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The Hunt: How to Find and Prep Your Electrical Panel




Bad idea: Searching for your electrical panel after the power goes out. Even with a flashlight in hand, you’re asking for a headache and possibly a tumble.  

Good idea: Find your electrical panel now, when the lights are all on. That way when the power goes out, you’re ready to be the hero.

Here’s everything you need to know about playing hide and seek with your home’s electrical panel:

Part I: The Hunt

Grab your best Sherlock Holmes hat and start walking from room-to-room in your house. Most electrical panels are off the beaten path (away from the rooms that see the most traffic), but still in an easy-to-access area (so you can skip the crawl space). Check utility closets, the basement, laundry room and garage. You’re looking for a gray metal box affixed to a wall. Note: It could be painted a different color to blend in with wall.

If you can’t find anything in the house – and you’ve looked really carefully – take the search outside. Depending on your climate and the age of your home (usually newer homes), it’s possible that the box is on the exterior of the house.

If the box is nowhere to be found, it’s time to call your electric company. They should have records of the location of your electrical panel, and can tell you over the phone.

Curveball: Some older homes can have more than one electrical panel. If this is the case in your home, do a thorough test so you know which box controls which area of the house.  

Part II: The Inspection

Now that you’ve met your box, it’s time to get to know each other. There are two types of electrical panels: Fuse box and circuit breaker.

If your electrical panel has little round glass or metal knobs, it’s a fuse box. If it’s full of switches, it’s a circuit breaker.

Part III: The Prep Work

If the power in your home goes out, it’s always nice to be prepared. Put a flashlight with fresh batteries right by your electrical panel. It’s also worth doing a little extra prep work, which will vary depending on the type of electrical panel you have:

For a fuse box: Fuses – those little glass or metal things in your fuse box – have to be replaced after they are blown (which can happen when the power goes out). Fuses are inexpensive and can be found at most hardware stores, so we recommend stocking up now. Place your new fuses in a handy spot, near your electrical panel.

For a circuit breaker: If your breaker box isn’t already labeled, make your own “map” now. You may have to do a little testing to see which switch is connected to which part of the house, but it’s worth it. Go old school with tape and a marker or print labels. This will save you a lot of time if you experience isolated power loss to a specific room or outlet – you’ll know exactly which breaker to flip.  

Note: If your electrical panel is in an area prone to flooding – like a basement that has flooded before – you may want to contact an electrician to discuss the issue. It’s usually possible to move an electrical panel if it’s located in a dangerous spot.

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