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Home Electrical Service

An illustrated explanation of how a home is provided with electrical service by a utility

Electrical utilities deliver electricity through a masthead at the roof. Wires continue through the meter to the main panel.

Originally, electrical power was formed by chemical reaction, and that’s still the way that batteries work. This type of current, known as direct current (DC), flows from a negative pole through an electrical device (such as a lightbulb) and on to the positive pole. However, direct current can’t be transmitted over long distances without a debilitating drop in voltage.

Utility companies now provide households with alternating current (AC), which actually pulses—or reverses direction—120 times, or 60 cycles, per second (called 60 hertz power). AC power moves in waves. Lightbulbs actually flicker as power ebbs and flows, but the human eye can’t detect it.

The utility company’s electrical lines may enter a house overhead from a power pole or underground from a buried pipe called conduit. Where the power enters your house, you’ll usually find an electric meter and, either there or on an inside wall behind the meter, the main service panel.

Called “rough-in components,” wires, cables, and electrical boxes are installed during construction, before the wall and ceiling finish materials are put in place. “Finish components” such as receptacles, switches, and light fixtures are installed after the interior coverings are installed.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. Sorry if this question has been asked before, but here goes. I am building a small cabin (670 Sq Ft). Using a tankless hot water system (60 amps), Washer/dryer combo (40 amps), and have 3 circuits for the lights and outlets with no more than 8 devices per circuit. Also using a ventless mini- split AC system that supposedly only uses 11 amps. Can I use a 125 amp main breaker box? Or is something heavier required?

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