What Is an Electrical Panel?

An electrical panel is an important piece of equipment that distributes electricity throughout a home. Also called a breaker box, fuse box or service panel, it contains the main fuses for different electrical circuits in the house.

There’s a main disconnect switch at the top and hot busbars going down the center. The hot busbars connect to circuit breakers that can be toggled on and off.
Main Switch

The main switch (often called a “main disconnect”) in your electrical panel is the key to turning off the power for an entire circuit. It’s usually in the center of the panel, sitting atop rows of circuit breakers that run both left and right.

The switches on these circuits are numbered and mapped, with odd-numbered breakers running along the left side of your panel, and even-numbered ones along the right. Sitting atop both of these rows is a larger main circuit breaker, whose switch can be turned off with one quick flip.

If you’ve ever experienced a house power outage, the first thing you should do is find out which switch in your electrical panel was flipped to the off position. Then, shut off the items that used that circuit. Once the issue has been resolved, you can turn the breaker back on. You may also want to consider upgrading your electrical panel to allow for more electricity-consuming devices to be put on individual circuits, preventing overuse of any one particular area of your home or business.
Circuit Breakers

Sometimes called a breaker box, electrical panel or electric service panel, this metal cabinet houses small switches, known as circuit breakers, that power your home’s outlets and appliances. It also protects them from overloading by shutting off the flow of electricity when overheating is detected.

You’ll know there’s a problem when one or more of the breakers trip, shutting off the electricity to that part of your house. If this happens frequently or you see a burning smell or signs of fire, turn off the power at the breaker panel and call an electrician immediately.

Once you open the door to your breaker panel, look for two rows of numbered switches. Each switch controls a different electrical circuit in your home. The numbers correspond to a label on the inside of the breaker panel door. Flip the switch from ON to OFF to cut off the electricity to that circuit, for example, to shut off the outlets in your kitchen.
Grounding Bus Bar

The grounding bus bar, also known as a ground bar or bass bar, is an essential component of any electrical panel. It’s used to connect equipment with a low-impedance path back to the main panel during a fault. This path carries the extra current away from people instead of running through them and potentially causing severe injuries or death.

While it’s fine to connect neutrals and grounds in your main service panel, it’s important to keep them separate in sub-panels. This will prevent any unexpected circuits that may occur due to a lightning strike or other power surges.

If you find that the neutrals and grounds are connected in your sub-panel, shut off all of the breakers until an electrician can come out to fix it. Make sure the power is off before you start working on anything in an electrical panel, and always wear proper safety gear. Attempting to work on an electrical panel without the necessary experience can cause serious damage and injury.
Loose Wires

A home’s electrical panel (also called a load center, circuit breaker box or service panel) connects the external wires that bring power in from the utility to the internal wires that run lights, outlets, appliances and other devices. Most panels contain 100, 150 or 200 amps of fuses and breakers to accommodate all of the wiring in a home.

It’s important to note that an electrical panel is live and can kill you if not handled correctly. Before opening a breaker panel, always make sure the main breaker is turned off and all of the branch circuit breakers are also switched off.

A loose wire terminal is dangerous because it can create resistance. The less tight the connection is, the more friction there is, which produces heat and can eventually lead to a fire. Loose terminals should be tightened with a screwdriver to prevent this from happening. A qualified electrician should do this as they will be able to ensure that all connections are snug and tight.

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