Atkins Electric

Ultimate Guide to Your Home's Circuit Breaker Panel

How Circuit Breakers Work to Ensure Safety

Need residential circuit breaker panel installation in Rockford IL. Your home’s circuit breaker panel serves two essential functions. It efficiently distributes power throughout your home, ensuring electricity is readily available when and where it’s needed. Additionally, it safeguards your electrical circuits from excessive loads by instantly interrupting the flow of electricity in hazardous situations. This comprehensive article explores the functions of circuit breaker panels and provides insight into when and why you should consider replacing or upgrading them.

ultimate guide to your homes circuit breaker panel

What is a breaker panel?

A breaker panel is the main distribution point that connects the power grid to the wiring in your home. It ensures that all your electrical outlets, appliances, lights, and heating receive the required power. Power comes into the panel from outside through a service drop and is then routed to branch circuits that power your home.


Circuit breakers are essential for maintaining electrical safety in your home. They are designed to shut off power to branch circuits in case of an overload. This means that if you plug in too many appliances in your kitchen, for example, the circuit breaker will trip and shut off power to prevent any potential hazards.

Breaker box capacity: Understanding the amperage capacity of your electrical panel is crucial.

The amperage, or amps, represents the amount of electricity used. As homes have become larger and more appliance-dependent, breaker panels with higher amperage capacities have become more common. While 200-amp circuit breaker panels are now the norm, older homes may still have panels or fuse boxes with ratings as low as 60 amps.

Where to find your main breaker box: If you’ve never needed to access your breaker panel before, you may be unsure where it’s located. Here are some typical places to look for it:

– The garage is a popular location, usually positioned against an exterior wall where the power enters the building through the service drop.

– In homes with buried power lines, the breaker panel is often found in the basement.

– Other, less common locations for single-family homes include lower-level hallways, kitchen pantries, or utility closets.

– Some older homes may have their breaker boxes installed on exterior walls.

Circuit Breaker Panel Switches

Main switch
The main switch is located at the top of the circuit breaker panel. It controls the power to all of the circuits in your home. When the main switch is turned off, all of the circuits in your home will be de-energized.

Individual circuit switches
Below the main switch are two rows of individual circuit switches. Each switch controls a single circuit in your home. When the switch is turned on, power flows through the circuit to the outlets and appliances on that circuit. When the switch is turned off, power is not able to flow through the circuit.

On the inside of the door panel
On the inside of the door panel, there is usually a diagram that shows which circuits are controlled by each switch. This diagram can be helpful for identifying which switch to turn off if you need to de-energize a specific circuit.

Single-pole and double-pole switches
There are two types of circuit breakers: single-pole and double-pole. Single-pole circuit breakers control 120-volt circuits, while double-pole circuit breakers control 240-volt circuits. Most household circuits are 120-volt circuits, so most of the circuit breakers in your panel will be single-pole circuit breakers.

If your home has a sub-panel, it will be located next to the main circuit breaker panel. Sub-panels are used to distribute power to specific areas of the home, such as an addition or a detached garage.

Size Matters: Understanding Breaker Panel Ratings for Electrical Capacity

size matters understanding breaker panel ratings for electrical capacity

When it comes to breaker panels and panel upgrades, one important factor to consider is the panel’s rating. The two most common ratings you’ll come across are 100-amp and 200-amp. These ratings indicate the electrical capacity of the panel and can help determine the suitability for your specific electrical needs.

For smaller homes that do not rely heavily on electricity for heating or air conditioning, a 100-amp panel may be sufficient. This rating allows for power to be provided to lights, receptacles, and appliances, but may not support much more.
On the other hand, a 200-amp panel is the standard choice for most new construction projects and is suitable for average electrical needs. If you have a larger home or require more electricity, you may need to consider upgrading to a larger panel box.

For even larger homes or those with extensive electrical needs, particularly if electricity is used for heating, a 250-amp panel may be necessary. Additionally, if you’re planning any additions, workshops, or outbuildings that require a subpanel, an upgrade to a 250-amp or larger main panel may be required.

Signs that your current electrical panel isn't up to the job

Circuit breakers tripping frequently. If your circuit breakers are tripping frequently, especially when you’re not using a lot of power, it’s a sign that your panel is overloaded. This can be a dangerous situation, and it’s important to have your panel inspected by a qualified electrician.

Burning smell coming from the electrical panel. If you smell burning coming from your electrical panel, it’s a sign of a serious problem. This could be caused by a loose connection, a short circuit, or a faulty breaker. It’s important to turn off the power to your home and call a qualified electrician immediately.

Flickering lights. Flickering lights are another sign of an overloaded electrical panel. When the panel can’t handle the load, the voltage drops, causing the lights to flicker.

Warm to the touch electrical panel. If your electrical panel is warm to the touch, it’s a sign that it’s working too hard. This can also be caused by an overloaded panel, or by a faulty breaker. It’s important to have your panel inspected by a qualified electrician.

Old electrical panel. If your electrical panel is more than 20 years old, it’s likely that it’s not up to code. Electrical codes change over time, and older panels may not be able to handle the demands of modern appliances and electronics. It’s important to have your panel inspected by a qualified electrician to see if it needs to be replaced. If you’re experiencing any of these signs, it’s important to have your electrical panel inspected by a qualified electrician. They will be able to determine if your panel is overloaded, outdated, or damaged, and they can recommend the best course of action.