In my opinion (and the opinion of many others), electricity is hands-down the most difficult aspect of contruction and building science to fully comprehend, excluding HVAC which most often involves electricity in addition to plumbing or ductwork and complex equipment. It’s why most experienced DIYers don’t tackle big electrical jobs on their own and why electricians charge a lot of money for their expertise.
One often overlooked aspect of electrical panels is balancing. For panels to function well they need to be properly balanced, and fortunately this is easier to determine than you may assume.
A balanced panel is one in which both “hot” legs, or lines, handle a similar amount of amperes (amps). If a panel is unbalanced, one leg is essentially doing more work and taking more wear and tear than the other leg. As a result, the overloaded leg will likely fail or cause a hazard before the other and the panel won’t function optimally.
To determine if your panel is balanced, simply add the total number of amps on each side and compare the two. The majority of the circuits in the panel will be 15 or 20 amps. 15-amp circuits supply lights and other low wattage items. 20-amp circuits typically supply items in kitchens and bathrooms that require more power, like toasters and hair dryers. A few circuits will typically be 240-volt, 2-pole 30, 40 or 50-amp circuits to supply very high wattage appliances like electric dryers, ranges and water heaters.
After adding the total number of amps on each line, compare the two to determine how balanced your electrical panel is. Ideally, they would be nearly identical or within about 10% of each other. At the very most, a difference of up to 25% may be okay, although not ideal. If the difference exceeds this, it would be a good idea to have a qualified electrician move any necessary breakers from the overloaded side to the other side to obtain a balanced panel that will be less of a hazard and hold up for a longer period of time.
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