Load Center Circuit Distribution - An informative exercise!

Since many of us have a lot more time (at home) these days, I’d encourage this exercise: Track down each light, receptacle, appliance, whatever to exactly which breaker powers it. Through this exercise I’ve discovered a few things:

  1. The imbalance of my loads. I initially saw this through Sense. I hardly use anything on lug 2 (L2 in my example).

  2. Some peculiar circuit wiring. One of my breakers covers the entire ground floor, then it goes up one floor to power the receptacle on my deck. But, the deck light is on a different breaker!

  3. Inaccuracies in the circuit directory on the door. Two devices are swapped

  4. Makes it very easy to work on a circuit, or shut off something if there were a problem - quickly/accurately…

  5. Made me discover I want a panel upgrade! I installed my Sense live as I don’t have a main breaker. Also if I ever got A/C or could get solar I wouldn’t be able to do both. Looking at a Square D 2040 with main breaker and plug-on neutral to clean things up!

Is it 100% complete? No, I haven’t actually verified the fan is on the breaker which is labeled “FAN”. You may be wondering how I tracked receptacles. I just plugged in a USB charger which has an LED on it. When I got to the correct circuit, it would go off. I thought of using a radio, but didn’t. The other part of this exercise is it’s also a form of exercise! I had to run up and down two flights of stairs repeatedly to track everything down. So, I suggest everyone gets to know their electrical system intimately! Let’s see some detail…


I edited this to update a couple of things I forgot to track down: Doorbell, Den fan (capped off-only have a swich), and laundry closet fan.

7 Likes

I did mine a while back. Great exercise.

Outside panel

Missed opportunity! Oscillating fans on high are fun for that. With Sense, you can also plug in a 100w+ lightbulb or whatever and watch the Settings > Signals or Mains Power Meter as you go breaker flipping.

I’ve got one of those handy breaker tracers that takes the fun out. Though it seems often when I go to use it the 9V battery needs replacing so I hunt for lamps or fans anyway.

Feeling like a custom vinyl LP-based rig would be the most fun.

My “trick” as far as load-balance detection is that I have a solar CT on one of my phases. This works because I don’t have solar! Makes for fun reports … pretty close last month.

I actually have one of those new and unopened which I really didn’t think of using!!! This exercise was more of a physical activity for me as I have some pent-up energy! I really didn’t mind doing my stair stepping.

My favorite/most useful tool is the non-contact voltage tester. It’s formed with the flat tip to go into a receptacle. Another way to check a receptacle, which I didn’t use. My set of electrical tools to do 99% of what I need to do is:

3 Likes

Very good exercise! Everything verified and accurately labeled. Each of my (16) Sense-defected device name has been annotated (Left/Right), corresponding to its load location…

Everything seems evenly disbursed!

@Kevin_K, @ken2, @Kevin1
I rechecked all the labeling on my breaker panel and found the original builder (electrician contractor) had errors on labeling my circuits. I still do a safety test after turning off a breaker, but now I am more sure of what appliances are on a particular circuit after completing my inventory.

  1. I created a whole house inventory and placed all my entries into EXCEL.

  2. I sorted my entries by circuit and developed a new breaker panel label. Printed and posted it.

  3. I labeled every circuit (receptacle, switch or hard-wired appliance) using clear tape label-maker. My breaker panel is a Siemens and it has stamped numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. but allows for 2 different breakers at each numbered location. That is why I have 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, etc. numbering.

See my photos below:

I also would like for SENSE to develop software that graphically displays (similar to the Power Meter):

a. The wattage used on each separate leg (or phase) - not just the single reading in the “Signals” menu
b. The voltage being supplied on each leg (or phase) - not just the single reading in the “Signals” menu
c. User Alarms for ‘under’ voltage or ‘over’ voltage ranges

5 Likes

Most impressive! You definitely took my concept to the next level with all of your labeling. Was that something you had been working on, or did you complete all of that in the last few days?

While I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago I looked into my friend’s load center. It’s surprising how overly general things are written into the directories. Anything further for us will be a cakewalk. I probably had to flip 10 breakers to find the one for his doorbell, as I was installing a Ring 2 for him. I’m glad you uncovered labeling issues while you completed this.

That’s also a nice wishlist of product features. It sure seems like they would be easy to accomplish.

Any chase you might be able to share the Excel spreadsheet?

