Panel Safety and Maintenance
Your electrical panel is the heart of your home, also known as the breaker box, electrical box or fuse box, this piece of equipment keeps your home running. The maintenance and care is important to ensure the panel operates at its optimum, prevents fire hazards and preserves home appliances and electronics.
A typical panel is made up of several types of breakers, all serving a purpose. Depending on the year the home was built, the panel may vary from this diagram but the function is still the same.
All panels should have a cover, so that the bus bars and connections are not exposed, there should be a one meter clearance in front of your panel and not be partially blocked by rywall or stored in cupboard only providing partial access.
The main breaker is usually located at the top of the panel and typically rated for 100 amps. Although this can be less amperage in apartments and small homes. If turned off, this would cut the power to the whole home.
The two rows of breakers located down the center of the panel control the circuits that run throughout the home. Unless the breaker is a double-pole breaker, it should only be wired with one circuit. If a breaker is wired with more than one circuit it is considered to be double tapped, this is not to Canadian Electrical Code and is a potential fire hazard. It can also cause nuisance tripping due to being overloaded.
To prevent damage and potential fire hazards the breakers are designed to “trip” when your system is not functioning properly. A ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI can be found in outlets near water sources or on a breaker, these are designed to trip when there is a ground fault. This prevents electrocution!
Another type of breaker protecting an electrical system is an ARC fault breaker. These are designed to trip when an abnormal ARC is sensed in the system, this is usually caused by damage wires. This type of breaker prevents fires from occurring and as of January 1, 2016 ARC fault breakers are required in all receptacles installed in a new development or renovation completed after this date.
Another issue we run into are panels that have been recalled or are so out of date they pose a fire hazard. An example of a recall would be a Federal Pacific. The breakers in this panel were recalled because they were not doing their job and tripping when put under large loads or when there is a short in the circuit.
Other types of panels we recommend replacing, due to the potential fire risk, are fuse type breaker panels and push button breaker panels. The age of these far exceed the recommended life of a panel, which with regular maintenance is 20 to 30yrs.
Having the panel inspected yearly will increase the life of the panel and catch problems early. Inspections consist of cleaning out accumulated dust, debris and lint, tightening of wire connections, looking for hot spots, melted or scorched wiring and ensuring the breakers are secure.
Protecting the panel with a surge protection will also protect the electrical system and the appliances and equipment plugged into it.