Switches control the flow of electricity to a particular device.
Light fixtures provide a way to illuminate a room. Other standard electrical devices include smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and thermostats. Each device plays a vital role in keeping a home safe and comfortable.
Homeowners should be familiar with the different types of electrical devices in their homes and how to use them properly. By understanding the basics of home electrical systems, homeowners can keep their homes operating safely and effectively.
Your home’s electrical system powers the lighting in your home. The system includes a circuit breaker panel that contains breakers for each of the circuits in your home. Each circuit has a hot wire and a neutral wire. The hot wire carries the electricity from the breaker panel to the switch, and then to the light fixture. The neutral wire returns the electricity to the breaker panel.
The switch controls the flow of electricity to the light fixture. Turning on the switch breaks the circuit, allowing electricity to flow to the light fixture. Turning off the switch completes the circuit, allowing electricity to flow back to the breaker panel.
Electrical Lighting For Your Home
Electrical lighting is essential to how society gets things done in the modern age. It allows us to see in the dark, and it can also be used to create a unique ambiance in a room. Now let’s take a look at how it works.
A typical lighting system includes light fixtures, switches, and dimmers. Light fixtures emit light, while switches and dimmers control the flow of electricity to the fixtures.
Most homes have two types of lighting:
- General lighting
- Task lighting
General lighting, also known as ambient lighting, is provided by ceiling fixtures such as chandeliers, flush-mounted fixtures, and recessed can lights. Task lighting is provided by floor lamps, desk lamps, and other similar fixtures.
In most cases, general lighting and task lighting are controlled by separate switches. For instance, a room might have a switch that controls the ceiling light fixture (general lighting) and another switch that controls a floor lamp (task lighting).
But it’s also common for general lighting and task lighting to be controlled by the same switch. For example, many kitchens have a single switch that controls the ceiling light fixture (general lighting), and the recessed can lights over the countertop (task lighting).
No matter how it’s configured, all the wiring for the lights in a room will typically run to a single location – normally either a wall switch or a ceiling-mounted light fixture. From there, power is distributed to each of the light fixtures in the room.
The light fixture contains a bulb socket and a bulb. The socket is connected to the hot wire and provides power to the bulb. The bulb converts electrical energy into light energy.
In most cases, each light fixture will have its own circuit so that it can be controlled independently from all the other lights in the room.
For your lighting system to work properly, all components must be connected correctly and free of any damage. If there is a problem with any of the components, it can cause an interruption in the flow of electricity, resulting in dim or no lights.
Electrical Wiring: How It Works
Most homeowners have only a basic understanding of how their home electrical system works. Every time we flip a switch or plug in an appliance, we take for granted that the electricity will flow safely and efficiently to power whatever they need. But what exactly happens when you turn on a light? And how does that differ from when you plug in your coffee maker?
Every home has three main types of wiring:
- Service entrance
Service entrance wiring is the main feeder line that brings electricity into the home from the utility company. Branch wiring consists of the individual circuits that branch off the main line to provide electricity to each room or area of the house. Low-voltage wiring is used for things like doorbells, security systems, and garage door openers.
Within each type of wiring, there are also different gauges or sizes of wire. The wire size depends on the amount of electricity that needs to be carried and the distance it needs to travel. For example, the service entrance wire is typically much larger than the branch wire because it has to carry more electricity over a longer distance.
Lastly, circling back to the beginning of this article, all electrical wiring is either AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current). Most appliances in your home run on AC power, which means the electricity alternates direction many times per second. DC power, on the other hand, flows in one direction only.
The type of electrical cable used in a home is important for a variety of reasons:
- It must be able to handle the amount of electricity flowing through it.
- It must be durable enough to withstand the elements and any potential damage.
- It should be easy to work with, so any repairs or additions can be made quickly and easily.
Currently, the most common type of cable that is sure to be in the majority of homes is the NM-B cable, commonly known as Romex. Romex is a type of non-metallic sheathed cable that is most often used in residential wiring applications. It comprises two or more insulated conductors, a bare ground wire, and a durable outer jacket.
Romex 12-2 AWG NM-B Wire is one of the most common types of wiring used in residential homes. It consists of two insulated conducting wires (usually colored black and white) plus a bare ground wire, all wrapped in a durable outer sheath.
