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Everything You Need to Know About Your Home Electrical System

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Table of Contents

Owning a home comes with great responsibilities. One of which is knowing a thing or two about anything electrical. So, whether you’re a new homeowner or not, knowing what’s going on in your home electrical system is a must.

That’s why in this piece, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about your home’s electricity, at least the most basic things. Let’s start!

Why understanding your home electrical system is important

Before we get into the nitty gritty of your electrical system, here are several reasons why you should start learning the basics of your home electrical system in the first place:

Safety

It helps you identify potential hazards and take necessary precautions. You can avoid electric shock, fires, and accidents by being aware of safety measures and how to handle electrical issues properly.

Troubleshooting

When electrical problems arise, having some basic know-how of home electrical systems enables you to troubleshoot basic issues. This can save you time and money by addressing minor problems without the need to call an electrician.

Energy Efficiency

Understanding how electricity is used in your home allows you to identify energy-wasting practices and make informed decisions on energy-efficient appliances and lighting. This can help reduce your electricity bills and minimise your environmental impact.

Home Improvements

If you plan to make home improvements or renovations that involve electrical work, understanding your electrical system will help you communicate effectively with electricians or contractors. It ensures that the work is done correctly and meets your needs.

Emergency Preparedness

During electrical emergencies, you’ll know when to turn off the power or provide essential information to emergency responders.

With that out of the way, let’s start with your beginner’s course to home electrical systems.

How You Get Electricity

Electricity flows through wires as water flows through pipes. Here’s how that electricity travels from the grid to your house to power all your electronics at the same time. Assuming that you are not completely living off the grid.

1. Power Generation

Electricity is generated at the power plants of your electric utility company. These plants use different sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, or renewable energy (like solar or wind) to produce electricity.

2. Transmission

After generation, electricity is sent through high-voltage power lines called transmission lines. These lines can carry a large amount of electricity over long distances from the power plants to cities and neighbourhoods.

3. Substations

When electricity reaches your local area, it goes through a substation. Substations help reduce the voltage from high levels used in transmission to lower levels used for distribution.

4. Distribution Lines

From the substation, electricity travels through lower-voltage distribution lines, which are smaller and more widespread, running along streets and alleys.

5. Electric Meter

Before electricity enters your house, it passes through an electric meter. This meter measures the amount of electricity you use, which is important for billing purposes.

6. Main Electrical Panel (Switchboard)

Inside your house, the electricity enters the main electrical panel or switchboard. This panel acts as the control centre for your home’s electrical system.

7. Circuit Breakers

The main electrical panel contains circuit breakers. These are like automatic safety switches that protect your home’s wiring and devices from overloading. If there’s too much electricity flowing through a circuit, the circuit breaker trips and shuts off the power to prevent damage.

8. Electrical Outlets and Wiring

From the main electrical panel, the electricity flows through electrical wiring hidden behind the walls to different outlets and switches throughout your home. These outlets provide access points for you to plug in your electronics.

9. Electronic Devices

When you plug your electronic devices (like lamps, TVs, computers, or phone chargers) into the electrical outlets, the flow of electricity powers these devices, allowing them to work and function.

10. Return to the Grid

Once your electronic devices have used the electricity they need, the electrons return to the electrical grid through the neutral wire, completing the circuit.

Easy, right? Now let’s get into the specifics.

Switchboards

The main electrical panel, also known as the switchboard, is a crucial component of your home electrical system. It serves as the central distribution point for electricity entering your home. It receives power from the electrical grid and divides it into different circuits, supplying electricity to various parts of your house.

Switchboards are often located near the electric meter. In some cases, it may be installed on an external wall or in a garage, but it should always be easily accessible.

Inside the switchboard, you’ll see other important components that keep your electrical system running smoothly:

Circuit Breakers – these are safety switches that protect individual electrical circuits. They automatically shut off the power to a circuit if it becomes overloaded or experiences a short circuit. This ultimately helps prevent electrical fires and damage to appliances.

But more on these later.

Safety Switch (RCD) – In Australia, modern main electrical panels are equipped with safety switches, also known as residual current devices (RCDs). RCDs monitor the flow of electricity and can quickly shut off power if they detect a fault or current leakage to protect your home against an electric shock.

Know the difference between a circuit breaker and a safety switch.

Circuit Labels – Your switchboard should have clear labels identifying the different electrical circuits in your home. These labels indicate which areas or appliances each circuit supplies power to. Proper labelling makes it easier to identify and isolate circuits during troubleshooting or in case of emergencies.

If you live in an older home, your electrical panel might have fuses instead of circuit breakers. Upgrading to a modern circuit breaker panel with RCDs is recommended for improved safety and protection.

Circuit breakers

As you already know, circuit breakers are designed to prevent electrical overloads and short circuits, which can lead to electrical fires and damage to appliances. They have a tripping mechanism that detects abnormal current flow that quickly opens the circuit, cutting off the electricity.

