5 FAQs About Home Electrical Systems

What’s the difference between fuses and circuit breakers?  While they both perform the same function (provide over current protection to the circuit) they do so in different ways.  A circuit breaker simply “trips” when the current exceeds the rating for the circuit while a fuse must be replaced as it is consumed.  Therefore, circuit breakers are simply more convenient and are the currently preferred method. There are no safety advantages.  If your breakers trip or fuses blow often, call a licensed electrician as this indicates a problem with your electrical system.

Why do I have 2-prong and 3-prong receptacles in my home?  It is very common for older homes to have both as electrical upgrades have occurred over time.  Homes built before 1968 will mostly have 2-prong, non-grounded receptacles while homes built after should have grounded 3-prong.   A fully grounded receptacle is significantly safer and protects the equipment plugged into it (and user) from power surges and potential damage. The ground provides a pathway for electricity from an electrical component to leave the component in a safe manner.  It is strongly suggested to upgrade the electrical system in older homes to grounded, 3-prong receptacles for added protection for expensive modern electronics and personal safety.

What are GFCI’s?  GFCI’s, or ground fault circuit interrupters, are electrical devices (receptacles or circuit breakers) that constantly monitor the flow of electricity in a circuit to detect a loss.  If the current supplied differs from the current returning from a circuit, the GFCI will shut off the flow of electricity to protect the circuit.  This is important because humans are good conductors of electricity and are a potential pathway to ground, therefore, GFCI’s protect us from potential electrical shock.

Is Aluminum wiring dangerous?   Aluminum wiring has got a lot of negative attention and tends to alarm home buyer’s and agents.  This is largely unwarranted as aluminum wiring still meets most present-day, industry standards and local codes in specific applications.  Aluminum wiring was widely used from the mid-1960’s to the mid-1970’s largely because it is cheaper and more readily available than copper.  However, after years in service problems associated with overheating and arcing began to occur due to the physical properties of the metal.  Aluminum has a higher resistance to electrical flow, greater sensitivity to temperature changes, and incompatibility when in contact with different metals.  In short, the wiring was becoming loose at receptacles and switches with copper connections resulting in potential electrical safety hazards.  However, it can be made safe for long term use if properly maintained by a licensed electrician.   If you have aluminum branch circuits in your home, please consult with a licensed electrician for proper maintenance to ensure the electrical system is safe.

Why is my main electric panel installed outside?  Electric panels have been, and are still allowed to be, installed outside the home provided the panel box is rated for exterior applications.  The panel must properly close and seal to protect from potential damage from the elements.  The only real limitation is lack of convenience and potential security risks.   Therefore, it is suggested to install an exterior grade pad lock to prevent someone from accessing your panel.