Electrical Terms and Definitions

Electrical systems have a lot of parts. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to understand what your electrician is explaining to you. As a homeowner, the more you understand about your electrical system, the better you will understand where your potential problems and risks are. This will also save you and your electrician time. Here is a list of some of the key terms and definitions when it comes to electricity.

Alphabetical List of Key Electrical Terms:

AC – Alternating current (AC power) is the typical type of power used in all homes and buildings.

Amps – Amp or Ampere is the measurement of the electricity that is similar to “flow” in a water pipe. Most residential homes have 100-200 amps for their service. Every device that uses electricity uses a certain number of amps.

Arc – Electrical arcing is when electricity is flowing through a loose connection or a connection with a lot of resistance. Typically, when electricity begins to arc, it is starting an electrical fire between the connections. This is the #1 cause of electrical fires in electrical systems.

CFL – Compact fluorescent light bulbs are more efficient than incandescent, and are a good option in most applications. They are not as efficient as LED lights, and do not dim as easily as LED lights. CFL bulbs will most likely phase out over time and be replaced by LED bulbs.

Circuit – An electrical circuit consists of 1 set of wires running from the electrical breaker, to the devices in the circuit, and back to the panel. All circuits are rated by the voltage (120 volts/ 240 volts) and the current (15 amps/ 30 amps).

DC – Direct Current (DC) is the type of power used in cars, electronics, and many other applications.

Fish – Fishing is an electricians term for installing wires in hard to access spaces such as walls, attics, crawl spaces, etc.

Fixture – Fixtures are typically a reference to the structure that holds the light bulb.

Ground – Excess electrical current needs to have a place to go to avoid causing electrical shock or a fire hazard. Grounding refers to the method of sending the excess electrical current to the Earth, or ground.

Home Run – A home run is an electricians term for the dedicated wire ran from the first device on a circuit, to the main panel.

LED – LED lights have been used for a long time in small electronics, but now are used more and more for general lighting. LED lights are the most efficient, longest lasting types of lights available. Installing LED lights will save money on your energy bill, and typically last 5-10 years. They are more expensive up front, but will pay off over time.

Low Voltage – Low voltage is an electrical term for systems under 70 volts. Typically, these are systems of data and phone cabling, 12 or 24 volt lights, or audio/video wiring.

Meter – An electric meter is the device (often installed on the side of your home) used by the power company that measures the amount of power used by the occupants in the home. Electricians typically use this term when working on a meter base enclosure.

Meter Base – This is the electrical box that has the electrical components for the main electrical service to the home or building. A meter enclosure typically includes a meter base, main breaker, extra breakers, and connections for the power company. This is also the location where the main grounding system is installed.

Neutral -The neutral wire in an electrical system is the wire that is connected to the main grounding system of a home or building. If a system loses a “neutral” it is possible to get fluctuating voltage and it can damage lights or appliances.

Panel – An electrical panel is the distribution panel for all the electrical circuits in the home. It typically includes all of the branch circuits and breakers needed for the home or business.

Splice – Splice is an electricians term for connecting multiple wires together in a single location. There are multiple ways to complete an electrical splice, but it always should be completed by a licensed electrician.

Volts – Volts or voltage, is a measurement of electricity that is similar to “pressure” in a water pipe. Most residential homes have 240 volt and 120 volt electric systems.

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