Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 17 seconds
I realized this issue after a friend called. He had just purchased a remodeled home, and was concerned that his electrical panel was mislabeled. This turns out to be a fairly common problem.
What happens is that over the years, our electrical needs change and or problems occur, and an electrician is called to either upgrade or replace a faulty breaker.
The electrical paned is opened up and the circuit breakers a rearranged to fit better. Unfortunately, the step that is frequently skipped is relabeling the panel correctly.
Years ago, we had half of the gadgets that we have now. Rather than enlarging the panel box itself automatically, a first step is to get breakers that are 1/2 size. Once a panel is full you must upgrade to a larger service which in turn mandates a larger upgraded panel.
When Levco evaluates a kitchen remodeling project, we look for ways to avoid upgrading the service or enlarging the panel to save cost, but it is often it is inevitable.
On a recent whole house project, we eliminated an electric water heater and an electric stove as well as an electric furnace. This allowed a full panel box to have 8 free spaces.
Kitchens require at least 4 separate 110 circuits, and one 220 stove circuit. That doesn’t account for a lighting circuit. There are requirements for GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) as well as AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter). These take up much of the freed up space.
So why is it important to know what fuse or breaker controls which part of your home’s electricity. Well surely safety is one reason. Say you want to replace a bathroom fan and it’s switch. It would make sense to turn off the breaker that controls it. But say you flip the wrong one. This could make you an electrocution patient in the Emergency Room. (If you’re lucky)
So here is the trick to labeling them correctly yourself. Having two people to do this makes sense and will cut down on the running around. Cell phones are a time saver if you are out of ear shot. It should take less than an hour, and you may even have fun.
First, find the electrical panel. There may be several other panels called sub panels as well, so locate them too. If at any time this seems frightening, stop and get an electrician to help. I don’t want anyone to put themselves in danger. Open the hinged cover. you should not see any wires. If you do then either there is either not protective cover plate, or you have gotten into the panel too far.
Make a drawing of your panel, y0u will notice that each breaker is numbered next to the corresponding breaker. (Some are fairly faint). Then turn everything on in your house, (except for your computer). Have someone then flip one breaker at a time off. Identify what that breaker controls in each area of the home logically. You can turn the breaker back on and go to the next area. Take a small electrical fixture like a lamp with you and plug it into the outlets and see which ones are controlled as well.
Hint: Usually the outlets that are controlled are in the same general region as the lights that are effected but you never know.
Numbers also appear on the ends of the breakers themselves. These refer to the number of AMPS that can go through them prior to popping. There are very specific rules about size of wires and the number of amps they correspond with. Fiddling with changing out breakers to solve a popping problem is not recommended.
Once you have operated each breaker or unscrewed each fuse and have a good map of your electrical panel, use mail labels to transfer your information. Place the appropriate label next to each breaker (or on the panel cover if there is not room) each breaker, and viola, you’re done.
Example of good labels are to the point, and in large enough lettering to scan in a hurry.
- Front room north wall outlets.
- Guest bath.
You may find breakers that do nothing. You will find breakers that are tied together. These are 220 volt breakers and need to be operated together.
Common 220 electrical fixtures
- Water heater
- Your spa
- Your electric stove
When it comes to working on electrical components, I always recommend double checking. If, for instance, you want to replace a weak outlet, be sure the power is off for certain by using a tester or plugging something in before you get behind the cover plate.