The large size of the conductors makes Romex 12-2 ideal for use in high-current applications like air conditioners and clothes dryers, while the presence of the ground wire ensures safe operation in case of an electrical fault.
Thanks to its versatility and easy installation, Romex 12-2 AWG NM-B Wire is the go-to choice for most do-it-yourself electrical projects.
Another common type of Romex cable used in homes is #14 NM-B, which contains two 14-gauge insulated copper wires and one 14-gauge bare copper ground wire. Romex cable is easy to work with and install and is an affordable option for most homeowners.
Home Electrical Safety
As a homeowner, it’s important to be aware of the potential hazards posed by your home’s electrical system and the potential dangers that electricity can pose. Every year, home electrical fires claim the lives of over 400 Americans and injure over 4,000, according to the National Fire Protection Association. By taking a few simple precautions, you can help to keep your family safe from electrical hazards.
One of the most important aspects of home electrical safety is ensuring that your wiring is up to electrical codes. Outdated or damaged wiring can pose a serious fire hazard, so it’s important to have your home’s electrical system inspected by a licensed electrician regularly.
Additionally, overloaded circuits are a significant cause of fires. Make sure you know how much wattage your circuit breaker can handle, and don’t overload it. Second, frayed or damaged cords are another fire hazard. Check all your cords regularly to ensure they’re in good condition, and don’t try to repair them yourself; call a professional.
Another important consideration is the use of surge protectors. A power surge in electrical power can damage sensitive electronic equipment, so it’s important to plug your computers and other electronics into surge protectors rather than directly into outlets.
And be sure to unplug surge protectors during thunderstorms, as lightning strikes can create powerful surges that can damage even protected equipment. Surge protectors are fine for normal energy levels, but a lighting strike is simply too much.
You should also be mindful of using extension cords and power strips. The biggest concern here is overloading them with too much power. They usually have information to let you know the maximum energy they’re suitable for. This is why most people say not to “daisy chain” surge protectors and extension cords together. Although you can do it, connecting a surge protector that can handle more energy than the extension cord it’s plugged into can cause an overload.
Lastly – and this should go without saying, but water and electricity don’t mix! Keep cords and outlets away from water sources, and be extra careful in damp areas like the bathroom or basement.
Backup Power Supplies In A Home
Around Oklahoma City, we’re used to storms. Whether its winter storms that bring us ice, or summertime storms that can bring tornadoes, we understand the need to keep your power on. A large portion of our business here at Blue Sky is installing backup generators for when you have that power loss.
When the power goes out, having a backup generator can mean the difference between weathering the storm comfortably or being left in the dark. Let’s look at the different generators that can power your home.
There are four main types of backup generators:
Portable generators are the most popular type of backup generator. They are powered by gasoline, propane, or diesel and can be used to power appliances and electronics during a power outage.
Standby generators are larger than portable ones and are permanently installed outside the home. They require professional installation, but they can run for days or weeks without refilling.
Inverter generators are smaller and more efficient than other types of generators. They use digital technology to convert DC power into AC power, making them ideal for powering sensitive electronics.
Solar-powered generators are the most environmentally friendly option. They rely on solar panels to collect energy from the sun, which is then stored in batteries. Solar-powered generators can power small appliances and lights during a power outage.
When choosing which is right for you, you’ll want to consider what you need to power in an outage. If you need to keep the lights on and the fridge running, a small portable generator may be all you need. But if you want to keep your entire home up and running, including air conditioning and heating, you’ll need a larger standby generator.
When To Install A Generator
Unfortunately, most homeowners across Oklahoma usually wait until it’s too late to install a generator. Its usually after the power has gone out that they call an electrical company. This is when most everyone calls, so electrical companies are generally very busy because of the outages.
The best time to get your generator installed is now. Having a warehouse of generators to install is not common amongst most electrical companies around the Oklahoma City area, so they’ll need to order the generator for your home. This can take a couple of weeks or longer to ship.
So if you’re reading this on your phone because your power has gone out and you’re looking for a generator to be installed, it’s probably not going to happen quickly.
Our advice is to have one installed proactively.
Nobody wants to pay for car insurance. However, if you’re in an accident, you’re glad you have insurance to pay for it. This is exactly how generator installation is. So, if we can leave you with one takeaway from this entire article, that’s to proactively seek out having a generator installed if you’re on the fence about wanting one.
