By Hector Seda
When you’re building a new home, it’s critical that you plan your project carefully to suit your future energy needs. Take time to investigate and give significant consideration to the best options for you—and start as soon as possible. Once the wires are in the walls and the equipment is installed, it’s yours, and so are the electrical costs.
Talk to a Professional First
It’s important to consider any additions you may want in the future. If you have a pool or a hot tub in your 5-year plan, the electrical service might need to be higher than what is immediately required. Upgrading your service later can have a greater impact on your wallet than installing the higher service level required initially.
It’s wise to invest time and expense into an architect, energy consultant, and/or electrical engineer to help decide the best options for you. They can calculate your energy usage for the electrical power you’ll require and give you a clear idea of what you need. They will also keep you within codes, regulations, and any local ordinances. After all, you don’t want to install something only to find it’s prohibited. Removing inadequate wiring or trying to get a variance from your local planning board will mean more time and budget spent on your new home.
Start with the Kitchen
While the outlets in your bedrooms, living room, and family room are often 10 to 12 feet apart (so that every point on a wall is within 6 feet of an outlet), kitchen outlets over the countertop or backsplash must typically be spaced every four feet. Additional outlets in the kitchen make it convenient and safe to use small appliances and prevent running cords across the counter or room. You’ll want to think about additional outlets for a garbage disposal, built-in ovens and microwaves, a charging station, and any other devices that may not sit on your kitchen counter.
In the kitchen, all outlets must be protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). This can be accomplished by installing a GFCI circuit breaker at the electrical panel, or with GFCI outlets (recognizable by the “reset” and “test” buttons on them). Because water and electricity are within proximity of one another in the kitchen, there is a higher danger of electrocution. The GFCIs cut power off within a millisecond of water contact, preventing injury. They’re considered a standard part of the national electrical code requirements, wherever water and electricity are within three feet of each other. It’s also essential to check GFCI outlets occasionally by pressing the reset button to see that it trips the breaker within.
Don’t Forget the Bath
Bathrooms are another space where water and electricity are close to each other. You’ll need to install GFCIs on all outlets to meet national code. Bathrooms—and hair dryers, in particular—tend to use high levels of electricity, particularly when they’re combined with laundry rooms that run washers and dryers. Talk with your electrician to make sure you have enough outlets and amperage for your needs.
Choose Outlets and Amperage Wisely
Apart from your kitchen and bathroom, there are many different types of outlets to choose. Amperage, or amps, is a way to define the amount of electricity flowing through a wire. Standard electrical capacities for receptacles are 15 and 20 amps. Pay close attention to your electrician’s advice on amperage to use. You don’t want to use a too-small wire to connect a circuit breaker to a high-load outlet; this would cause the wire to heat up and the circuit breaker to trip.
Most circuits in a home are 15 or 20 amps. Larger appliances require a higher amount—around 20 to 60 amps, depending on the appliance—due to the amount of electricity that it takes to operate them. For example, an electric stove or dishwasher will call for a higher amperage than a blender or toaster. Electric water heaters will need an even higher amperage than other household appliances. If you’re ever unsure about the amount of amperage required for your needs, have a licensed electrician determine the calculations for the correct size breaker, wire, and outlet to use.
Plan Your Circuit Breaker Panels
The panel that houses circuit breakers is called the main board. Each breaker must be labeled for quick and easy identification. As your electrical needs grow—by adding a pool or additional appliances to your home, for example—you may need to install a subpanel to handle the amp load. If you live in an area where there are frequent power outages, you may choose to install a transfer switch panel that automatically switches to a generator within seconds of your power going out. If you ever see cracks or burn marks on a circuit breaker, outlet, or switch, call an electrician immediately to determine the cause and fix it.
By planning for your needs in advance, you can ensure your new electrical system will run smoothly for years to come.
Hector Seda has over 40 years of construction industry experience in residential, commercial, and healthcare construction. His expertise includes multiple family apartment buildings, custom homes, landmark restorations, residential alterations, hospital and nursing home renovations, government projects, and numerous retail spaces in New York and New Jersey. To see a wide selection of circuit breakers like those described in this article, please click here.
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