Introduction to Your House’s Electrical System

Electricity is such a fundamental part of our lives that we rarely think about it and the system in our homes that brings it to the devices that we use every day.

On the list of DIY items, this might be the one that is most dangerous to choose to do for yourself. A flood in your home is a terrible event, but unlikely to kill anyone. A mistake in your electrical system can cause shock, fire, or even explosion.

In this article, we will explore the parts of your home’s electrical system, the parts that you might be able to fix yourself, and how to choose a qualified electrical contractor to work for you.

You can get a sense of what’s involved in installing an electrical breaker panel here. This is on the list of items that you should get a professional to do for you. (Important note: It might be illegal for you to do some of these things and it might void your homeowner’s insurance. See below.)

Your Home’s Electrical System

Your home’s electrical system starts miles, maybe even thousands of miles, away. At a plant or a dam or a wind farm, electricity is generated. The basic concept at all of these is the same. A coil of wire is spun in a magnet. This generates electricity. This electricity is at extremely high voltages and is carried by high voltage/high tension wires to a substation. There a transformer converts the electricity to levels that can be used in your home. Often, there are transformers on the light poles nearby that take the voltage all the way down to the 110, 220 or 440 that your home will use for most applications.

At this point, the power enters your home, but not before it is sent through a meter. That wonderful device that tells the power company how much to charge you is important as it allows everyone to track usage.

Next, the power will enter a breaker panel. Most of us are familiar with these. It’s usually a gray box that contains switches, the breakers. From there, the power is distributed by wires to the rest of the house. Each circuit will end in a specific place.

Here is a list of most common circuits in a home. Many are dedicated to single appliance, others are simply for power to the devices in your house.

  • Water heater – This is one of the most active circuits. Your water heater will use a great deal of power, even if it’s a gas furnace.
  • Furnace – Your furnace, again even gas, will use a great deal of power for fans, etc. If you have an electric heat, this will be the largest power user in your home.
  • Refrigerator – The fridge is usually on its own circuit. As a significant power user, the fridge doesn’t share power well.
  • Baseboard heat – If you have baseboard heat in your home, they might have a dedicated circuit. Otherwise, they will be on the main circuit for that room.
  • Rooms – Each room or group of rooms will have its own circuit. If it’s installed well, the living room lights will stay on when the kitchen goes out.

Importance of working with an electrician

Electricians typically are schooled and apprentice to learn their trade. This training allows them to get their electrician’s license.

Here is an example of the types of requirements that a Master Electrician needs to meet to be licensed in Maryland. It is typical of most states:


A statewide master electrician may be obtained by examination only. Municipalities are also authorized to license electrical contractors and electricians. Licenses are reciprocal between in-state municipalities. Fees vary based on municipalities and type of license.

To obtain a Master Electrician License, a person must have been employed regularly in providing electrical services for at least seven (7) years, while under the supervision of a Master Electrician or a similarly qualified person of a government unit. The work must be documented in writing and the applicant must pass a comprehensive written examination.

A licensee must provide evidence of insurance coverage for liability and property damage prior to being licensed as a Master Electrician insured to contract.

To perform electrical work in most local jurisdictions throughout the State, the electrician must also obtain a local license and meet specific local requirements. Contact the county government for more information. A person providing electrical services must obtain a local permit to perform each specific job. The work performed is then inspected by a local electrical inspector to determine if the work was completed correctly according to applicable electrical codes. – from the National Electrical Contractors Association

In some cases, it takes longer to become a licensed master electrician than it does to work in the medical field.

It is okay, in most cases, for a homeowner to replace an outlet or outlet cover, but if you are working on the breaker box or wiring a major appliance, it will be best to hire a pro.

How to Choose the Right Electrician

Finding a qualified electrician is easy, but it requires a bit of due diligence. Here is a step-by-step plan:

  1. Search here on QualitySmith for a contractor in your area. All of these contractors are highly qualified, but you should always make sure that everything is in order and that you are covered.
  2. Ask your prospects for their state license number. You should make sure that their license is valid and in force.
  3. When you have chosen one or two contractors, ask for their insurance information. Their general liability insurance is there to make sure that if they make a mistake, it is paid for and made right. It’s important to make sure that you verify their insurance. It’s expensive and is the first thing to go when a contractor gets into financial trouble.
  4. If your contractor will have employees or subcontractors working at your home, ask for their worker’s compensation insurance information. Again, it’s important to verify that the policy is in force and everything is in order. If an employee is injured on your property and the contractor has no insurance, you are likely to be sued.
  5. Ask for references. Of course, they are going to give you people who like them, but it’s important to ask questions like: Did they complete the job on budget? On time? Did they clean up? Were their employees good?
  6. Look online for reviews. Remember these are always the happiest and most unhappy people. Take everything with a grain of salt, but it can be very informative.

Some Electrical Items to Consider

If you are looking to upgrade your house, there are a number ways that you can make everything more efficient and prepare your house for the future. Here are some items that you might consider having installed:

  • A generator – Having a diesel generator attached to your home will make sure that you have power all the time. A generator can be set to turn on automatically if the power goes out for more than a minute or two. This is especially important if you have people in the house that are on medical equipment.

  • Wi-fi – You can have a wi-fi router and some boosters placed around your house. This will let you use wireless devices in every part of your home. It can bring TV to corners of your house, as well as make phones and tablets much more useful.
  • USB charging stations – You can have USB charging stations placed around your house so that phones, tablets, and more can be charged without need to hunt down a charger. Since it seems like everything in the world uses a USB charger these days, this can be perfect for the wired family.

Getting the Most from Your Power – Going Solar

It’s not necessary to be a ‘tree-hugger’ to want to save money on your electric bill. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to have solar panels installed on your house.

Today’s solar systems can be installed even in the middle of a city. They don’t require massive panels if there’s no room them.

Solar power on your home ensures that you will have power even if the local power grid fails. This can be a great help in the event of a natural disaster. It might not be a lot of power, but it’s likely to be enough to charge your phones.

Solar panels can even save you money. When you home is fully charged, the excess electricity will be sent out in to the power grid. The electric company will pay you for the electricity that you put into the system. This means that your solar system can actually make you money or at least reduce your electric bill significantly.

The Final Word

Electricity is in many ways the defining achievement of the Post-Industrial Era. Without it, we wouldn’t be a modern society. Make sure that the electrical system in your home is professional installed, safe and reliable. A well-designed electrical system will allow you and your family to enjoy your home for decades without hassles.