Uninterruptible Power Supplies
These are less common for homes and often used for small businesses, but they are still worth mentioning.
An uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, is a device that provides emergency power to a home or small business when the primary power source is lost. A UPS can keep lights and appliances running for a short period, usually long enough for occupants to shut down electronics and evacuate the premises safely.
There are three main types of UPS systems:
- Line Interactive
Standby UPS systems are the most basic and affordable, but they only provide power for a limited time. They offer protection from power surges and voltage spikes but do not provide any voltage regulation.
Line interactive UPS systems provide power for a longer period and can also help to regulate voltage fluctuations. They protect from power surges, voltage spikes, and brownouts. Additionally, line interactive UPS systems regulate voltage through a buck/boost transformer.
Online UPS systems are the most expensive, providing the longest backup time and the best protection against power surges.
When choosing a UPS system, it is important to consider the specific needs of your home or business. For example, if you have sensitive electronic equipment that must remain operational during a power outage, you will want a UPS with a longer backup time. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, you may consider a UPS with voltage regulation capabilities.
Alternative Energy Sources
Homeowners have more options than ever when it comes to powering their homes. Alternative energy sources like solar, wind power, and hydroelectric are increasingly popular, and for a good reason. Not only are they cost-effective and environmentally friendly, but they can also provide a much-needed boost to your home’s value.
Various alternative energy sources are available, each with its unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Solar power, for example, is one of the most popular choices for homeowners looking to go green.
Solar panels are relatively easy to install and require little maintenance, making them an excellent option for busy families. And because they rely on sunlight to operate, they’re wholly renewable and emissions-free. Currently, in 2022, you can deduct 26% of the cost of your energy system on your federal taxes. In 2023, that number is going to 22%. Unfortunately, Oklahoma doesn’t have any incentives for solar, so the federal tax credit is the only one available currently.
There are also some relatively new technologies, such as geothermal systems and micro-hydro systems, that hold promise as more efficient and environmentally friendly sources of energy. A number of hybrid systems combine two or more of these different types of alternative energy, providing a reliable and sustainable power source for your home.
So if you’re looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bill, consider investing in some alternative energy source for your home. We here at Blue Sky Electric specialize in solar panel installation and are here to help you go green and reduce your carbon footprint!
Common Electrical Issues And Their Repairs
Let’s face it, sooner or later, every home will experience some electrical problems and need repair and maintenance.
But don’t worry; most electrical repairs are relatively easy and inexpensive to fix. Here are some of the most common electrical problems that you’ll likely face as a homeowner:
Loose outlets: Over time, outlets can become loose, causing the plugs to fall out or spark when inserting a plug. To fix this, simply tighten the screws on the outlet cover. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to replace the outlet altogether.
Flickering lights: This is usually caused by a loose connection in the circuit breaker box. To fix it, simply tighten the connections or replace the breaker. If your lights are flickering frequently, it’s best to have an electrician take a look.
Dead outlets: If an outlet stops working altogether, it may be due to a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse. Resetting the breaker or replacing the fuse should solve the problem.
Exposed wires: If you can see any exposed wires, it’s important to have an electrician come and take a look, as this could be a serious safety hazard. Exposed wires can cause electrical shocks or even start a fire.
Tripped circuit breaker: This usually happens when too much electricity is being drawn through one circuit, causing the breaker to trip and shut off the power. To fix this problem, simply reset the breaker and try not to overload the circuit by plugging in too many devices at once.
Out of code: If your home is more than 40 years old, there’s a potential that the wiring no longer meets the code. Outdated wiring is a fire hazard and should be replaced immediately.
Warm outlets: An outlet that is warm to the touch is usually a sign of an overloaded circuit, and it can be dangerous if left untreated. If an outlet is getting warm, unplug any devices plugged into it and call an electrician for assistance.
Final Thoughts On Home Electrical Systems
Although home electrical systems can seem daunting, our team is here to help you through every step of the process. From understanding the basics of home electric work, to common repairs and alternative energy sources, we here at Blue Sky Electric have you covered. Fill out our contact form so we can discuss any specific concerns or questions you may have about your home’s electrical system – we are always happy to help!