When it comes to indoor electrical systems, two terms come to mind: electrical panels and circuit breaker boxes. Both are critical to keeping your electrical system safe and fully functional. However, they each have different functions and components, and understanding the differences is valuable for home electrical maintenance and upkeep.

It’s normal to confuse these two terms, especially if you’re not experienced in how home electrical systems work. Knowing the difference between an electrical panel and a circuit breaker box requires a strong knowledge of the details of each and how they work.

Electrical Panel

The primary purpose of an electrical panel is to receive power into the home. This power comes straight from the service lines and enters the building. From there, the electrical panel disburses it to individual circuits, where it’s used for various functions, including outlets, appliances, and light fixtures.

Electrical panels have several vital components: the main breaker, circuit breakers, bus bars, neutral bars, and ground bars.

Main Breaker

Go for the main breaker if you need to shut off your power. This giant switch is the central disconnect that shuts off electricity during emergencies, repairs, or routine maintenance. Although it’s similar to most breakers, there is a significant difference. The main breaker can handle power loads ranging from 60 amps to over 200 amps.

Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are miniature switches located in electrical panels. Their main function is to protect homes and appliances from short circuits and power overloads by automatically disconnecting the power, which is also known as “tripping.”

Bus Bars

Bus bars are metal strips designed to conduct electricity. They are typically made of copper, brass, or aluminum. The size of each strip determines the amount of power it can handle. The bigger it is, the more ampacity it can handle.

There are two bus bars: fully enclosed and continuous access open channel. Fully enclosed bus bars can handle greater amperage and require less time to install than continuous access open channel types.

Bus bars are popular for several reasons. They are quick and easy to install and made of sustainable materials. Plus, bus bars add flexibility to your electrical system by making it easier to disconnect and reconnect without a lot of trouble. Bus bar’s flexibility makes bus bars ideal in cases where you need to embark on major home renovation projects.

Bus bars in most commercial settings, such as factories, retail stores, and hospitals. Other places include Dara centers, tech companies, and schools. Copper bus bars are known for conducting electricity at a much higher rate, making them ideal for industrial settings where more electricity is needed.

Neutral and Ground Bars

Neutral and ground wires work together to ensure safety by minimizing electrical hazards in your home. Neutral wires are the return path of the current, while ground wires protect your home during a surge. They do this by holding the fault current, which turns your power off by tripping the breaker.

Installing and Maintenance

Installation of electrical panels is complex and requires the expertise of a licensed electrician. They must be familiar with local building codes and be able to work with them. They must perform regular tests to check for wear and tear, loose wires, or broken parts. They must ensure your electrical panel is safe, efficient, and ready to use.

Your electrical panel’s specific rating determines the load it can handle. This rating, known as an amperage rating, usually starts at 100 amps but can reach over 200 amps. What you need depends on what appliances you need and how much power they need. You may need to upgrade your system to handle electronics and new appliances requiring an electrician.

Circuit Breaker

The main function of a circuit breaker is to control electricity flow for a specific circuit. During a power surge, the circuit breaker intercepts electrical flow by cutting off your power. Stopping a power surge helps protect you and your home from overheating and electrical fires. It also protects devices and appliances from any damage caused by a power surge.

There are three circuit breakers: standard, ground fault circuit interrupters, and arc fault circuit interrupters.

Standard Circuit Breakers

Standard circuit breakers, most common in homes and businesses, provide optimal protection during a surge or a power outage. There are two types: single-pole and double-pole. A single pole protects one wire and can supply 120 volts. Their maximum amperage is 15-20 amps, which makes them ideal for simpler electrical systems.

Double pole breakers can handle an amperage ranging from 15 to 200 amps, so they’re best for protecting two wires. They have a shared trip feature and can supply 120 to 240 volts for a single circuit.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

When an electrical current runs underground during a surge, the ground fault circuit interrupter halts it. GFCIs prevent your circuits from overloading and are characterized by coiled wires and test buttons on the front. They are best for damp spaces such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and utility rooms and are good for handling power tools. But because they can trip frequently, they’re not suited to appliances that run continuously, such as your refrigerator.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

Arc fault circuit interrupters are special devices that protect your home from electrical arcs and fires that happen within your walls and electrical boxes. They work best with standard breakers to detect electrical arcs, heat, and major surges.

When a Circuit Breaker Trips

When a circuit breaker trips, it switches immediately to the off position. You can reset it by changing everything to on. You should see your lights and appliances come on immediately. Your circuit breaker should be in your basement or utility room for easy access in case of needed repairs.

You can test your circuit breaker by switching it to the off position and then switching it back on. Be sure to inspect your circuit breaker for signs of wear and tear. A licensed electrician should address scorch marks and loose connections. You may even need an upgrade. Keeping your circuit breaker current is vital for safe electricity use in your home.

Your circuit breaker is your best protection against power surges and outages. Understanding how it works is vital for keeping your home safe from electrical disasters. The good news is that you can replace them without replacing your entire panel.

Knowing the difference between an electric panel and a circuit breaker is crucial for maintaining safe and reliable electrical flow. Electric panels distribute electricity and contain several circuit breakers within. Knowing each unit allows you to manage electricity and detect system issues early on.

Call Mackey Services for All Your Electrical Services

At Mackey Services, we offer various residential and commercial electricity services to meet your needs. We provide surge protection, electrical repair, and electrical panel upgrades. We’ll install and maintain generators and offer charging stations for your electric vehicle. Our mission is to help you maintain a safe, efficient, and reliable electrical system. Call Mackey Services today to learn more.

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