To: @dwatsonpt
Review my earlier blog in this same thread. You can see my EXCEL page for my “Utility Room” as an example. You will need to create your own EXCEL file for your house. There will not be anything similar with the wiring from your house versus mine. Every home is wired differently. Go to each switch, receptacle or hard-wired device in your house and determine what circuit it is on. Enter every detail into EXCEL - one line of data equals 1 receptacle or 1 switch. After you enter all the data, then use the EXCEL ‘sort’ column feature to group devices that are on the same circuit. Save that data.

Then, re-sort the EXCEL file by ‘room location’ so you can see if you have different circuits in the same room. Save this data. I probably spent a day or two gathering all my data and entering the information.

Here is an example for a ‘breaker panel label’ spreadsheet from a different house.

2 Likes

This was a fun exercise! My landlord had this information for our panel, we just reprinted the sheet and added parenthesis for additional notes. Definitely a valuable learning experience :slight_smile:.

Do you have a window A/C on circuit 6? If not, that’s probably what that breaker was intended for. It would probably be super easy to install and you could get up to a 14K BTU unit.

This is good to know @Kevin_K! The “office” is actually our second bedroom, so it looks like my roommate could efficiently turn his room into an icebox.

I almost took on the same Herculean task this past weekend since my electrician has made a few changes to the breaker box over the past month… Since we were the original homeowners, we have at least a modicum of historical knowledge own what should be where so I ventured into the two parallel load centers to get started…

My Service Closet box is fairly well understood… Most of my big 240V loads, the two AC units, two Tesla chargers (HPWCs - hence the 100A breaker pairs), the solar backfeed, plus a smattering of rooms in the house, both upstairs and downstairs. But I really don’t know where the “Dedicated Plugs” are, though I do know the Sitting Room, is really our guest bedroom.

It’s the other panel that scared me off ! I though I knew everything about that. Not really. Most of the stuff makes sense, but what is:

  • Refer ? This is California, but no grow-lights in this house. Might have been the former refrigerator in the kitchen before we had to rewire with three separate dedicated breakers for the SubZero set (lower left). But what does it do now ??

  • Micro ? I’m guessing that’s the Microwave, in the kitchen island. But we entirely redid the kitchen about 10 years ago and it doesn’t seem to correlate with the microwave anymore.

  • 20 Amp Master - Master what ?

1 Like

Is that a 20A breaker? Maybe a misspelling for Refrigerator

Every bathroom these days requires a 20A breaker for the bathroom receptacles. I would assume this is for those outlets

2 Likes

When my electrical panel was replaced, I had to relabel all breakers and I used Klein`s Digital Circuit Breaker Finder, which helped me a lot and saved my legs/back from multiple runs to the basement.
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Klein-Tools-Digital-Circuit-Breaker-Finder-ET300/202330830

2 Likes

Having personally done a lot of electrical work in my home over the past 17 years of living here and having an electrician neighbor who taught me a ton, I thought I would provide a few thoughts for those wanting to tackle this as well as a picture of my electrical panel.

Obviously a lot depends on when your house was built but if your home is like mine your panel likely has a bunch of breakers labeled “Lights and Recs (receptacles)” which is all that code required back in the late 80s and early 90s. Some breakers may have a 15 on them and others may have 20. Here are a few things to be aware of to help you find the right breaker:

  • Kitchens and Dining Rooms require 20A breakers. This is because the appliances that you typically plug into these outlets such as coffee makers, microwaves, refrigerators, etc require a lot more power especially on the startup of that appliance.
  • Bathrooms require 20A breakers. This is because of hair dryers, curling iron, etc also require more power
  • Traditional Living Room (I live in the South) sometimes also have 20A breakers
  • Lights within the rooms above are typically 15A breakers

I bring these up in case you are ever looking for a breaker for a particular room, the above may help you determine which one to look for.

A few years after I moved into my home, my wife decided she wanted to switch from ivory switches and receptacles to white. Obviously I needed to know which breaker supplied power to each switch and outlet so I had my wife turn off a breaker and then I went around and determine which outlets and switches didn’t work. I then totally dorked out and created a spreadsheet similar to the OP’s but also created a Visio diagram of my house with breaker numbers so I can visually see which breaker supplies power to a given switch or outlet versus having to scan a list. :rofl:

7 Likes