How Your Household Power System Works

Household Power System

How Your Household Power System Works

Electrical energy is powering everything we use and love in our homes. It starts with a power utility that sends electricity through high voltage lines until it reaches your neighborhood, where smaller transformers lower the voltage to safe levels for residential use.

Increasingly, homeowners are exploring home renewable energy systems paired with battery storage. These solar-plus-storage systems can reduce reliance on the grid during peak energy hours and save money.

Electrical Wiring

The electricity that flows through your household power system travels on circuits that connect switches, outlets and appliances. Each circuit has a hot wire that carries current to a fixture or outlet and a neutral wire that returns to the electrical panel. Code requires that each wire be a specific size for the amount of electricity it carries. If too much current passes through a wire, it will generate heat and may even melt the insulation or create a fire hazard.

A house that is wired with three hot wires rather than two will have 230 volts available for heavier electric loads such as clothes dryers and kitchen appliances. Each circuit will contain a number of breakers (also called switches) that control different electric loads. Lighting and receptacle circuits are usually controlled by 15 or 20 amp breakers; larger “double-pole” breakers are used for large appliances like stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners.

The large metal box that contains all the switches and breakers is commonly known as a breaker box, fuse box or service panel. This equipment is the distribution hub for all electricity in a home. It contains a main switch that can shut down all the electricity in a home and individual breakers that distribute power to switches, outlets and appliances. It is recommended that the main breaker be rated at 100 or 200 amps. This will accommodate increasing use of energy in modern homes. Older homes with aluminum wiring that is not upgraded to copper before 1972 are a fire hazard.


Whether you live in an urban or rural area, power comes to your house via overhead wires that feed a transformer that steps Household Power System down the voltage for distribution to homes. These wires then travel to a weather head attached to a meter box on your home, and the meter measures your household’s electricity usage in kilowatt hours (kWh).

The meter has an output that is used for communication with programmable logic controllers and HVAC systems. Most meters use an open collector output that delivers 32-100 ms pulses for every kWh of energy consumed. Some meters also supply a contact closure that warns when demand is near a higher electricity tariff to improve demand side management.

Electricity meters are a staple of your household, but you don’t have to stick with the old style of electromechanical induction meter that has five dials broken up into cyclometer and odometer-like displays that require a Pro to read. You can replace your old meter with a networked model that saves the electric company a trip to your house and keeps its employees away from dogs, horses and other pets that might interfere with their work.

A networked meter can also let you track energy generation from your rooftop solar panels or wind turbines and send surplus back to the grid. You can check this on a digital display or, in the case of some meters, an internet app that gives you a clear overview of your consumption by day, week and month.


A sub panel is a way to direct electricity to different parts of your property. It can also help improve safety and reduce fire hazards. While a main panel sits inside your building, a sub panel can be installed anywhere on your property. This is especially helpful during emergencies or fires, when entering the building to switch off the main power might be dangerous.

Electrical sub panels have their own double-pole 240-volt circuit breakers and get energy from the main service panel through a single feed circuit. This circuit then splits into extra branch circuits at the sub panel to power outlets and appliances on your property.

Installing a subpanel can save you time and money during construction or renovation. It can also help you avoid overcrowding your main service panel by distributing more energy to other areas of the home or structure. This helps prevent overloading, which can cause a fire.

Another benefit of a subpanel is that it can be mounted almost a foot away from the main panel. This can allow you to run feeder wires more easily throughout the house or structure. It also allows you to avoid having multiple high-amperage Household Power System circuits running back to the main panel, which can cost more in materials and labor. This is a great option for homes with limited space or for those who don’t want to wait for new wiring to be added to their service panel.

Backup Power

In our modern world, power is a little like the air we breathe. It’s always there, but it isn’t until we lose it that we realize how much we depend on it. The good news is that there are plenty of solutions available to help you get through even the longest outages.

The simplest backup systems involve simple batteries, which are usually recharged on a regular basis. Some of these battery systems are portable, while others can be installed in a home or office and offer greater generation and storage capacity. Many people are familiar with portable, gas-powered generators used for camping or hunting, which also provide a form of backup power.

More advanced backup systems utilize solar panels to generate electricity, which can then be stored in an energy-efficient battery system. One example is the Generac PWRcell, which integrates solar power generation with smart battery storage using a single inverter. When the grid goes down, this powerful system kicks in within seconds to keep homes and businesses fully powered.

Some individuals and businesses have specific needs that can’t go unmet for extended periods of time. For instance, some hospitals rely on a continuous supply of power to run everything from egress lighting and HVAC systems for patient care and emergency surgery to life-saving medical equipment. In these situations, it’s a good idea to invest in an onsite backup power solution that can meet your specific needs without disrupting your normal operations.

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