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.
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 better understand 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. It is installed in a metal box and is the basis for the charges on your electric bill
Electricity always starts with the power service and electric meter. It comes to you via electricity network providers 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 energy supplier owns the electric meter, and it is their job to install and maintain it.
The main 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, 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.
Once the electricity passes through the meter, the home’s main switchboard is where the process of electricity distribution begins. The main switchboard is also known as the breaker panel, breaker box, fuse box, and distribution board. 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 main switchboard 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 all the house circuits. However, you must remember that power is always present in the utility service lines and electric meter unless it’s shut off by the utility.
Branch Circuit Breakers
The branch circuit breakers control the flow of electricity to a branch circuit in the house. All devices connected to a circuit will lose their power if that breaker is shut off. 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.
Electrocution Protection Devices (RCDs)
Electrocution protection devices, also known as residual current devices and earth leakage protection. RCDs are a device that is designed to prevent you from getting a fatal electric shock if you touch something live, such as a bare wire. They can also protect against electrical fires. RCDs offer a level of personal protection that ordinary fuses and circuit-breakers cannot provide.
The latest revision of AS3000 (Australian Wiring Rules) states that all subcircuits in a domestic environment shall be protected by the use of an electrocution protection device. For older premises upgrading to RCD protection is not essential but strongly recommended.
Anything connected to electricity is called an appliance. These include switches, outlets, light fixtures, and appliances. Appliances are connected to individual branch circuits.
A single circuit serves a single or multiple appliances. Single-serving circuits are called dedicated circuits and are used for critical use or heavy appliances like dryers, ovens, cooktops/stoves, water heaters, dishwashers, and microwaves. This reduces the chances of overloading. On the other hand, multiple appliance circuits power several outlets. Understanding the setup of your appliance 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, two-way, dimmer, motion sensors, and smart switches.
- Single pole switches control one device or outlet.
- Two-way switches are used in pairs so you can control a single device, like an overhead light fixture, from two different spots.
- Dimmers, control the intensity of your lights.
- Motion sensor switches are activated when they detect motion.
- Smart switches are generally installed behind an existing switch plate or in place of an existing switch plate. Smart switches allow lights and appliances to be controlled via smart phone.
General Purpose Outlets
Also called powerpoints, general-purpose outlets provide power to plug-in devices and appliances. Outlets commonly are 10-amp. The higher the amp, the more electricity it can provide, which also prevents tripping the breaker.
There are various kinds of outlets that are used for different applications:
10A 240-volt outlets – most commonly found general purpose outlet. Used for standard appliances such as kettles, microwaves, chargers, etc.
15A 240-volt outlets – good for power tools or large appliances.
3 phase outlets – used for connecting to electric ranges, clothes driers, and other appliances and devices that require this higher voltage and current.
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 for devices that need to be charged regularly.
Wiring carries electricity from the breaker box to various circuits and devices. Some types of wirings are thermoplastic sheathed (TPS), cross-linked polyethylene cable (XLPE), and wiring concealed in conduit. Modern wiring contains three wires: active, neutral, and earth. The active supplies power, the neutral provides a return path for the power, and the earthing 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 basics of electrical systems, 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, so don’t hesitate to contact us!
– Your Favourite Sparky in Canberra