Homeowner’s Manual: Electrical Service Panels & Service Entrance (Updated for 2021!)
VERY IMPORTANT! NEVER WORK ON THE ELECTRICAL SYSTEM WITHOUT CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF ELECTRICITY AND WITHOUT FIRST TUNING OFF THE POWER. YOU COULD SERIOUSLY HARM YOURSELF OR OTHERS. IF YOU ARE NOT TRAINED AND QUALIFIED TO WORK ON ELECTRICAL SERVICE EQUIPMENT OR DEVICES, DO NOT DO IT. CALL A LICENSED ELECTRICIAN.
Service Entrance & Panels
Your home’s electrical system is probably the lowest maintenance system in the house, if installed properly. Proper installation must also be accompanied by proper use. All systems have limitations that once exceeded can lead to damage and loss of property and personal injury or death. Original electrical systems often become dangerous as they are expanded without increasing the size of the main power feed to the house. The expanded uses cause the original feed (known as the Service Entrance Cable) to draw more current than it is rated to carry, resulting in overheating and possible fires.
Since the home inspection is not technically exhaustive and since any device or system can subsequently fail, we suggest that you keep the following basic rules / practices in mind.
- Never use exterior or interior extension cords for permanent wiring. Do not use interior extension cords intraffic areas where they can be damaged.
- Do not use light bulbs that are too strong for the stamped rating of the light fixture.
- Do not use light bulbs over twenty-five watts in a small closet.
- Do not crowd light or fan fixtures in the attic with any combustible material.
- Replace small appliance flex cords that get excessively hot from moderate use, such as clothes iron after operated for 15 minutes.
Exterior Electrical Connections
Electricity is supplied to houses through overhead power lines or underground cables. Visually inspect overhead lines for contact with trees or shrubs and call your electric utility company to inform them of any such contact. Advise them also of the following: a power line less than 10 ft. above a yard or 12 ft. above a driveway; improper connection or anchoring at the service mast or building (check for signs that wires, cables and anchor bolts have pulled loose); and frayed or damaged wiring cables. For underground service, check for loose connections and damage to electrical conduit at the meter and main service panel. Remember that you cannot disconnect the power on the supplier side of the meter (from your meter to the pole), so all these conditions present a hazard and should be professionally repaired right away.
Service Panel Box (Breaker Box)
Inspect the main service panels to be sure that the inside cover is properly secured in place and there are no broken breaker handles, open breaker slots or missing knockouts in the inside cover or panel box. Blanks are available to fill open breaker slots to keep out nesting wasps and lizards, and to protect seven-year-old electricians with screwdrivers. Breakers that repeatedly trip indicate a serious problem and must be investigated by a qualified electrician. For your safety, do not remove the inside panel cover. Leave the inspection of panel interiors to professionals. Be careful not to overload any one circuit with too many appliances. The electrical system in your home is equipped with an electrical breaker box. Each breaker should be labeled as to which circuit it controls. You can stop the flow of electricity to a given circuit simply by flipping the breaker to an off position. Should you find that an electrical device in your home is not working, check your breaker box to make sure that the device is getting electrical power.
The breaker box should be readily accessible, and the cover plate (dead front) should always be easily removable. You should never place items in front of the breaker box. The breaker box cover plate (dead front) should not be painted or paneled over and any time.
The U.S. Product Consumer Safety Commission issued a booklet on the hazards of aluminum wire installations made in the early 1960’s to mid 1970’s. Please obtain this information if aluminum wiring is noted in your property inspection report.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT, WE PUT IT AT THE BEGINNING AND END OF THE ARTICLE: NEVER WORK ON THE ELECTRICAL SYSTEM WITHOUT CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF ELECTRICITY AND WITHOUT FIRST TUNING OFF THE POWER. YOU COULD SERIOUSLY HARM YOURSELF OR OTHERS. IF YOU ARE NOT TRAINED AND QUALIFIED TO WORK ON ELECTRICAL SERVICE EQUIPMENT OR DEVICES, DO NOT DO IT. CALL A LICENSED ELECTRICIAN.
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