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See inside main breaker box
Electricity from power pole to breaker box
Neutral wire is same size at Hot wire so each can carry same current
Ground wire connects to Neutral wire
Ground wire is smaller diameter than Neutral and is for household safety
Power poles carry high-volt, low-amp electricityHigh-volt low-amp lets power company transmit electricity long-distance without heat loss caused by high amperage.
Before entering house, electricity is converted to lower volts and higher amps at transformer. Different transformers are used for different voltages. Residential transformers receive power from 1 high voltage line. The transformer reduces voltage to 120Volts and splits the voltage into two 'out-of-phase' 120Volt Hot wires that enter home. The two out of phase hot wires offer 240Volt potential used to power water heaters, air conditioner etc. While the single-phase 120volts is used for outlets and lights.
Homes with underground utilities have meter and meter box, but wires arrive in conduit pipe from underground. Transformers are inside ground-level boxes at edge of property.
Note: 3 wires enter home <> 2 hot wires and 1 neutral wire <> the neutral also connects to ground wire at pole. Ground wire is smaller gauge than neutral wire. Neutral wire is same gauge as hot wires so it can carry voltage equal to the hot.
Where power comes from: What is 3 phase
Read about transformers
Read details about 3-phase
See another image of household single phase and split phase
Read about source of electric power
Example service drop wire
Triplex means 3 wires twisted together to form 1 cable. Electrician can buy triplex at home center or electric supply.
Quadraplex is 4 wires twisted together to form 1 cable
Many different types of bundled cables are available to electrician in larger and smaller diameter
2 Hot wires and 1 neutral wire leave transformer and drop to weatherhead located on side of home or local pole
Example triplex has 1 non-insulated wire for neutral, and 2 insulated wires to carry Hot1 and Hot2 from transformer to meter box
Normally 1 wire is solid black and other is solid black with yellow stripe
Neutral is same gauge as Hot wires, so Neutral can be used to carry voltage equal to incoming Hot without overheating
Ground wires are smaller and cannot carry full voltage without overheating. Ground wire is for safety.
Why you need ground wire
Ground wire is smaller gauge than neutral
How to get electric serviceCall local electric company: Ask for specifications and permit for connecting electric service.
Electric company may required licensed electrician before approving installation, or in rural areas they may allow homeowner to install the meter box and weatherhead.
Specifications must be followed:
Install meter box and weatherhead on side of any stationary building. Unskirted Mobile homes and RV and temporary buildings and dilapidated structures usually require separate pole for meter and weatherhead.
RVs will plug into outlet that is attached to conduit below the meter box. Power cut off required at connection point.
Breaker box can be installed on pole. Or conduit can be run underground into any structure where it terminates in a breaker box. Breaker box must have a main breaker.
Height of weatherhead, height of meter box, size of conduit, size of wire, size and type of pole, location of ground rod, ownership of property, billing address, setback distances, proximity of power pole and transformer, trees, other buildings, etc must be considered.
There must be 8' ground rod installed at the pole with proper grounding by local code.
Meter box, conduit, wire, ground rod and weatherhead available at local store. Install meter box and conduit and ground rod.
Run wire from meter to weatherhead, and leave specified amount of wire hanging out of weatherhead. Power company will inspect meter and wires, and then attach drop-wire from pole, install meter into meter box, then re-engage fuse at power pole to energize the service.
Electric company will not connect power unless conduit terminates into a shut off box or is continuous to a main breaker shut off inside breaker box.
Example service installation manual
2 hot wires
1 neutral wire
enter weatherheadWeatherhead sold local home center and electric supply
When home or business has underground service, there is no weatherhead.
Purpose of weatherhead is to keep water out of mast, meter box etc.
Water must be kept out of mast or underground conduit, or short can occur.
Water can also cause rusted box and deterioration of electrical connections.
Underground residential electric serviceTransformer is underground instead of local pole
Meter and meter box located on side of house, same as above-ground service
Install Meter Box (shown on side of building)Three wires enter meter box.
Same 3 wires arrive for underground or above ground service connections
Connect wires as shown. Use large allan wrench to tighten lugs against copper wire.
There are 2 hot wires and 1 neutral wire. The 2 hot wires come from the transformer. The neutral is connected to ground wire at telephone pole.
The meter 'stabs' into meter box using 4 prongs, similar to extension cord plugging into a wall socket.
The meter completes the circuit and lets electricity flow to house.
The 3 wires exit meter box and go to Main Breaker Box
Meter and meter boxImage shows meter and meter box:
Buy meter box at local electric supply. Power company installs meter when service is connected.
You can buy used and reconditioned meters and install around house to track electric usage of each appliance.
