This article was updated on 12/10/19. Happy Dewey Decimal System Day!
This article provides an explanation of how electricity enters the home via the electric meter (see photo above), is broken down, and is
delivered to the electrical switches and outlets via the circuit breaker box and wiring.
Most homeowners, including many DIYers, are intimidated by home wiring and electricity in general.
This is understandable. Electrical current is difficult to grasp as a concept. It cant be seen but it
can certainly be felt.
This article will give an overview of home electrical wiring for the homeowner who wants to understand
Electricity Distribution Point: The Circuit Breaker Box
Electricity enters the home from the electric company through the bottom of the meter in this case. As it is metered it flows across into the circuit breaker box (see photo above).
Older homes may have a fuse box. Sometimes the term load center service box is used. In any event, the power comes in to the main circuit breaker at 220 Volts. Usually, it is 100 Amps.
But most appliances run on 110 Volts. What gives? Well, the 220 V can be split. So, in our example,
two 110V 20A circuits are the same as one 220V 20A circuit. In reality, in almost all homes, the
electrical power is broken down at the circuit breaker box into a combination of 110V and 220V
A typical circuit breaker.
The primary purpose of the circuit breaker (or fuse) is to break the circuit when too high an amperage demand is put on the circuit.
This should only happen if too many high demand appliances on a circuit are running at the same time. The secondary purpose is to allow the homeowner to remove power from a specific circuit while working on it. A high demand situation is a pesky electrical issue. Consider adding another circuit.
Sizing a Breaker Panel with a Power Load Calculation
This isnt something the average homeowner needs to worry about until its time for a
remodel that involves more space or more electrical demand. Initially, this will be done by an
electrical engineer when the house is still on the drawing board.
Sizing a breaker panel with a load calculation takes into consideration the square footage of the home
and projections for electric heating, cooking appliances, the water heater (conventional or
tankless water heater,
it makes a difference), the clothes dryer, and air conditioning.
Beyond the Breaker Box Romex Wiring
So the power has been delivered to the home and distributed to circuit breakers at the panel or fuse box.
What next? The juice has to be delivered to the points where it will do its work and make life good.
This, obviously, is done via wiring.
Just any wiring? No. Before running any new wiring, check with the local building codes to know what
to use. In most cases it will be specified as 12 or 14 gauge nonmetallic sheathed cable, known simply as
Replace Aluminum Wiring with Copper
Inside this cable are plastic coated copper wires which are color coded. For a few years, aluminum wire
was used because of its low cost compared to copper, but like lead-based paint, it was found to be dangerous and was discontinued. If your home has
any, replace it with Romex.
Building codes refer to different parts of the home, such as powering up a bathroom, a utility room,
or a kitchen.
The wire is run though the house inside the framed walls and connected to switch and outlet boxes
which are screwed or nailed to the studs.
Deciphering the Color Coded Wiring inside the Romex
Its standard practice to use black (occasionally blue or red) for the hot wire. This will carry the
electrical current. White is the neutral wire and returns the power.
Grounding wires of bare copper (occasionally green or green and yellow) gives the current a way to the
ground if an electrical failure happens.
Electrical Trivia Thats right, the power goes back and forth. Thus, the term
alternating current, or, AC. In the US, electricity is 60 Hertz. One minute has 60 seconds. Digital
clocks are amazingly accurate. Coincidence? I dont think so.
Kelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.
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