Circuit breakers also have a rated current, which is the maximum current they can handle without tripping. Common residential circuit breakers in Australia have ratings like 10A, 16A, 20A, and 32A, depending on the circuit’s load.

In Australia, two common types of circuit breakers are used:

Miniature Circuit Breakers – MCBs protect against overloads and short circuits.

An overload occurs when too many devices draw power from the circuit, while a short circuit happens when the live and neutral wires come into direct contact.

Earth Leakage Circuit Breakers – ELCBs, also known as safety switches or RCDs (Residual Current Devices), protect against an electric shock by detecting leakage currents.

How to reset a tripped circuit breaker

When circuit breakers trip, you’ll notice that the power to specific outlets, lights, or appliances in your home has suddenly turned off.

Some modern circuit breakers have a visible indicator, often a coloured flag or a small window, that pops out when the breaker trips. This serves as a visual indication that the circuit has been interrupted. Here are the steps for resetting it:

  1. Inside the electrical panel, look for the circuit breakers that are in the “off” position or not fully in the “on” position.
  2. Check the labels on the panel to identify which circuit the breaker controls.
  3. Turn off or unplug any devices or electrical appliances connected to the tripped circuit. This helps prevent an immediate overload when you reset the breaker.
  4. Firmly push the tripped circuit breaker to the fully “off” position and then back to the “on” position. You should hear or feel a click as it resets.
  5. Check to see if power is restored to the affected area or devices. If the breaker was the cause of the power loss, everything should now be working again.

If the circuit breakers trip again immediately or shortly after resetting it, there might be an overload or a fault in the circuit. In this case, leave the breaker off and do not attempt to reset it again. It’s time to contact a licensed electrician like us to investigate and resolve the issue.

Wiring and outlets

Your home’s wiring is like your body’s system of interconnected nerves or blood vessels that make your body do its functions properly. Whereas a home’s wiring system promotes reliable electricity distribution, minimises energy wastage, and reduces the risk of electrical hazards such as electric shocks and fires.

In Australia, electrical wiring follows specific colour codes to identify the function of each wire within an electrical circuit. The standard colour codes for electrical wiring are as follows:

Active (Live) Wire

Colour: Red or brown insulated wire.

The active wire carries the electrical current from the power source to the electrical device or appliance. It is the wire that provides the power for the circuit.

Neutral Wire

Colour: Black or blue insulated wire.

The neutral wire completes the electrical circuit and provides the return path for the current back to the power source. It carries the current away from the electrical device or appliance back to the source.

Earth Wire (Ground)

Colour: Green with yellow stripes or green/yellow insulated wire.

The earth wire serves as a safety conductor that provides a path for electrical currents in the event of a fault. It directs any fault current away from the electrical device or appliance to the ground, preventing an electric shock.

These wires run throughout the house, hidden behind the walls, and are connected to electrical outlets, where devices and electrical appliances can access electricity from your home electrical system.

Outlets

In Australia, Type I outlets are the most common type of electrical outlets. They have two or three flat pins in a slanted configuration. The two-pin version is used for basic appliances, while the three-pin version includes an additional grounding pin for more powerful devices like washing machines, refrigerators, and heaters.

Electrical outlets are designed to handle specific power ratings, typically 10A, 15A, or 20A. The power rating represents the maximum current the outlet can safely handle.

How to spot faulty wiring in your home

If you experience electrical problems like flickering lights or outlet sparks, it may indicate you have faulty wiring. Here are some signs that you need to watch out for

  • frequent tripping of circuit breakers
  • flickering or dimming lights
  • a burning smell or scorch marks near outlets
  • outlets or switch plates that feel unusually hot
  • visible sparks or electrical arcing when you plug in or unplug an appliance
  • non-functioning outlets or switches
  • buzzing or crackling sounds coming from outlets or switches
  • mild electric shocks when touching appliances or switches

If you notice any of these signs, address the issue asap to prevent electrical hazards. It’s best to hire a licensed electrician to inspect and diagnose any wiring problems for your safety.

Learn more about faulty wiring here.

Choose Mr Sparky for your electrical needs in Sydney

Partner up with Mr Sparky’s Electrical Services for all your electrical needs, in Sydney. Our team comprises licensed and experienced electricians dedicated to providing top-notch electrical services that strictly comply with Australian standards.

Rest assured, we are here to offer you the necessary electrical support, ensuring your home’s safety. Give us a call today at 1300 770 771 or reach out to us through our contact form.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meet Steven, owner of Mr Sparky and seasoned professional electrician in Sydney. With more than 15 years of experience in taking care of the electrical needs of Sydney’s residents, Steven loves to share his expertise and knowledge to ensure everyone is electrical safe. Need an electrician in Sydney – give Mr Sparky a call

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