All homeowners need to know where the main breaker box is and how it works. This is the steel box – usually a grey-blue color – that provides electricity to your entire house. Whenever you have an issue with power or need to turn it off, this is normally where you go. There can also be sub-panels, although, with the exception of very old installations, you should still be able to control the entire house from the main panel. Here’s what’s inside, and how things work.

Give Me the Juice!

Electrical codes require that your main electrical service panel (known in the trade as a load center) be able to shut off all power to the house, outside of the incoming power directly to your main panel. This box takes the incoming voltage and splits it, providing the normal 120 volts that most devices run on, as well as 240 volts that run some major appliances, such as dryers and stoves.

If you find yourself without electricity – especially if part of the house still has it – this should usually be your first stop. Most likely, you’ve tripped a breaker, but don’t panic! The fix is hopefully just flipping a switch. Look for one that’s halfway between on and off. Turn it off, wait a second, and flip it back on. If it doesn’t trip again that should be the end of it.

AHHHH! It Didn’t Fix It!

If the breaker trips again after you fixed it, you might have too many things plugged into that line. Look for something that was just plugged in – especially if it draws a lot of power – and try removing it. Plugging a vacuum cleaner into a line near its limit has tripped many breakers. Many times, this corrects the problem.

Now, if that didn’t fix it either you will have to dig a little deeper. If you don’t have extensive knowledge of residential electrical circuits, this might be a great time to call a professional electrician. There’s a lot of power in that box – enough to give you more than a little shock. If the above information isn’t old hat to you, don’t go any further; let a pro handle it from here.