Breaker panel safety is an important topic for every member of your household. There are many reasons to use the main panel, which serves as the control center for your home’s entire electrical system. Unlike a licensed electrician, you don’t have the training and experience to perform major repairs. But these breaker panel safety tips will help you safely use the panel and know when to call Hoover Electric, Plumbing, Heating & Air for electrical repairs.
Basic Tips You Need to Know
The breaker panel is a complex piece of equipment. It includes a large switch that supplies power to your entire home and sub-switches that link to individual circuits. These breakers cut power if there’s an overload or electrical fault. You can reset them to restore power or shut them off in an emergency or if work needs to be done in a certain area.
But regarding the day-to-day use of your breaker panel, here are some helpful tips to ensure your safety:
- Label Each Circuit: A diagram or directory should be provided inside the breaker panel’s door. It may list which circuit each breaker is connected to. Individual rooms and appliances may also be identified.
- If a listing isn’t provided, determine what devices are on each circuit by turning off one breaker at a time and switching on lights and appliances; if they don’t work, you can label that switch accordingly. A missing or incomplete directory can lead to a serious injury if someone works on the wrong circuit.
- Know How to Reset a Tripped Breaker: Here’s a breaker panel safety tip everyone should know. If the power goes off, go to the breaker box and open the panel. A tripped breaker will be in the middle position (all other switches should be in the “On” position). Flip the tripped switch to the “Off” position, wait a few seconds, and flip it back on. The devices on that circuit should work again. If you think the circuit is overloaded, move at least one electrical device to another outlet on a different circuit (before resetting the breaker).
- Protect Yourself Against Arcs: Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are installed in breaker panels to protect against fires. An arc fault can be triggered by an overloaded circuit. However, broken wire installation, a loose connection, or damaged or overheated wire can also lead to an arc fault.
- An arc fault, whether caused by a bad wire or faulty equipment, can cause serious injury. Remember this whenever turning a circuit breaker off or on. When you flip a breaker switch:
- Stay a safe distance from the panel
- Don’t look directly at it
- Shield your body in case an arc occurs
- Don’t touch exposed conductors
- Turn off or unplug connected equipment
- Avoid Water When Touching the Breaker Box: If there’s water on the floor under the breaker box, avoid approaching or touching the panel. Attempting to operate a breaker switch while in contact with water can result in a strong electric shock or electrocution. Call your electric utility company if you can’t reach the main panel safely. They’ll shut off the power at the meter.
- Know How to Use the Main Breaker: If you’re inspecting a circuit breaker or aren’t sure which circuit to work on, turn off the main breaker switch. First, switch off each circuit breaker, one at a time. Once all the branch breakers are off, then flip the main breaker switch to the “Off” position. Follow this process in reverse when turning the power back on. Switch the main breaker on and move each branch circuit breaker back to the “On” position, one at a time, to restore power.
Advanced Breaker Panel Safety Tips
You shouldn’t repair or work with circuit breakers unless you’re a trained electrician or have a fair degree of experience. But here are some further recommendations we have when checking your breaker panel:
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When inspecting an electrical panel, wear PPE such as safety glasses, a face shield, and insulated gloves. Some contractors protect themselves with arc flash suits. They’ll check for issues such as exposed circuit parts, signs of corrosion or burning, and whether the equipment was installed properly.
- Check You’re Using the Correct Tools and Parts: Determine you’re using tools rated for the work being done. Screwdrivers, pliers, etc. must be voltage-rated and properly insulated. If new parts and wires are being installed, verify they’re not damaged and are designed to connect to existing equipment.
- Be Aware of Safety Issues at Every Step: Turning a breaker off does not eliminate safety hazards (you can still get a shock). Continue to take precautions, as the main bus bar and conductors may still be hot. The panel must be inspected before being turned on. A licensed electrician has the knowledge and tools to inspect new parts and connections and ensure the panel isn’t at risk of damage. They’ll also test it before flipping the main breaker on.
How Does an Electrical Panel Work?
An electrical panel is where electricity from the grid is distributed throughout your home. It contains the circuit breakers that control each circuit. Most breakers are rated at 15, 20, or 30 amps. Single-pole circuit breakers provide 120 volts of power (suited for lights, TVs, etc.) and double-pole breakers are rated at 240 volts for appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, or air conditioners. Breaker panels also contain ground-fault or arc-fault circuit interrupters, bus bars, and numerous wires and cables.
Where Should a Breaker Panel Be Located?
The main service panel is usually located in the basement or a utility room. Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards, enforced by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR), include various electrical panel safety guidelines. They require panels and other electrical equipment to have:
- At least three feet of clearance in front for easy access in an emergency
- At least a 2.5-foot clearance width or a distance at least the width of the panel
- A secure cover to prevent exposure to live wires and protect internal components from dirt, dust, and moisture
Do I Need an Electrician to Replace a Circuit Breaker?
Hire a licensed electrician to replace any circuit breaker. Although our breaker panel safety tips are effective, such a project may require a permit. A trained electrician has complete knowledge of electrical codes to ensure your safety. They can also check for hidden, potentially more serious problems and take the appropriate steps to fix them.
Call Hoover for Breaker Panel and Other Electrical Repairs
If a circuit breaker keeps tripping or you have flickering lights, frequent surges, or a high electric bill, call Hoover for help. Our electricians are state-licensed, fully insured, and meet all applicable certification requirements. They handle every job, big or small, with a thorough inspection, accurate diagnosis, and complete repair (while prioritizing safety at every step). All required parts and materials are stocked in their trucks, so repairs are completed in one visit. Breakers, lights, and appliances are tested to ensure the issue is fully resolved.