The Electrical Service (ES) is the point of contact between the external wires that come from the street and your home’s internal electrical system. It is the hub of your home’s electrical system, connecting you to 240-volt power and providing a safe and convenient way to use electricity. You can visit your electric service panel many times throughout the year to check the amperage, add circuits for new appliances or even repair an existing one. Understanding what you’re dealing with and how it works will keep you safe as you work.
The main electricity that reaches your house comes from the power utility company via two 120-volt service wires offering a combined 240-volt service, or more specifically, a pair of insulated copper conductors called “service entrance conductors” that feed directly into your electrical meter at the front of your house. These service wires can enter your home through overhead service masts that connect to the meter base, or they can be buried underground from the point of connection at the meter base to your home’s metal riser or service entrance cable (SER or SEU).
Overhead electrical services are becoming less and less common due to municipal design standards and utility regulations favoring underground installations. However, they can still be seen across the country and may be found in older neighborhoods or rural settings where overhead wires are preferred for aesthetic reasons or because of environmental conditions such as winter ice storms. Underground utilities are more dependable, safe and can’t be damaged by vehicles.
Your electricity’s first stop once it gets to your house is your service panel, also referred to as an electric distribution center or electrical service box. The electrical panel consists of a main electrical panel, sometimes referred to as a service panel or electric service panel, and exit wires that go out to different areas of your home. The main panel contains a circuit breaker for each of these exit wires, and the number of outlets and the amount of electricity you’re able to run at any given time is dependent on how many of these breakers are flipped open.
You’ll also see in most residential homes a secondary panel, often known as an electrical subpanel. This is typically used to accommodate additional circuits and breakers added as part of a home addition or remodel. These panels are also commonly installed in larger commercial properties, such as manufacturing plants, to support advanced equipment that requires high amounts of electricity to function properly.
Before you start working on your electrical system, be sure to be especially careful of any areas around the electrical panel box that are exposed. Touching these can cause serious injury if you get a direct current (DC) shock. This is because the exposed areas are conductive, meaning that if you’re carrying a tool such as a screwdriver or wrench, it may be touching parts of the service wires and transmitting an electric charge to your body.