Getting Acquainted with Your Home’s Electrical Panel: Safety and Dependability

As the brains to our homes, it’s surprising (and alarming) so many homeowners fall short when it comes to a clear understanding of the inner-workings of a home’s electrical service panel. The sheet-metal enclosure is located in a basement, dark closet, or an outdoor location; and is outfitted with switches or fuses, numbers and labels, and a cobweb of wires.

‘Same, but different’ applies to electrical service panels spanning the ages. While panels are tasked with similar responsibilities – bringing electricity into the home, there’s little in common when it comes to old vs. new, safety, and dependability. Continue reading for a clear understanding of your home’s electrical service panel.

Dated Electrical Service Panels

Fuse Box

A central location for circuit fuses, a fuse box was the first of its kind in the electrical industry. Boxes were installed in homes through the 1950s and contained 12 or fewer fuses. Despite an increase in the amount of electricity the box could take on, as the number of appliances and devices people depended on within their homes multiplied, fuse boxes were increasingly taxed with carrying a heavier load than designed for, resulting in blown fuses and shorts. Once a fuse was blown, it had to be replaced; and since all fuses fit in the same socket, there was the danger of replacing the fuse with a higher amperage than what was considered safe, causing it to overheat and potentially catch fire.


Installed in homes built between 1950 and 1980, split-bus panels featured two main breakers; each breaker responsible for the circuits beneath it, including the disconnection of the individual circuits. As with fuse boxes, advances in home appliances and devices exceedingly pushed the electricity limitations of these panels, leading to excessive overheating of the internal components. Ultimately, this increased the risk of fire as circuit breakers did not trip as they were designed to.

Present-Day Electrical Service Panel

Today, electrical service panels are known as breaker boxes or circuit breaker panels. Each has a main breaker (present-day electrical codes no longer allow for multiple disconnects within a single panel) and two rows of circuit breakers. Electricity travels into the panel, passes through the main breaker, and onto the circuits for power to the home. If a single circuit is overloaded, instead of blowing a fuse, the main breaker shuts off the flow of power to that circuit as a precaution. Resetting the circuit is done by flipping the now “off” circuit into the “on” position. In the event, the home’s entire electrical system is maxed with demand, or there is another serious problem, the main breaker shuts off all power, automatically turning all circuits to the “off” position.

For more information about dated and potentially unsafe electrical service panels, read ‘Electrical Panel Brands: Not All Are Created Equal’ (link to blog). If you suspect your home’s electrical service panel is more than 10-years-old, or you’re considering a new home or remodel involving significant electrical work, MZ Electric is your go-to for inspections and electrical work. Our technicians are fully licensed and have a wide range of experience in the electrical industry. We offer extremely competitive rates; discounts for teachers, military and seniors, and referral coupons.