What Are the Elements of a Good Electrical Distribution System?
A good electrical distribution system should offer comfort, convenience, and safety to the occupants of a home. Though we may take these qualities for granted, designing an electrical system to meet these criteria is not always an easy task. This post will discuss the basic elements of residential electrical distribution systems and take a close look at what makes these systems “good.”
What is an Electrical Distribution System?
A residential electrical distribution system delivers electricity to a home’s fixtures and appliances. It draws its power supply from the local distribution grid, which services a specific part of the city or county. Through a substation, the latter is connected to a high voltage transmission network, which carries electricity from the source — a power generation facility — to the consumers.
Your home’s distribution system typically consists of these components:
a circuit breaker box or panel
wiring network comprising the branch circuits
switches for branch circuits
When the local distribution grid delivers power to your home — via either the above-ground poles or underground cables — electricity flows through a transformer, then to a meter that tracks your usage. Next, the power goes to your home’s circuit breaker panel, which distributes the electricity to the home’s many circuits. Each circuit then feeds various outlets and fixtures; you may utilize various parts of these circuits with the switches on your walls.
What Makes a Good Electrical Distribution System?
A “good” electrical distribution system is both safe and convenient — these are the two essential characteristics you should keep in mind, whether you’re remodeling your home or building from the ground up.
Safe Electrical Systems
To be considered “safe”, electrical systems must be designed to prevent their components from getting overheated and possibly starting a fire. They must also protect their users from electrocution. Modern codes have evolved to incorporate most essential safety elements, so following your local electrical code is a good step to ensuring that your system is safe.
Electrical fires can happen for two primary reasons — if the circuit wiring gets overheated or if damaged wiring causes an arc fault. It’s essential that you always employ a licensed electrician who will follow these guidelines. Unlicensed electricians may tempt you to cut corners and leave some of the following crucial safety features out. Modern electrical codes have a range of provisions that help mitigate these risks.
Here’s how electrical fire hazards can be mitigated in your homes.
Using the correct fuse sizes and wire gauge. Improperly sized wiring and fuses may not be able to handle the electrical current flowing through them. If a fuse is improperly sized, it can either allow the wiring to overheat and create a fire risk, or it can continuously trip your circuit. When the wiring gauge isn’t sufficient to handle the electrical current, it can overheat and once again create a serious fire hazard. Your local code will dictate the appropriate size for your home’s fuses size and the correct gauge for the wires.
Get rid of aluminum wires. If you’re remodeling, be on the lookout for aluminum wiring. Many homes built in the 1960s and early 1970s have aluminum wiring, which is prone to corrosion and subsequent fire hazards. If you employ a licensed electrical engineer to help you overhaul your aging home’s wiring, they will easily find a safe, cost-effective solution for this issue. An electrical engineer can also inspect your home to determine if it’s up to the current electrical standards and whether the new electrical work complies with current Title 24 requirements.
Install Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) as required by code. An AFCI is a device that detects arc faults caused by old or damaged electrical equipment. Electrical arcs occur when electricity has to “jump” across a gap, where its normal path through a wire is somehow damaged. The AFCI detects these arc faults and shuts off the circuit immediately
Map out your home’s branch circuits on the circuit breaker panel. This way, if you have an electrical appliance that catches fire, you’ll know which switch to flip to shut off the circuit.
While the methods above should protect an electrical system from fires, it’s also vital to safeguard users — a home’s occupants — from the risk of electrocution. Below are the common mechanisms used — and mandated by codes — to avert such tragic incidents.
Use grounded receptacles. These are the 3-pronged outlets that have gradually been replacing their 2-pronged predecessors. If a “hot” wire ever comes detached in a metal-cased appliance — potentially creating an electrocution hazard for users — the 3rd, “ground” prong leads the charge to the circuit breaker, which then shuts off the circuit. This mechanism disables the appliance and protects its users from electric shock.
Install Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) as required by code. GFCIs monitor the current flowing between the “hot” and “neutral” prongs. When there’s an abrupt change to the current — caused, for example, by a hairdryer falling into a bathtub full of water — the GFCI will shut down the circuit immediately. Thanks to this mechanism, the person handling the electrical device in question would be spared from the inevitable, deadly surge in current.
Convenient Electrical Systems
We rely on electricity for convenience and comfort, but poorly designed electrical systems can be frustrating and downright awkward to use. In contrast, a well-designed electrical plan should have the following characteristics:
- Light switches should be placed in intuitive locations
- Receptacles should not only be spaced per code requirements but be positioned to facilitate the room’s functionality
- Light fixtures should be designed with flexibility for future changes
- The entire home should be wired, taking into account the potential locations of fixtures and appliances
How Design Everest Can Help?
Whether you’re remodeling or building from the ground up, Design Everest’s skilled electrical engineers can help you design a safe, convenient electrical system for your home. Our team can also help you with the Title 24 calculation and report to ensure a smooth permitting process. Please contact us at (877) 739-2591 for a consultation and a free quote.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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