An electric load service center, or simply “load center”, is a service box that distributes power supplied by the utility company to the electrical circuits in your home. Does this sound familiar? You probably know what a breaker panel is. A load center is the same thing. These terms are identical per National Electrical Code (NEC) standards and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
A load center can only use breakers with a plug-on design, which refers to how they connect to the bus bar (unlike a panelboard with a deeper design that can accommodate bolt-on and plug-on breakers). Each breaker controls a circuit for a part of the home. It’s designed to cut power (“trip”) when there’s an overload, which can otherwise cause an electrical fire. Inside the panel, there should be labels or a diagram showing the circuit that corresponds to each breaker.
Where Are Load Centers/Breaker Panels Used?
Electric load service centers have replaced fuse boxes in homes and buildings. While 40- or 60-amp service panels were once common, now it’s recommended to install at least a 100-amp breaker panel. But for many homes, at least 200 amps are needed to support high-power refrigerators, dishwashers, and other appliances as well as HVAC systems and entertainment centers. For some applications, you’ll even find 400-amp or as high as 600-amp service panels.
Load centers come in standard and commercial-grade models. When installing one, it’s best to hire a professional to ensure it meets local code requirements.
Here are the main applications where you’ll find a load center:
- Residential Single-Family: Breaker panels typically distribute power from a basement, garage, or outdoor location.
- Residential Multi-Family: The panel distributes power, from within a group of electrical meters, to apartments, townhomes, and condominiums.
- Light Commercial: Load centers are used to distribute power throughout an office building, strip mall, or warehouse.
An electrician may install a load center during new construction or as a replacement for faulty or out-of-date power distribution equipment. Load centers are also used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). They may specify certain load centers/breaker panels for use with their products.
How to Install a Load Center or Breaker Panel
The main breaker panel can be installed at the service entrance, or where power enters a home or building. Flush-mounted models are also available. They are typically recessed between wall studs. A surface-mounted panel, however, mounts directly to the wall surface in a basement or garage.
Main Breaker vs. Main Lug Only Electric Load Service Centers
A load center with a main breaker design has a master circuit breaker that protects all the branch circuits in a home or building. All loads fed into the panel feed into a single disconnect. But a main lug-only load center, otherwise known as a sub panel, is installed downstream of the main breaker panel. There is no overcurrent device or disconnect for the entire system. The incoming cables terminate on the line side of the lugs.
Using a Load Center/Breaker Panel
Each breaker is controlled via a lever. It can be in the “On” or “Off” position. The “Main” breaker is a double-pole circuit breaker that controls all power to the panel and branch lines. By turning this off, you can shut off every circuit in your home at once.
However, single-pole breakers are designed to trip if an overload is detected on a single circuit. A tripped breaker will move between the “On” and “Off” positions. You can switch it back on if the condition causing the trip resolves, and restore power. But if the breaker won’t turn back on and you’ve reduced the load on that circuit, call an electrician to inspect the panel and provide necessary repairs.
Call Air Stars for Electrical Panel Help
Our technicians are trained to repair, install, and upgrade electric load service centers and breaker panels. A new panel will increase capacity and the number of appliances, lights, and devices you can use. Whether it’s time for an update or you’re remodeling your home, you can depend on Air Stars for electrical service in and around Keizer, OR. Call 503-744-6985 to get started.