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You flip a switch on the wall and your lights go on, adjust a setting on the thermostat and the air conditioner starts cranking, poke a button on the dishwasher and it starts cycling through to clean the dinner dishes. It might seem like magic if you didn’t know better. But what do you really know about electricity and how it arrives and works in your home?
No matter whether your power company generates its energy from turbines fueled by flowing water, steam, combustion gases, wind, or the sun, it transforms it into electricity and sends it out via a vast network of switches, transformers, and high voltage wires strung on poles or running underground all the way to a point of connection at your house.
Each circuit flows out separately on one wire and returns by another one. If the flow ever begins to reach a dangerous level, the breaker or fuse will automatically interrupt the current. If you need to, you can switch off the current manually as well.
A main circuit breaker that can shut off electricity to most or all of the circuits can be found in the panel or, less frequently, near the meter.
Older houses sometimes have a jumble of circuitry that seems to make little sense, say with baseboard outlets in one room and wall switches in an adjacent room connected on one circuit.
That’s why it’s important to spend some time figuring out which breaker or fuse is responsible for which connection, and labeling them on your main panel so you can access them quickly if you need to.
A traditional analog meter has dials that are read from left to right to give you the kilowatt number, and it resets at the start of every billing period. A digital dial does not reset, so to keep track of your usage you need to note the usage each month and subtract the previous month’s reading from it.
According to the Electricity Safety Foundation International, electrical malfunctions cause more than 50,000 preventable house fires every year. An American Home Shield home warranty plan can cover service calls as well as repair and replacement of faulty elements in your system including wiring and lighting fixtures.
These conditions require the immediate attention of an electrician:
In addition, beware of counterfeit products. Buy extension cords, power strips and similar electrical products only from reputable dealers and make sure they have the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) seal.