How to install your own electric meter
Pulling a meter requires a stout pull downward and then upward <> usually you pull downward on the top of meter and then push up, going up & down to loosen and remove meter > removing meter will turn off electricity to whole house including breaker box <> however meter box will still contain live electricity <> stand on dry boards when pulling meter <> turn off all circuit breakers in main breaker box before pulling or re-installing meter so there is no arc of electricity just as meter prongs makes contact with lugs
2 Hot wires / 1 Neutral wire/ enter main breaker boxOrdinary household wiring is called 'single-phase' or 'split phase.'
120 volt is generally called single-phase and 240 volt is split-phase.
The available voltage is determined by how the electric company sets up the transformer.
2 Hot wires and 1 neutral wire arrive from meter box.
Blue color added to 1 hot wire for illustration <> in real breaker box, the 2 hot wires are black
The 2 hot wires connect to the Main Breaker <> a lug is tightened very tight to hold wire in place. Neutral is connect to neutral busbar.
Each hot wire connects to different busbar through the main breaker > here the busbars are named A and B > the 'blue' hot wire provides power to blue busbar <> remember, blue color added for illustration only
Hot busbars are 120 Volts each > they never touch each other > they are suspended away from the main box by insulators
240 Volt potential exists between busbar A and busbar B
On some apartment and condo services, 208 Volt potential exists between busbar A and busbar B, and 120 Volt between each hot busbar and either busbar A or B
See basic 120V and 240V water heater circuits
Difference between 120Volt and 240VoltInside main breaker box are Three busbars.
One busbar is Neutral busbar.
Two busbars are Hot busbars.
Each Hot busbar is 'out of phase' with the other.
Bare ground wires are bonded to Neutral busbar as redundant safety.
All residential circuits require Two wires to complete circuit.
**120Volt circuit requires 1 Neutral wire and 1 Hot wire.
Hot wire can come from either Hot busbar.
By Code, these wires are Black-Hot and White-Neutral.
If either wire is interrupted, the circuit turns OFF. By code the Black Hot wire is switched ON-and-OFF.
**240Volt circuit also requires 2 wires to complete circuit.
In the case of 240V, the circuit requires 2 Hot wires.
One Hot wire from each 'out of phase' busbar is required to complete 240Volt circuit.
These wires can be Black and White or Black and Red, and with heavier gauge wires, like 6 gauge and 4 gauge, the wires are Black and Black.
If either wire in 240V circuit is interrupted, the circuit turns OFF.
See 30 amp switch turning off water heater
Main breaker warningScrews on main breaker are HOT at all times
Even when main breaker is OFF, both screws are HOT
Only if meter is PULLED are these screws safe to touch
120Volt and 240Volt breakersImage shows 120Volt line and 240volt line.
Both circuits have ground wire.
Each 120 and 240 require two wires to complete circuit.
120V requires 1 hot and 1 neutral
240V requires 2 hots
Ground wires are for safety.
Read more about 240 volt
Some 240Volt lines have additional neutral wire. However, neutral not necessary to complete 240Volt circuit.
Some 240Volt lines have white and black instead of red and black
Most service boxes today have separate Neutral and Ground busbars, but these busbars are bonded together electrically, and are the same.
Illustration on left shows both Neutrals and Grounds on same side of box. In actual box, the Neutral is on right side and ground on left. Illustration shows separated neutral and ground so it is easier to illustrate wires leaving breakers.
Color code and wire sizes
Basic 120 volt and 240 volt water heater circuits
How to wire 240 volt outlets
How to wire 3-phase outlets and timers
How to convert 240Volt water heater to 120volts
Install meter on subpanel
How to install subpanel
New and used electric meters
How to install electric meter on water heater or subpanel
How to wire tankless electric water heater
Color code for wire and wire sizes
|How to install electric meter on water heater|
to replace circuit breaker
Breakers are held in place at both ends <> one end locks into a cleat -or- snaps onto a bar <> other end of breaker rotates to busbar and then 'stabs' onto the busbar
Push firmly to make sure breaker is stabbed all the way down
When replacing a breaker, check busbar for damage or burning from previous breaker <> busbars are frequently damaged by aging breakers that arc and burn <> arcing will damage busbar so new breaker will no longer work in the same slot. Read steps 32-37:
When lights flicker, check breaker immediately before sparking causes damage in breaker box. Check breaker and listen for fizzing or crackling sound. Check if the breaker screw is tight against wire. Flickering lights are usually a loose wire at a plug, but it pays to check breaker first to avoid busbar damage.
Always put cover back on breaker box to prevent sparks from leaving breaker panel.
Read how to replace circuit breaker
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Figure volts amps and watts
Figure correct wire and breaker
Types of surge protection
Transformers sitting at electric yardEach transformer is mult-tap
Multi-tap means the transfomer can be configured for different voltages and applications
Household electric service
Why you need ground
Pulling elecric wire/ photos
For safety, always put cover over Breaker box <> circuit breakers can overheat from aged breakers or loose wires and cause sparks that ignite a fire
wave that oscillates.
