A Guide to the Home Electric System
Chapter title – Utility Service
The electric utility company supplies power to the utility wires that are strung along the roadways at voltages that can range from 2300 to 35,000 volts. The companies use a device called a distribution transformer to cut this power down to 220 volts to supply the typical home or business. The distribution transformer can supply either one or several residences, depending upon local needs. The transformer will be called either pole mounted or pad mounted, depending upon their mounting method.
The pole mount transformer is the most common and is used when residential electrical connections are above ground.
If the underground connection to the residence is underground, the distribution transformer may be mounted at ground level on a concrete pad. These are called pad mount transformers.
Utility companies use a connection called a service drop to connect electrical wires running from the transformer to the home. The name service drop derives from the fact that the wires “drop,” from the higher electric pole to the lower residential connection. The service drop is composed of three wires, two are insulated “hot,” wires and the third is usually an uninsulated aluminum wire. The aluminum wire provides a “ground,” connection to the electrical system. Being stronger than the other two wires, it also supplies support to the suspended wires. Typically, the “hot,” wires each have a splice connection near the service head. Below the splices, the wires loop first down, then up to the service head. This is called a “drip loop.” It allows rainwater to drip down from the wires and keeps it from entering the service head. Homes that have the utility wires connection supplied with an underground connection will not have a service drop. Instead, they will have a service lateral.
The electrical service lateral is the electrical conducting conduit that runs underground from the transformer, either overhead or pad, to the electrical service head.
The term service point defines the point at which the utility company’s responsibilities end and the homeowner’s responsibilities begin. In an underground installation this typically is the utility meter. The utility company will generally provide the conduit, wiring to the top power lug on the meter. The homeowner is responsible for the connection to the circuit panel, as well as the circuit panel and all wiring beyond. In an overhead connection the service point is at the point that the service drop connectors connect to the service conductor. The homeowner is responsible for all wiring beyond this point. Bear in mind, this is only a basic explanation. Service point definitions can vary from utility company to utility company, state between state and even between local governing municipalities. A licensed electrician in your area, building inspector or utility company representative can explain your situation to you in greater detail.
Typically, the utility company installs and owns the electric meter. The electric meter measures the amount of electricity used by the consumer so they can bill the account correctly. Some utility companies require the user to read their own meter while others have workers that read them on a regular basis. Smart meters have eliminated the need for manual reading of the electric meter. Meters measure electricity use in kilowatt hours. All electric meters will have two things in common, a meter number an a way to display the total number of kilowatt hours used. The meter number is a unique number assigned to each meter. Users can find the number displayed prominently on the front of the meter. If the user is required to read their own meter, they must provide the meter number to the utility company when they report their reading so they are billed correctly. There are three basic types of meters designed for residential use, the electromechanical, smart and bi-directional meter. A close inspection of the electric meter will reveal a small tag looped padlock style crimp hanging from the tab that allows utility people to open the meter for service. The tag provides a visual indication of anyone opening the meter for tampering. The wire comprising the loop are generally made from plastic or stainless steel and require only a small wire cutters to cut. The labels are available in a variety of colors. The labels are embossed with a series of numbers that comprise a code that relates information about the meter, when it was last opened and other data. A utility worker that opens the meter for maintenance will cut the tag and replace it with a new one upon completion of his task.
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