How does my home's electrical system work?

Get an overview of how your home's electrical system works.
Electricity is practically magic. With the flip of a switch, we can turn on the lights, click on the game, and crank the heat or AC. But how does this happen? Understanding a few details of your home's electrical system can be quite helpful:Power comes to your home from local power lines. A transformer converts the high voltage current to 120 volts before it enters your meter. The power then flows from your meter to your main circuit breaker box with 3 wires:
  • 2 hot wires, containing 120 volts each, run through the main shut-off switch and connect to the 2 bus bars that run down each side of your main panel. Individual circuits attached to these bars feed the electricity to the different plugs and switches in your home.

  • 1 neutral wire runs through the main panel and gets fed to the ground for safety. Circuit breakers at the head of each circuit re-route power to this neutral ground wire when the voltage exceeds a certain limit. A properly wired home electrical system will allow you to run all your appliances at will, without any flashlight trips to the basement or garage.
The power flows from the circuits on your main panel to the rest of your house with 3 wires, configured in one of two ways:
  • Standard plugs and light switches are connected with 1 hot wire (usually black or red), 1 neutral wire (usually white), and 1 ground wire (bare copper).

  • Larger appliances, such as your washer and dryer, are connected with 2 hot wires and 1 ground wire.
Electricity flows in a constant current. When you turn on a light, the switch completes the current and creates a loop - powering your light bulb. When you shut the switch off, you're breaking the loop cycle. Keep in mind that whenever doing minor electrical projects at home, you need to break the current at the main panel by switching off the circuit breaker connected to the project area.

Knowing how your electrical system works might help you decide when you need to call an electrician. You can find licensed electricians in your area on today.

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