Get to know your electrical panel

February 5, 2014

Electrical panels are not particularly attractive, so they're often hidden away in a dark corner of the home. That’s where you’ll know to look for yours!

Get to know your electrical panel

To facilitate access, the electrical panel (also called a distribution box or distribution panel) is usually located near the electricity meter.

All the electrical circuits in your home are concentrated there. The panel’s main task is to ensure your safety in the event of an overload.

How an electrical panel works

The electrical panel has a main breaker that can be used to cut off all the power in a home if necessary.

  • The electrical panel also includes a host of secondary circuit breakers, and one for each circuit.
  • Secondary circuit breakers act much like switches that automatically shut down the power when there is an overload or other irregularity in the electrical circuits. This prevents a circuit from overheating because of a wiring problem or a defective appliance.

To form a circuit, each of the secondary circuit breakers is connected to a series of outlets or a connection box. Some appliances (like the water heater or refrigerator) work with a dedicated circuit with only one outlet or a single housing. In other cases, the circuit is associated with one or more GFCIs (ground-fault circuit interrupters). These are the types of safety outlets used in bathrooms for hairdryers and electric shavers.

In order to be connected, each circuit uses three wires: a live wire, a neutral wire (or return wire), and the ground wire. The first supplies power, while the other two play a protective role.

Your electrical panel: fuses or circuit breakers?

The electrical fuse box is the ancestor of the circuit breaker panel; electrical fuse panels are rarely seen these days.

  • Fuses are not as safe as circuit breakers, and a great deal of care is required when the time comes to replace one.
  • Electric circuit breaker panels are far superior, as they are much safer and are worry-free. “Tripped” circuit breakers can be manually reset after the source of the problem has been identified.

Inspecting your electrical panel

The electrical panel, whose main function is to protect the occupants of a house or building, should be inspected once a year or when you move into a new property.

  • A qualified electrician can ensure that your electrical panel is working properly.
  • You could also ask him or her to replace your old fuse box with a circuit breaker panel.

*Not only is it dangerous, it may even be illegal in some provinces, such as Québec, to do your own electrical wiring. The solution: consider hiring a master electrician.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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