I love a tidy panel
I started wiring panels before arch fault protection was required. Don’t get me wrong—I know it makes a home much safer; that’s indisputable. But I was never crazy about those extra pigtail wires attached to the AFCI breakers. They require one extra step to install, but more importantly to me, it’s hard to keep the panel looking orderly with those curlicue wires running amok.
When I leave a job, it’s a given that everything needs to work properly, but I also take pride that my installs look like they were completed by a pro. So I was pretty pumped when I found out that Square D created the Plug-On Neutral Load Center, which accepts Plug-On Neutral breakers that don’t require the extra pigtail wire. They’re installed just like regular breakers, so no more messy panels—yay!
Plug-On Neutral panels are available in the “Homeline” and the “QO” lines, and both panels will work with the traditional breakers as well. I recently got a chance to install the Homeline version. And yes, I know that nobody will see my handiwork until another breaker is added or replaced. But still, it was nice walking away from that job with an organized panel that looks like an electrician who actually gives a dang installed it. Just like the good ole days.
The other obvious benefit of course is that the Plug-On Neutral breakers require one less step, which saves time and reduces the odds that the apprentice will forget to connect a pigtail (something I would never do of course). So you homeowners out there, ask if your contractor will be using a Square D Load Center. They may just give you a break on the labor portion of the bill (contractors are going to hate me for that last bit).
Cool Combo Breakers
I encountered two new technologies during this install, the second being the Square D Dual Function breakers. These breakers combine CAFCI protection with GFCI protection. They’re perfect for kitchens and laundry rooms, which are exactly the two circuits I used them on. It seems like most advances in the area of safety create headaches for the installer. Finally, there is an exception to that rule. Both the Square D Dual Function breakers and the Load Center with Plug-On Neutral are available at Lowes.
Meet the expert
Jason Bouchard has been a journeyman commercial electrician for more than 25 years. He’s worked on and managed jobs ranging from large commercial buildings, million dollar homes, and traffic lights, to waste incinerator plants. He even wired (AND LIT!) the huge torch featured in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.