Home Electrical 101

Basics of Electrical Power at Home

When owning a home, it’s important to understand how your electricity works, so you know what to do incase something goes wrong. Learning how your electricity works can be daunting for some, so we have provided the basics you can understand how electricity powers your home.


To start, electricity flows from a service provider, such as JEA in the Jacksonville area, through high voltages wires, like the ones birds like to sit on. The electricity then flows into neighborhood transformers where the current is reduced for residential and commercial properties – like your home or your office. A meter will record the amount of energy you are using, and route it to the electrical box or circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is like the nerve center of electricity for your home, and can usually be found in your garage or basement – somewhere that is not as obvious and might be a little more hidden.

Electricity typically comes in through 3 wires: 2 hot wires and 1 neutral wire. Each hot wires carries 120 volts and runs through the main electrical panel. Individual circuit units, which are connected to the main panel, control a section within your house, such as a light switch, and the hot wires power each of these circuits. And, each unit is connected by a circuit breaker, and when it is overloaded, it will trip or trigger, and electricity will stop flowing to the circuit, turning the unit and the connected devices off. Electricity travels in a circuit, meaning it flows in a circular route and starts and finishes in the same place and keeps repeating. The circuit will shut off the current of energy if the breaker is activated. The currents enter through a hot wire (usually black or red colored), and returns through a neutral wire (usually white). Most electricity systems use a ground wire, which is typically bare or copper in color. If a circuit breaker is tripped, the electricity will safely travel into the ground via one of these wires.

Dedicated circuits could have multiple areas or services that they control, such as outlets and light switches, but some appliances or heavy use items, such as a refrigerator or washing machine, may have their own circuit.

A current is carried through insulated copper or aluminum wires and is dispersed throughout your house. The larger the wire, the more current or ounce it can carry. If a wire uses more amps than it can carry, it will overheat. This is why a properly rated circuit breaker is very important. A switch completes a circuit when it is turned on, and disrupts it when it is turned off. There are several kinds of switches you can have in your house, such as dimmers or toggles.

A standard grounded outlet, which is the most common way to plug anything in, is designed to carry 15 amps. It has 1 slot a little bit wider than the other so that a plug can only be inserted one way. This is actually a safety feature that prevents power from running through an appliance, even when it’s switched off.

A ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet will turn off the power immediately if it detects the slightest change in current flow. These are most commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, and outdoor areas. They typically have a 2-wire circuit and will typically have a “test” and “reset” button in the middle of the outlet. If an outlet stops working, you can push the “Reset” button to reset the circuit breaker.