A vital component of any construction project, an electrical control panel regulates and monitors the flow of electricity to all devices and systems in a structure. This can include any electrical elements, from lights and appliances to elevators and air conditioning units.
So, how do you determine the right electrical control panels for your project? This article discusses the basics of electrical control panels, the different types of panels and enclosures available, and the steps a subcontractor can take to determine which panel is right for your project.
Table of Contents
What Is an Electrical Control Panel?
An electrical control panel is a box that houses various electrical components. These components work together to regulate and monitor the flow of electricity in a structure. The most important components in an electrical control panel are the circuit breakers. Circuit breakers protect the electrical system from overload by automatically shutting off the power when it detects too much current flowing through the system. Other components include fuses, voltage regulators, and switches.
Types of Electrical Control Panels
There are two primary types of electrical control panels: main distribution panels and subpanels. Main distribution panels distribute electricity to all the circuits in the structure. Subpanels, on the other hand, are used to supply power to specific areas of a building. Below, we go into more detail on each type of panel.
Main Electrical Panel
A main electrical panel is the primary distribution point for all the electrical circuits in a building. The main electrical panel is typically divided into two sections: the service entrance and the main breaker. A commercial building will usually have a main electrical service room, where the main panel will be located, and potentially smaller electrical rooms on other floors.
The service entrance is where the electrical service comes into the building. This is typically a meter box that houses the main breaker.
Typically located in the main electrical panel, the main breaker is a large switch that controls the flow of electricity to all the other circuits in the building.
Main Lug Panel
A main lug panel is a type of electrical panel that doesn’t have a main breaker. Instead, its line wires run to a type of electrical connector called a lug, which supplies power to the other circuits of the building. Main lug panels are typically used in buildings with less than 200 amps of service.
A sub-panel is an electrical panel that’s used to supply power to specific areas of a building. Sub-panels are typically located in the garage, and they’re usually connected to the main electrical panel via a circuit breaker.
A transfer switch is an electrical device that’s used to safely connect a generator to the electrical system in a building. Transfer switches are typically installed next to the main electrical panel, and they’re used to provide power to the circuits in the event of a power outage.
Types of Panel Enclosures
In addition to the main types of electrical panels, there are several types of panel enclosures. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) created standards to rate the variety of electrical enclosures used in industrial applications in North America.
NEMA ratings are based on the type of environment the electrical panel will be used in. Most are made from steel or aluminum. Here’s a breakdown of the different NEMA types of panel enclosures:
NEMA Type 1 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 1 electrical panels are designed for indoor use, and they’re used to protect electrical components from dust, dirt, and other airborne contaminants.
NEMA Type 3 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 3 electrical panels are designed for outdoor use. They are used to protect electrical components from weather and other environmental conditions.
NEMA Type 4 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 4 electrical panels are designed for use in harsh environments, like those that experience heavy wind and rain. They protect electrical components from chemicals, high temperatures, and other extreme conditions.
NEMA Type 4X Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 4X electrical panels are designed for use in corrosive environments, like those in coastal areas. They protect electrical components from rust, corrosion, and other damaging effects.
NEMA Type 6 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 6 electrical panels are designed for use in wet environments and can withstand being temporarily submerged at a limited depth.
NEMA Type 6P Electrical Enclosure
Similar to NEMA 6 enclosures, NEMA 6P electrical panels are designed for use in wet environments. However, these can protect against prolonged submersion at a limited depth.
NEMA Type 7 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 7 electrical panels are designed for use in hazardous environments, such as those where flammable gases or vapors may be present. They protect electrical components from hazards like explosions and fires.
NEMA Type 12 Electrical Enclosure
NEMA 12 electrical panels are designed for use in dusty environments. They help electrical components withstand dust, dirt, and other airborne contaminants.
Determining the Right Panel for Your Project
With so many types of electrical control panels available, it takes careful consideration to choose the right panel for your project. Start with the following questions when making your decision:
What Is the Use Case?
The first step in determining the right electrical panel for your building is to identify the type of construction project it is. For example, if you’re working on a residential project, you’ll need to choose a different panel than if you’re working on a commercial project. As you can tell from the NEMA ratings of electric enclosures, you should also account for the environmental conditions of your building, including weather, humidity, and potential hazards.
What Is the Load Being Placed on the Panel?
The next step is to identify the load being placed on the panel. For example, if you’re working on a construction project that requires a lot of power, you’ll need to choose a different panel than if you’re working on a construction project that doesn’t require as much power.
How Do I Find the Right Supplier?
The last step is to find the right supplier for your electrical panel. There are many suppliers that sell electrical panels, so it’s important to find one that you can trust. There are many factors that you should consider when choosing a supplier, such as their experience, their customer service, and their prices.
You can find a list of reputable suppliers on the National Electrical Contractors Association website. Once you’ve narrowed down potential suppliers, contact them to discuss your project and get a quote for the electrical panel.
Choosing the right electrical panel for your construction project is an important decision. Take the time to research and understand your options to ensure that your project is a success.
If you are not one, please consult a licensed electrician before handling electrical control panels.