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All About Your Electrical Panel

By: Jonathan Z. Kremer


The electrical panels found in Israeli homes come in many configurations and sizes. I will attempt to give you a general idea of what they consist of, and the function that each part serves.

The electricity supplied by the Israel Electric Company enters through your electric meter and then works its way towards your electric panel. Generally speaking, the Electric Company takes responsibility for your service up to and including your meter. From the meter and onward throughout your home they consider as being your responsibility, and will rarely have anything to do with any problems developing from there, including your electric panel. For electrical problems in your home they will usually advise you to call an electrician.

The three basic components in your electric panel are the main breaker - MCB (MCB = miniature circuit breaker), main GFI (Ground-fault Interrupter), and all the breakers (MCB) that control all the different lines in your home. Of course you may have various other components such as a contactor, timer, switch, etc, but we’ll discuss some of those components later.

MAIN BREAKER

Coming from the electric meter, the main line is then connected to the main breaker. Some older homes may have their main breaker located somewhere near the electrical meter (separate from the electrical panel), even though the location of the meter may be a considerable distance from the electric panel. In most cases though, the main breaker is located in your electrical panel. If the service you are getting is single-phase, then the breaker will look like most others in the panel but having a higher current rating.

single phase breaker Single-Phase Breaker

3ph breaker 3 Phase Breaker
Single-phase service comes as 25A or 40A. 25A is no longer available and will mostly be found in the older homes, unless they were upgraded at some point. If you have a 3 phase service, then you will have what looks like three breakers with their levers barred together. 3 phase service starts at 25A, and continues to 40A, 63A, 80A, 100A…and onward. The purpose of the main breaker is to limit the amount of current that the panel, as a whole, takes from the Electric Company, and to protect their fuses.

GROUND-FAULT INTERRUPTER

The next item that you will find in your panel is the “GROUND-FAULT INTERRUPTER”. This is known by many names including GFI, GFCI, RCD, ELCB, the “safety device”, and in Hebrew as “mimsar p’chat”. The single-phase GFI is twice as wide as a standard breaker, has either an up and down lever, sideways lever, or turning dial type lever. It also has a test button. The 3 phase GFI looks the same as the single-phase one, except it’s bigger (the size of 4 breakers). There are some old types of single-phase GFIs around that are the same physical size as the 3 phase. Most companies don’t make the large type anymore.



The GFI measures the current going through the live wire and neutral wire. If there is a difference of more than a few milliamps between the two, it will trip. Unlike the main breaker, the GFI does not really care

single phase GFI Single-Phase GFI

3 phase GFI 3 Phase GFI

3 ph GFI w/turning knob 3 Phase GFI with turning knob
how much current you use, but rather cares that there is no leakage from the line. So for example, if you would stick your finger into an electrical outlet (not advisable), the GFI would sense that not all the current is going through the wires, but rather leaking out to your body. It would then trip immediately. Although you may have received a bad shock, the GFI would have probably saved your life.

The one thing that’s common to most GFIs is the “test” button found somewhere on the device. This button will cause the device to trip. It is good practice to push the button once every couple of months in order to make sure the GFI is working properly. If the GFI does not jump when the button is pushed, a qualified electrician should be called to investigate and possibly replace the GFI.

VARIOUS LINE BREAKERS (MCB)

The rest of the breakers are for the various lines around your home. These lines can be distributed in many different ways, depending on the design, and the electrician who did the work.

The two standard sizes used in Israel are 10 amps and 16amps, although any size can be used depending on the purpose. There are certain lines in your home, that according to the Israeli standard, MUST be designated lines. This means that only one device is on that line and nothing else. Such lines include the electric water boiler, the washing machine, the dishwasher, and the oven.

If your service is 3 phase, then it is possible that you have one or more 3 phase line breakers either supplying electricity to a secondary panel, or to a 3 phase device (air conditioner, oven, etc).

These line breakers have two purposes. The first purpose is to protect the wires in the wall so that they don’t burn up. In order for them to accomplish this they must be properly rated for the wires used on that line, otherwise they can’t do their job. The second purpose is to isolate a line, which is shorting or is being overused, by jumping before the main breaker. This prevents a total shutdown of all the electricity in your home, with only the particular faulty line tripping. Sometimes though, if you have a very strong short, it will go through both the line breaker and the main breaker, causing everything to go out.

The following are some other components that can be found in certain panels.

CONTACTOR

In essence, a contactor is a switch, having 1 or more contacts, that operates with the help of an electric magnet which closes and opens the contacts. The contactor is mostly used in conjunction with a timer or another device that will regulate the current causing it to open and close.


contactor Common Contactor
The contactor is used for many purposes. One such purpose is to switch on and off a higher current that would normally burn out other, more fragile, devices that were not built to handle such currents.

Many times the contactor is installed deep inside the electric panel, where it remains out of sight until the panel is opened up.



TIMERS

There are many different types of timers around. There are simple spring type timers that you set for a certain amount of time, and when that time passes, it shuts off. There are timers that have a dial, where you set certain times for the timer to switch on and off. There are digital timers, programmable timers, and dual timers.

In most homes in Israel, timers are used to operate devices around the home (such as lights, air conditioning, fans, etc) on the Sabbath when operating such devices is forbidden. Timers are also frequently used to operate certain devices when nobody is home.

SWITCHES

Switches in an electrical panel operate exactly like the average switch found around your home. They are used to switch things off and on manually. Many times they look very similar to MCBs, but they are not MCBs, and will NOT protect any line or trip for any reason.


Jonathan Z. Kremer (better known as Yoni) is the proprietor of "Yoni - Electrical Design and Installations", a Maale Adumim (Israel) based business that has been serving primarily Jerusalem, Maale Adumim, and surrounding areas since 1989. We undertake various forms of electrical work including renovations, maintenance, installations, and repairs - encompassing the domestic (home), industrial and commercial arenas. We believe that our success tomorrow will be determined by how well we serve you today. http://www.yoni.kremer.co.il



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