Electrical systems are incredibly complex and consist of a large number of different wires that supply power to everything in the home. Your electrical system is also the most dangerous part of your home due to the risk of issues arising that could lead to an electrical fire, shock or even fatal electrocution. That’s why it’s important that you understand the basics of how your electrical system works. This is so that you can more easily spot issues and know when you need to contact a licensed electrical contractor.

An Overview of Your Home’s Electrical Wiring

The electrical system in a home consists of numerous circuits that are all wired into the electrical panel, and each one is controlled by its own circuit breaker. Each circuit obviously supplies electricity to all of the lights and outlets in a specific room or part of the home. There are also a number of dedicated outlets that only supply power to one hardwired or plug-in appliance. This usually includes the microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer, refrigerator, stove/oven, HVAC system and electric water heater.

In most homes, there are also two or three additional circuits in addition to those for the main kitchen appliances. You usually have one circuit that powers the lighting and then another one or two circuits that supply power to the small appliance outlets above the kitchen counters.

The majority of the circuits in a home are 120 volts and either 15 or 20 amps. The 15-amp circuits are what most of the lights and outlets are connected to. Most of your major 120-volt appliances are instead wired to dedicated 20-amp circuits. Almost all homes also have a few dedicated 240-volt circuits for things like the air conditioning/heating and clothes dryer. Electric water heaters, EV charging stations and hot tubs are also always on a dedicated 240-volt circuit.

All of the outlets, light switches and light fixtures on the same circuit are typically daisy-chained together. That means you have a wire coming into an outlet and then another wire that is spliced onto it that leads to the next outlet. In the case of light switches and fixtures, they are all usually connected to metal junction boxes that have wires spliced in them leading off to each switch and fixture.

The size of the main electrical panel determines how many total 120- and 240-volt circuits the home can have. That’s because the panel only has a certain number of slots for the circuit breakers. The more 240-volt circuits there are, the fewer total circuits you can have. That’s because each 240-volt circuit uses a double-pole that takes up two slots instead of just one like the single-pole breakers for 120-volt circuits.

Although each circuit is independent of the others, the total amount of power you can use at any given time also depends on the size of the electrical panel. That means how many amps it is. The National Electric Code stipulates that all new homes must have at least a 100-amp electrical panel. A panel this size is often sufficient for smaller homes, but most homes built nowadays have at least a 150- or 200-amp panel. This is especially true if you have more than two or three 240-volt appliances.

If your electrical panel doesn’t have high enough amperage, you’ll usually end up with issues where your lights and sometimes TV flicker at certain times. This is especially common when the air conditioning system starts up or when you turn on another 240-volt appliance like your clothes dryer. This happens because the 240-volt appliances draw so much available power when first starting that it temporarily leads to a slight drop in the current flowing through the other circuits.

Main Electrical Panels vs. Subpanels

Some homes also have a secondary subpanel that is connected to the main electrical panel. You’ll commonly find subpanels in areas like a garage or an addition to the house. Subpanels are sometimes just installed merely for convenience. For instance, using power tools in your garage can often result in the circuit breaker that controls the garage circuit tripping. Having a subpanel in the garage means you can just reset the circuit breaker right there instead of having to go to wherever your main panel is.

In terms of an addition, a subpanel is often used to cut down on the time and cost of wiring the new part of the home. That’s because the electrician only needs to run a single wire to the subpanel instead of having to run individual wires to each of the circuits in the addition. They can then just run shorter wires to the subpanel to connect each of the new circuits.

How to Spot Signs With Your Home’s Electrical Wiring

Most wiring issues are quite easy to spot since they may lead to certain outlets, switches or light fixtures not working. Another sign that usually indicates an issue such as a frayed or damaged wire or an electrical connection that has come loose is if you have a circuit breaker that frequently trips. If there are multiple breakers in a home that often trip, it instead usually indicates an issue with the electrical panel itself.

Some signs are even more obvious and not something you should ever ignore. This includes if you have an outlet or switch that feels hot or an outlet that starts smoking or has scorch marks around the plug holes. These issues are obviously a major fire hazard, which is why you should shut off the breaker that controls that room immediately if you notice any of them.

Situations That Warrant Partially or Fully Rewiring a Home

There are certain situations where it becomes necessary to rewire an individual circuit, part of the house or even the entire house. If your home is 50 or more years old and the electrical system has never been upgraded, you should definitely consider having it rewired just to ensure your electrical system is safe. In fact, many experts recommend completely rewiring a house every 25 years or so.

Another situation where you should have your house completely rewired is if it has aluminum wiring instead of copper. That’s because aluminum wires heat up more and can sometimes be a fire hazard. Frequent electrical issues can also indicate that you need to rewire some or all of your circuits and/or replace your electrical panel.

The best way to know when rewiring is necessary is to have an electrician fully inspect your electrical system every three to five years at the least. If your home is more than 40 years old and has the original electrical system, you’re better off having an inspection performed annually.

The good news is that rewiring a home is easier and takes less time than you may think. That’s because the electricians can usually run the new wiring through the attic and then pull the wires down through the walls to each fixture. They will typically need to cut some holes in the wall or ceiling, but much of the new wiring can be installed without being too invasive.

Your Reliable Professionals

If you need an electrical inspection or any other services from a reliable electrical contractor, Carbone Home Services is the company to turn to. From rewiring and electrical panel upgrades to installing new circuits or fixtures, you can trust our experienced electricians for help. We also have a team of experienced HVAC technicians and plumbers that is ready to assist with your heating, air conditioning and plumbing needs. Contact us today for more information or if you need to schedule a service call or inspection.

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