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Electrical Basics for Home Owners and Home Buyers

   Contrary to what many people think, electricity is not rocket science. It is simply the movement of electrons within a confined space.
   This article was written to give people a few BASICS of electricity, so that they have a better understanding of what their Home Inspector will look for during an inspection, and to help them understand what all those wires and gizmos actually do.


   Most homes are serviced by a service entrance cable, either from overhead or underground. The size of the service entrance cable, and capacity of the other components determines the AMPICITY of the service. This is simply the "carrying capacity" of the service. The service entrance cable usually runs from a WEATHERHEAD if it is an overhead service. The weatherhead is the device attached to the side of the home which seperates the wiring. It is connected to the electrical wires that run from a utility pole. If the service is the Electric Bulb Iconunderground variety, the electricity enters the home through CONDUIT and continues to the electric meter, then the main distribution panel.
   Underground services are sometimes referred to as a SERVICE LATERAL.
   The service may be a 60, 100, 150 or 200 AMP setup, depending on the electrical needs of the household. Today, most homes are fed by a 200 AMP service in order to meet modern electrical demands. This allows the use of multiple appliances at once, such as electric stoves, heating appliances, electric dryers and so on.  A 200 AMP service can usually meet the demands of additional buildings on the property as well, like garages and out-buildings.
   Services of 60 AMPS are actually substandard for modern electrical demands.


   A home's electrical system must be grounded in order to ensure safety. A system may be grounded in several ways....a direct connection to metal water pipes that pass through the ground, or a copper rod pounded into the ground and attached to the service by a copper wire. Older homes may have an iron or galvanized pipe sunk into the ground as the grounding point.


   The main distribution panel does exactly what the name distributes the incoming electricity to various circuits around the home. This is where the power is "split up" in order to feed circuits with various electrical demands. An electric dryer, for instance, requires more juice than a lighting fixture, so it gets more of the "electrical pie".


    The MDP encloses either breakers or fuses, each serving the same purpose.
   They are intended as an overload device. If there is a short circuit (meaning that the electricity on a circuit has found a shortcut to ground), the breaker or fuse is designed to stop the flow of electricity to that particular circuit.
   A breaker accomplishes this by "tripping", and a fuse does it by melting a wire filament inside the fuse, thereby breaking the circuit and stopping the flow of juice. In addition, breakers and fuses may stop the flow of electricity if the electrical demands of attached appliances exceeds the carrying capacity of the wiring on that circuit. This prevents the wiring that serves the circuit from overheating or melting, which could cause a fire.
   Breakers are sometimes referred to by the number of "poles" they have...for instance, a SINGLE POLE breaker or a DOUBLE POLE breaker. A single pole breaker contacts the buss bar at ONE point, drawing 110 volts of electricity, and a double-pole breaker contacts the buss bar at TWO points, drawing 220 volts of juice. Double pole breakers are usually used for larger appliances which require more electricity, such as an electric stove, an electric dryer, or a submersible water pump.
   Both breakers and fuses are very necessary components of the electrical system.


   Wiring is measured by GAUGE. The larger the gauge number, the smaller the wire diameter. For instance, 10 gauge wiring is larger in diameter than 12 gauge wiring, and so on.
   Breakers (or fuses) and their connected wiring must correspond as far as size and carrying capacity. As an example, you wouldn't use a 16 gauge wire on a 20 AMP breaker, because the wire would heat up or melt before the circuit breaker tripped. Conversely, if a breaker is used that is too small for the wiring diameter attached to it, or if the electrical demands of the circuit are too high for the breaker, it may continually trip.


   Yes, I understand that all these terms can become confusing. And since I'm a nice guy, I'm going to take the confusion out of the equation.
   Here we go:

AMPERAGE is the AMOUNT of electricity flowing through a wire.

VOLTAGE is the electrical pressure that pushes through the wires.

WATTS are the measurement of energy WORK.

OHMS are the measure of RESISTANCE in a circuit.



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