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Electricity Basics for New Homeowners

When you move into your first home, electricity may be far down your list of things to keep track of and understand. As long as the lights and outlets work, you’re probably good to go at the beginning. However, if you’re going to be an informed homeowner, it’s smart to have a rough idea of how the electrical power grid works in Middle Tennessee, how to manage your home’s breakers, and what constitutes a warning sign of an electrical issue. 


Middle Tennessee’s Power Grid

Depending on your home’s location, you’ll most likely be pulling your power from either Nashville Electric Service or Middle Tennessee Electric. Unlike the stressed and overtaxed electrical grids powering California and Texas, our power grids are stable, modern, and prepared to handle the needs of our communities. 

This fact alone makes purchasing a home in Middle Tennessee less stressful than it might be in another metropolitan area! 


Your Electrical Meter

Your home’s power lines may be suspended overhead or be run through underground channels. At the junction where these lines enter your home, you’ll find your electrical meter, which measures your home’s electricity usage. This rate of use will dictate how much you’ll be charged monthly.

If your home has been built recently or has an updated meter, it will be read remotely. Older styles of meters will still need to be read in-person. 


Division of Responsibility

Up to the meter, the utility provider is responsible for maintenance and repairs. Once the wires enter your home, you are responsible for maintenance and repairs. These responsibilities are not optional; while you can put off landscaping, repainting, or installing new kitchen cabinets, water and electricity are two categories that always require your best efforts.


Circuit Breakers and Power Cutoff Controls

Next to the electric meter, your home likely has a disconnect switch that will cut off the power to the whole house. This allows you, or a repair person, to temporarily terminate the flow of electricity without entering the home.

The circuit breaker panel, or breaker box, is a metal box (often gray or tan) that you’ll find mounted to your home’s exterior, or on an interior side of an exterior wall. If the location of your breaker box isn’t immediately obvious, check your garage, or a closet nearest the power meter. The breaker box will likely be in close proximity to the point where the main power line connects to your home.

Your breaker box will house at least one “hot” wire and another “neutral” wire alongside a grounding wire. The “neutral” wire completes the circuit back to the breaker box.

Historic homes may not feature a grounding wire, but these older electrical systems can be upgraded using modern wiring techniques. The majority of the cost of this project lies in labor costs, but we do recommend hiring a professional electrician to complete the upgrade.


Electricity Differences in Historic Homes

If you’ve purchased a historic home, your service size may be 100- or 150-amp, unlike modern 200-amp service. Your home may have fuses instead of a breaker box, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the safe use of a fuse box. 

While some homeowners prefer to call an electrician to replace a blown fuse on their historic home’s fuse box, this is a somewhat simple DIY repair. 

To fix a blown fuse:

  1. Cut off the power to the fuse box. This is your home’s main power shutoff control.
  2. Determine which fuse has broken by looking for melted metal components or foggy glass components.
  3. Replace the broken fuse with a fuse that has the same amperage rating. Anything higher presents an enormous fire risk.
  4. Turn the main power switch back on and test your new fuse to ensure you’ve solved the electrical issue.
  5. If these steps don’t resolve your power troubles, it may be time to hire an electrician. If you repeatedly experience blown fuses, you may be running too many high-power appliances at once, or there may be a wiring issue along a single fuse’s wiring path.

Types of Electrical Outlets

In addition to basic power outlets, any outlet within a modern home located in an area that may get wet (such as kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room outlets) will feature a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). 


Binary Switches and Dimmers

The two most common types of switches used to open and close circuits are binary switches and dimmers. Your home will likely have at least one switch or dimmer per light and/or fan.


Fixtures

Fixtures draw power from your wiring. Your home’s wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted lights, ceiling fans, and vent fans are all examples of electrical fixtures. Modern fixtures are operated by the aforementioned switches or dimmers, while historic homes may feature fixtures that are operated by a pull chain.


While at first glance, the wiring system that powers your home may seem simple and approachable, it’s vital that you bear in mind that the power your home draws is a lethal amount. In fact, the current that powers a single breaker within your breaker box is lethal! With that in mind, please do not undertake DIY electrical work unless you’ve properly studied wiring and understand the safety measures that should be followed at each step of your project.

When in doubt, hire a licensed and bonded electrician to handle any repairs or upgrades with ease!

We hope today's article has helped you become more familiar with the very basics of your home’s electrical system. If you have further questions, we encourage you to reach out to a locally-respected electrician. You’ll find that many of them are willing to do a bit of educating as they work or take a moment before they begin to explain what they’re about to do.