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Electrical Basics You Should Know

Electricity plays a massive role in our society. It was discovered in 1752, was first used in the 1800s, and has kept houses well-lit since then. We depend so much on electricity, so when an electrical problem happens, we all want to be able to get things running again. Read on to know all about electrical basics at home:

It is equally important to know when to call a licensed electrician to do the work for you. Some problems are beyond the range of what an untrained person could do. For handling/installing heavy electrical systems, make sure to contact a licensed electrician.  

The following terms will help you have a better understanding of electricity so you can be a better electrical consumer.  

Electrical Service Connection and Meter 

The meter is a device that measures the amount of electricity you are using. The meter is the basis for the charges in your electric bill. We often install the meter in a metal box.

Electricity always starts with the power service and electric meter. It comes to you via electric company’s mains.  

There are three types of electrical meters: 

Electromechanical – has a series of dials and a spinning disc behind a glass cover, common, requires manual reading 

Smart meters – have digital displays and can be read remotely, more accurate tracking of power usage 

Bi-directional meters – measure the power coming in and the power you are sending out, used if you use solar panels or other electricity sources to produce power. 

Please note that your electricity owns the electric meter. And it is their job to install and maintain it.  

Main Switch 

A disconnect switch shuts off the power from outside the home. This is immensely helpful in the event of an emergency because you can quickly turn off the power without going inside your home. It is usually mounted on an outside wall and located near the electric meter. If you do not have this at home, the main circuit breaker in your home’s main service panel will serve as the system disconnect. 

Main Switchboard 

Once the electricity passes through the meter, the home’s main switchboard is where the process of electricity distribution begins. Some people call the switchboard breaker panel, breaker box, and distribution panel. It has a large, single cable coming in that is distributed among the various circuits in the house. Each circuit has a breaker that trips if it draws too much power. 

Main circuit breaker 

The service panel contains a large main breaker that controls the flow of power to the branch circuit breakers inside the panel. By flipping this off, you stop the flow of power to all the branch circuit breakers in the panel, and to all the circuits in the house. 

Remember that power is always present in the utility service lines and electric meter unless shut off by the utility. 

Branch Circuit Breakers 

The branch circuit breakers control the flow of electricity to a branch circuit in the house. Shutting off the breaker will disconnect all devices on a circuit. Breakers automatically trip themselves off if circuit problems happen. For example, overloading a circuit will cause its breaker to trip. Other electrical faults can also cause the trips.  

Make sure to distribute heavy or high-demand appliances to separate circuits. If the breaker trips repeatedly, it’s best to call an electrician to solve the problem.  


Anything connected to electricity is called a device. These include switches, outlets, light fixtures, and appliances. Devices are connected to individual branch circuits. 

A single circuit serves single or multiple devices. Dedicated circuits are single-serving circuits. Heavy appliances like dryers, refrigerators, water heaters, dishwashers, and microwaves require a dedicated circuit. This reduces the chances of overloading. On the other hand, multiple device circuits power several outlets. Understanding the setup of your devices’ connections to the circuits is essential for diagnosing problems and installing new equipment.  


Switches turn on and off devices at home. There are single-pole, three-way, four-way, dimmer, motion sensor, and smart switches. 

  1. Single pole switches – control one device or outlet. 
  1. Three-way switches – used in pairs so you can control a single device, like an overhead light fixture, from two different spots. 
  1. Dimmers – control the intensity of your lights. 
  1. Motion sensor switches – activated when they detect motion.  


Also called receptacles, outlets provide power to plug-in devices and appliances. Outlets commonly are 15-amp or 20-amp. The higher the amp, the more electricity it can provide, which also prevents tripping the breaker.  

For higher safety, wet areas at home must have GFCI (ground-fault circuit-interrupter) protection provided by GFCI outlets or a GFCI breaker. 

Here’s a list of various kinds of outlets:

15A 125-volt outlets – has two versions: grounded and ungrounded. Good for typical use. Not recommended for kitchen or bathroom. 

20A 125-volt outlets – good for power tools or large appliances. 

250-volt outlets – used for connecting to electric ranges, clothes driers, and other appliances and devices that require this higher voltage.  

AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) – prevents arcing or sparks jumping between loose wires, provides an extra level of safety. 

GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter)  shuts off automatically when in contact with water. Used for bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor outlets.  

Switched outlets – tied to outlets, can turn on or off all devices connected to that outlet.  

Smart outlets – used to control devices remotely. Can employ voice control. 

USB outlets – smart upgrade, good for devices that need charge regularly. 


Wirings carry electricity from the breaker box to various circuits and devices. Some types of wirings are non-metallic cable or Romex, Bx cable, and wiring concealed in conduit. Modern wiring contains three wires: hot, neutral, and ground. The hot supplies power. Then, the neutral provides a return path for the power. And the ground is connected to the housing of electrical equipment in case the power supply makes contact with it. The ground reduces the risk of being shocked by touching the equipment. 

Remember, it’s essential to know the electrical basics, but you should also know when to diagnose the problem on your own and when to consult an electrician for a high-risk issue.  

At Capital Home Electrical, we are always willing to help you with any of your electrical needs and electrical problems, so don’t hesitate to contact us! 

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