In the US the wave oscillates at 60 cycles per second. This is called 60 Hz.which appears on appliance labels. Each TV, refrigerator, computer, microwave, etc will have a label that shows Hz or hertz.
Countries such as Australia and India use 50 Hz.
Appliances made for 60 Hz will not work with 50 Hz electricity, and vice versa.
Some timers made by Intermatic and Tork are rated 50-60 Hz and will work globally.
See 50-60 Hz mechanical timers at Intermatic
See worldwide chart for frequency, Hz, cycles
How electric power arrives at each home
In household electricity, both Hot busbars are identical except out of phase with each other.
With 120 volts a single wave oscillates up and down.
Using 240Volts doubles the wave, and since each wave is out of phase with the other, it is like adding an extra cylinder to the engine, and gives added power.
Phasing and voltage is determined by the transformer.
phase electricity is more efficient than
Many businesses and schools use 3 phase electricity.
Electricity is generated at the plant by spinning 3 coils through a magnetic field.
Each coil is separated by 120 degrees.
Each coil produces a wave or pulse of electricity, and since each coil is slightly behind the other during rotation, the result is a 3-phase wave. This type of electricity is AC or alternating current.
Power is sent out on 3 separate wires, one wire from each of the 3 generator coils. Each wire is Hot.
Transmission lines are high voltage and low amperage to reduce heat loss. This allows long-distance transmission. Power from the generator is re-transmitted in several directions at local transformer stations. Eventually, there is a limit to distance electricity can be transmitted.
The field of super-conductivity works to solve problems of transmission loss.
Generally, if a business has 3-phase service, then power is pulled from each of the 3 Hot wires and routed through transformers that determine exact voltage of the service. There are a range of different 3-phase voltages, each determined by the transformer. Most 3-phase buildings also have transformer that convert power to 120 volt single-phase available for ordinary outlets.
How to install 3-phase timer Read about Delta and Wye What is 3-phase
Unlike 3-phase, Residential power does not require all 3 Hot wires.
For residential neighborhood, only 1 high voltage Hot wire enters the neighborhood. The single hot wire arrives at each home at a transformer where voltage is reduced and amperage increased. The transformer coil splits the single hot wire so that power entering home has both 120 volt single phase and 240 volt split-phase available as shown in illustrations above.
So each neighborhood is powered by 1 of the 3 Hot wires coming from power plant. Generally, when one area draws power from 1 of the 3 Hot wires, then next area will draw power from 2nd Hot wire. Then the following area draws power from 3rd Hot. This keeps power draw balanced across all 3 Hot wires.
can convert electricity many different ways.
Transformer basics tech
Transforming electricity is limited only by mathematics governing the natural world.
For example using a transformer, high voltage and low amperage can be converted to lower voltage and higher amperage used inside each home. There is inverse relationship between volts and amps shown in following formula: Volts x amps = watts.
See electrical formulas
High voltage 3-phase from the power plant can be converted into many different 3-phase voltages depending on which transformer is used. Read about Delta and Wye
The reverse is also possible: Using a transformer, single phase residential power can be converted into certain types of 3-phase.
Since solar generated power is DC (direct current) instead of AC (alternating current) a transformer called an inverter will convert DC solar power into more useful AC power. Different inverter voltages are available by wiring the transformer differently.
|DC (direct current)
is power from a battery. This
type electricity can be stored and used later.
AC electricity cannot be stored without using inverters to store power in DC (direct current) battery. And then it must be inverted back from DC to AC, and each conversion causes power loss due to heat.
Edison, the inverter of the light bulb, originally promoted DC current, and his first large-scale model was to light a city block with DC power using his light bulbs. But it was quickly apparent that DC current could not be transmitted long distance, so AC power is standard service worldwide today.
The problem with AC power is that is cannot be stored, so power generation must anticipate demand, and have enough generators operating to meet demand.
Solar and wind generated electric power has disadvantage since generation occurs at specific times, but not always when electricity is demanded. With wind power, the location of the generator is not often close to where people live, meaning that long-distance transmission loss cuts into overall efficiency.
|Three phase motors
require connecting all three
Similar to 240volt that requires two hot wires
Different 3-phase motors require different voltages.
electric prices result because electricity cannot be stored
Once the grid is electrified, any unused capacity is wasted. Power plants want to produce just enough to meet the demand so additional fuel is not consumed at the power plant.
Generally, coal power plants are slower to come on-line. Natural gas power plants can be turned on-and-off more rapidly. Power companies have to anticipate demand so that power is available at peak demand times.
The capacity issue, among other problems, is why power companies have 'peak' electric prices.
Read about off-peak water heater options
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