Common Electrical Terms to Know Before a Service Call

Every homeowner wants to quickly and clearly explain their problem to an electrician. Occasionally, electrical words or phrases may be unfamiliar to you. Having the right words takes some of the hassle and frustration out of scheduling.

Listed below are 17 different common industry terms which homeowners find handy to know when they are planning a service call from an electrician!

Alternating Current (AC) – An electric current that reverses its direction many times a second at regular intervals, typically used in power supplies.

If you plug in a piece of equipment into a wall socket, or it does not run solely on a battery (lighting, appliances, etc.) then you are using AC.​

Circuit – A circuit is a path in which electrons from a voltage or electrical current source flow.

Circuits use two forms of electric power, Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC) (See Panels & Circuit Breakers)

Circuit Breaker – A circuit breaker is a device designed to shut off an circuit when too much current is flowing. Circuit breakers are usually installed in the electrical panel. (See Panels & Circuit Breakers)

This usually occurs if too many devices are plugged in or if there is a short circuit.

Current – Current is the amount of electric charge that flows. 

Direct Current (DC) – An electric current flowing in one direction only.

Commonly used in electronic devices with a battery for a power source, like a cell phone or a laptop.

Electric Power – Electric power is the rate at which energy is being used, stored, or transferred.

Electrical Outlet – An outlet or receptacle is a socket that connects a device to an electricity supply. Also known as an electrical receptacle, wall socket. (See Outlets & Switches)

Electrical Panel – The electrical panel is a metal box which takes in the main power from your electric provider into your home and distributes the electrical current to the circuits throughout your home. Also may be called a Service Panel, a Fuse Box, Breaker Box, or a Circuit Breaker panel. (See Panels & Circuit Breakers)

The panel also operates as a safety mechanism, helping to cut off the flow of electricity in cases of circuit overload.

Fuse – A fuse is a device that shuts off the power to a circuit when too much electric current flows through it. This usually happens when too many appliances are plugged in or when there is a short circuit. Modern homes with updated wiring have circuit breakers, not fuses. (See Panels & Circuit Breakers)

GFCI Outlet – A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), or Residual Current Device (RCD) is a type of circuit breaker which shuts off electric power when it senses an imbalance between the outgoing and incoming current.

The main function of a GCFI is to protect people from electric shock and protect the house wires and receptacles from overheating and possible fire. They are most commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms and other high moisture environments. (See Outlets & Switches)

Ground – In case of a short circuit in an electrical system, the grounding pathway is an alternative “safe” path for the excess electrical current to be dispersed.

Older homes may not have grounding systems, which leaves them prone to fires and electrical shocks.

Jacket – A term used in wiring, the jacket is the rubberized, protective outer covering over the wires.

Kilowatt-Hour (kWh) – A unit of measurement for larger amounts of electricity usage. 1kWh=1,000 Watts.

This number is commonly seen on your home electric bill to track your monthly energy consumption.

Power Surge – A power surge happens when there is a very brief spike in your home’s electrical current. If a home has faulty wiring these power surges can damage your electrical system and any attached appliances or products using electrical outlets for power. (See Outlets & Switches)

Power surges can happen from lightning strikes, but also from changes in the current that you don’t even notice. Ask your electrician about Whole Home Surge Protection to protect your valuables.

Switches – A piece of equipment that controls the flow of electricity to an electrical circuit. 

Voltage (V) – Voltage is the “push” behind the electrical current. Average outlets run on 120V of electricity.

Watt/Wattage – A watt is the unit of measurement to determine how much electrical energy is consumed in a second.

A high wattage product, like incandescent light bulbs, expend more electrical energy and are therefore more expensive to use than lower wattage products like LED lighting.

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