The Difference Between Amps and Volts

Ever wonder what those electrical terms mean and how they relate to your circuit breaker? We can explain.

Posted by Roy Pearsall | Jan 28, 2010
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When dealing with electricity, many people find the difference between amps and volts confusing, and they often have trouble understanding their purposes. In this article, we look at the differences between the two and work to give you a better understanding of how they apply to the various appliances in your home. We also touch briefly on how to safely operate appliances and avoid sometimes-dangerous circuit overloads.

Amps x Volts = Watts

Let's establish, in layman's terms, how volts and amps work. Imagine a hose: Amps are the water pressure running through the hose, and volts are the diameter of the hose. Watts would be the volume of water coming out of the hose. Simply put, Amps x Volts = Watts.

In the US, all residential homes are wired with a 110-voltage circuit for all minor electrical appliances, and they are wired with a 220-voltage circuit for major appliances like your dryer, stove and air-conditioning unit. Think of your appliances as needing more power, so they require a larger "pipe" through which to operate.

Circuit Smarts

Keep this concept in mind when operating multiple appliances on the same circuit of your home's outlet system. In newer homes, a wiring circuit's general layout will typically be written alongside each circuit breaker on your circuit panel. With the implementation and enforcement of city and county building codes, having a correctly wired home is thankfully a more common occurrence than it was 30+ years ago.

For example, in a home built after 1990, each breaker is associated with a certain zone of a house, i.e. kitchen and bath on one, bedrooms on another, etc. However, if you're blessed with the trials of an older home as I am, your wiring may not always make sense. For example, half of the outlets in my basement are wired to half of my kitchen, whereas the other half are wired to my kids' play area and the dining room.

That said, if someone plugs in a blow dryer and tries to watch TV at the same time, lights will dim, if not go out completely. Circuit breakers are designed to handle the overload and "pop" if too much power is being conducted.

If you start to notice an excess power draw when certain appliances are plugged in, this is an area of concern that should be addressed. Either the wiring is bad or a circuit is overloaded somewhere. Don't allow this situation to persist; investigate it and fix it. Treat your electrical appliances and wiring with respect. Keep them well maintained, adhere to power limits, and you'll go a long way toward keeping your home safe from fire hazards.

Safety First

Keep these facts in mind when using your toaster oven and microwave. They can help you to avoid any hassles or complications, and help you troubleshoot should things go awry. Remember, if you have concerns about your circuit breaker or the power consumption of a circuit, don't hesitate to contact a licensed electrician. The old saying of "better safe than sorry" is one well worth internalizing when dealing with electricity.

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