How to Turn Off Power at the Electrical Service Panel

Knowing how to safely turn off the power at your home’s main electrical service panel is an important skill for any homeowner. Turning off the main power allows you to safely make electrical repairs, replace fixtures, and avoid potential shock hazards. With the right preparation and precautions, you can easily turn off your main electrical power when needed.

Locate the Service Panel

The first step is locating your home’s main service panel, which is the central hub for the electrical system. It’s usually found on an exterior wall or in the basement, garage, or utility room. The service panel is a large metal box containing circuit breakers or fuses.

Look for these signs you’ve found the main panel:

  • Main shut off switch or large breakers
  • Thick electric cables entering the top
  • Writing indicating “Service Panel” or “Main”
  • Located near the meter on the home’s exterior

If you’re unsure, look for the thick incoming wires from the street as a clue to trace back and find the main service panel.

Turn Off Individual Breakers First

Before shutting off the main power, it’s wise to first turn off the individual circuit breakers powering the circuits and equipment you’ll be working on.

Locate the relevant circuit breakers and flip each to the “Off” position. Verify power is cut by testing lights or outlets on those circuits.

Turning off individual breakers first prevents power surges when the main is switched off. It also lets equipment like refrigerators run until the last moment to prevent food spoilage.

Cut Power at the Main Breaker

Now you’re ready to shut off the main power. Locate the main circuit breaker or shutoff switch. It’s usually marked and set apart from the smaller breakers.

The main breaker might handle 100+ amps, so it will be noticeably larger. Flip the main breaker to the full “Off” position just like a smaller breaker.

For a shutoff switch, you’ll twist it or flip the lever until it lines up with the “Off” marking.

If your panel has a main fuse, pull it straight out to disconnect the power instead of turning a main breaker.

Verify Power is Off

With the main breaker off, there should be no power flowing to the electrical system. However, it’s crucial to double-check before working.

To verify:

  • Test lights/outlets – They should not turn on in any room.
  • Use a non-contact voltage tester – It shouldn’t detect power near any wires.
  • Check the meter – It should not be incrementing to show current is flowing.

Proceed with your electrical work only once you’ve confirmed power is shut down at the main panel.

Remove Fuse for Extra Safety

For additional safety when doing extensive electrical work, you can remove and disconnect the main fuse from the service panel. This creates a physical air gap so no accidental turnover of the main breaker can energize the circuits.

Just pull the main fuse straight out after turning off the main breaker. Keep it separate until the work is complete.

Follow Safety Precautions

Work cautiously when the panel is open and power is off:

  • Keep hands and tools away from the inside of the panel. Never reach in or touch wires.
  • Don’t stand in water when working around electricity.
  • Use insulated gloves, shoes, and tools for added protection.
  • Double check all power is off before touching any wiring or parts.
  • Replace all covers on the panel before restoring power.

Follow safe procedures and never take risks when electrical work is involved.

Restore the Power

Once the electrical work is successfully completed, you can bring the power back on.

First replace any fuses you removed, then flip the main breaker back to “On.” The smaller individual circuit breakers can then be switched on one at a time.

Listen for the click and check that power is restored. Finally, verify light and outlets are functioning normally.

Being comfortable with safely shutting off power at the main electrical service panel provides you with control over your home’s electrical system. Just take things step-by-step.

FAQs About Turning Off Electrical Service Panel Power

How long can the main breaker be off?

It’s safe to leave the main breaker off for extended periods when needed for repairs or maintenance. The breaker serves to disconnect the power and does not affect appliances.

What if the panel doesn’t have a main breaker?

Older homes may have a main fuse you pull out instead of a large shutoff breaker. If your panel lacks any way to shut off the main power, an electrician should install one.

Do I turn off the main first or individual breakers?

Turn off individual breakers first before the main breaker to prevent voltage spikes and keep refrigerators/freezers on longer.

What causes the main breaker to trip unexpectedly?

Overloads from faulty wiring or appliances can trip the main breaker. It also acts as an emergency shutoff if high voltage from the utility comes through.

Can I change the main breaker myself?

Due to the high amperages and complexity involved, only a licensed electrician should change or add main service panel breakers.

How often should I exercise the main breaker?

It’s a good idea to fully turn off and on the main breaker 2-3 times per year. This ensures it will function properly in an emergency.


Knowing how to safely disconnect the main power is an invaluable electrical skill every homeowner should master. With the proper preparations, you can confidently shut off power when needed for repair work, upgrades, or emergencies. Just take a systematic approach and exercise caution when working in an electrical service panel. Follow basic safety principles, verify that all power is off, and you will have the ability to take control of your home’s electrical system.