Do you know how to flip the breaker switch? How about how to shut off the main water supply? What about the location of your electrical panel(s)?
Today, we’re here to help you locate and label your electrical panel. You don't want to start looking in the dark during a power outage! Knowing the location of your electrical panel is necessary for restoring power to an overloaded circuit and shutting off power to certain areas for electrical work and safety reasons. Labeling your electrical panel will save you a lot of time and prevent the old call-and-response game, "Which lights turned off?!"
The Hunt Is on: Where Is My Panel Likely Located?
Typically, every home has one main electrical panel that controls the amount of electricity entering the home. Sometimes, there's also a "sub-panel" that controls various circuits in a different area. What we want to find is the one main electrical panel. You'll be able to tell if you have a sub-panel by completing the process of labeling your main panel.
As a way to narrow down your hunt, the main panel will most likely be found in a closet, basement, garage, laundry room, or even outside — somewhere out of sight, out of mind. It’s a bit of an eye sore, usually a large metal box looking thing affixed to the wall. Which is probably why it’s hidden. Although you may not know where yours is located just yet, you will know it when you see it.
Some General Suggestions
- Locate your electrical panel when it’s light outside or when the lights are on. If you’ve never located your panel and the power goes out in the night, you will be hunting and fumbling with a flashlight.
- Go room to room and look for the large gray metal box. Note that it may not be gray, however, due to being painted to blend in with the home’s color scheme.
- If you can’t find the panel, consult your home inspection report or call your local electrical company. At Hiller, we usually have a record of the location of our customers' electrical panels and can instruct you over the phone. If not, one of our professionals can come to your property and locate and test your electrical panel.
There are two types of electrical panels: fuse box and circuit breaker. If it has switches, it’s a circuit breaker; if it has knobs and fuses, it’s a fuse box.
The double-pole circuit breaker at the top is the on/off switch for power to the entire home. Do NOT turn off the main breaker except during emergencies, such as floods or fires. Your electrician may turn off the main breaker for testing and repairs.
When Do I Need to Access My Panel?
The main reason you need to locate your panel is to turn power back on to a circuit. If a fuse has blown due to an overloaded outlet in your home, you’ll need to locate the panel in order to replace the fuse and restore power. If the breaker trips, you need to find the tripped breaker and turn it all the way off before you flip it back on again.
It's also useful to know where the main power switch is during emergencies, such as floods and fires. If you smell something fishy and suspect an electrical hazard, you should turn off power to that circuit until an electrician can investigate the hazard.
In case of an overloaded circuit, in any area of your home, you should be able to locate your panel, locate the correct switch, and tackle the outage. Of course if there’s ever any confusion on this process of restoring power, contact the professionals at Hiller. We even offer electrical evaluations and can help you locate your panel and test and label the switches on your circuit breaker.
How to Label Your Panel
Luckily, you found your electrical panel, opened it up, and found all the circuits clearly labeled. Still, it's a good idea to double-check its accuracy.
Each switch controls something different. You can recruit someone to help you and together you can figure out which switch goes to what by simply flipping them and finding out.
For example, 1. turn on all the lights, 2. flip a switch, and 3. have your helper tell you where the lights went out. Then you can label that switch accordingly.
Things to Consider
Once you choose to index your switches, you will need to decide how you want to label them. Do you want to take a casual tone and label the switch “Molly’s Room” or “TV Room” or will you use a less-personal tone and instead of “Molly’s Room” say “north wall of west bedroom”? There are pros and cons for both labeling styles.
A casual tone is particular just for you and will be easier to navigate, but only if you are immediate family and are familiar with which rooms are what. Also the generic labels are subject to change, say for example if Tom and Molly switch rooms. Also these labels are really only helpful for your family. If you are not planning on being on the property long-term, help out the future residents by labeling with cardinal directions rather than nicknames.
Most electrical panels will have a sticker on the inside door where you can write down the corresponding rooms/areas of the home. Use a permanent marker and clear handwriting. Pen and pencil will fade.
Electrical Panel Safety
If you notice anything suspect about your electrical panel, such as rust, corrosion, melting plastic, or any other damage, call your electrician right away.
Make sure your home is outfitted with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). These "circuit interrupters" will cut off power in dangerous situations to protect you from electrocutions and building fires. Keep in mind that if you have AFCIs and GFCIs installed at the breaker box, you may need to reset your breakers more frequently. Learn more about protecting your home from electrical hazards with our safety checklist.
For more information on how to locate or label your home’s electrical panel, call the experts at Hiller. We’re always here to help you hunt.