Electricity is an amazing technology. The power we use in our homes and businesses depends on a complex system of wires, transformers and panels. This network of electrical lines are usually maintained by a utility company. Some of these lines are public and others private, depending on the location and rules in your municipality. The portion of the line that comes to your home, often referred to as your electrical service, is owned by the utility company up to what is called the “service point”. This is where the line connects between the serving utility equipment and your house premises wiring system. It is this point that can be affected by things like a tree falling on the lines, a power outage or your home’s demand for electricity.
The service point is typically an overhead or underground service drop consisting of three conductors – two hot legs with black thermoset or polymer insulation and a ground wire. The conductors run from the pole, pedestal or ground-mounted transformer to your meter socket or service entrance conduit. Most changes to the service drop are the responsibility of the utility company and their cost. There are exceptions to this rule, however. If the service drop is buried in concrete, it is typically the property of the homeowner.
The meter is where the utility company measures your monthly electricity usage. The meter can be either an old fashioned dial or a state-of-the art digital meter. In any case, it is important to know how much your home is using so you can be aware of the limits on your electrical service.
Your house’s main electrical panel is the distribution center that splits your home’s power into individual branch circuits for each outlet or appliance. It is a gray metal box usually located inside of your garage or in a utility area in your home. It is also sometimes contained in a finished cabinet mounted on the wall. This panel is where you are able to add additional circuits or breakers as needed.
A breaker is the control device that protects you and your family from overvoltages. The breaker will open under certain conditions, such as overcurrent or overloading. The circuit breaker box also contains a grounding rod, which is an eight to ten foot long copper rod that goes down into the soil. This is a vital part of the electrical service because it will divert any overvoltages that are caused by lightning or other external sources to the ground where they can dissipate safely.
While it is common to make electrical upgrades or additions, you should always be mindful of the underlying infrastructure that delivers your power. You should be particularly cautious of areas where your hands touch such as the exposed service panel. It is also important to be cautious of tools that you are holding, such as screwdrivers, wire cutters, pliers and the like. While these types of tools are typically used by electricians, they can potentially cause injury if handled improperly.