Making the Most Out of Your Electrical Panel
The electrical panel is the central component of your house’s electrical system. It is similar to the house’s electrical brain, except that it doesn’t think. (Similar to a politician, just kidding!) The electrical panel distributes the electricity throughout the house and contains the circuit breakers which protect your house from electrical overloads and possible electrical fires.
The electrical system of the entire house is fed through the electrical panel, which is fed from the electrical meter supplied by your electric company. When you are dealing with new construction, try to locate your electrical panel somewhat central in the house, if possible, to decrease the length of each electrical circuit. If this is not possible, then a location near the kitchen or laundry area is also a good location, as this will minimize the length of the runs of heavier (and more expensive) wire needed for the 220v circuits for the range and dryer. By code, you need to have 30″ of clear space in front of your electrical panel, so this requirement will influence the placing of the panel.
Most modern houses have 2 legs of 110v current fed into the electrical panel, which supplies the house with 220v current. Some older houses only have 110v power, and if this is the case with your house, you should probably upgrade the service to 220v service. At the electrical panel you can divide this voltage into circuits of 110v or keep the 220v current for your electric range and dryer.
The electrical panel will have a maximum amperage rating, which is the total amount of current that the main breaker will handle. For most houses of average size, a 220 amp panel will be adequate, though smaller houses may be able to get by with a 125A panel.
When in doubt, always oversize your main panel, it doesn’t hurt anything and allows you to expand in future without upgrading your service. For larger houses, you can have a main electrical panel and one or more sub-panels, which will distribute the electrical load and save you from running every electrical circuit from the main panel.
Electrical panels come in various sizes which accommodate a different number of circuit breakers. An average sized house (say 1,500 sq ft) will require 8-12 different breakers, one for each electrical circuit. The sum of the individual circuit breakers will exceed the amperage of the main breaker. This is normal because you will probably never have every circuit fully loaded at the same time.
If your existing panel does not have enough spaces available for additional circuit breakers, you can buy split breakers, which allow you to run two separate electrical circuits from the space for one standard breaker. Split (double) circuit breakers have two mini-breakers with separate terminals for 2 circuits within a casing the same size as a standard circuit breaker.
By properly locating the correctly sized electrical panel in your house, you will be able to get the most utility out of your electrical panel.