Keep your electrician happy and their service call shorter with a correctly labeled electrical box panel. (Photo: Shutterstock).

By Mary Lynn Bruny

So many things in life should make you happy but don’t. Then there are the unexpected pleasures that surprise you. For me, one of these is our electrical box panel labeling which is both functional and attractive. It is a consistent source of joy. I walk into our teeny laundry room (okay, closet), look at it and smile with a sigh of contentment. You think I exaggerate but I assure you I do not.

For those of you with newer homes, you give no thought to your electrical box panel and its labeling. You may have never even opened your electrical box door. You may not even know where the box is! (In case you don’t know how they work: The different switches on the panel turn on or off power to certain areas of your home.) But I can assure you, your panel is logical and the switches are each well identified with clear labeling so any electrician could waltz into your home and get right to work.

This is not the case with an older home. With every renovation the switches get things added to and deleted from them. Wires are moved this way and that way until your electrical system is a crazy crisscross of spider webs around the house that make no sense to anyone. Often these switch changes aren’t marked on the panel labeling. Or if they are, there’s a bunch of cross outs and unreadable chicken-scratch scribbles.

Then, when a tightly scheduled electrician comes to work in this home, they open the electrical box, look at the indecipherable scribbles and groan a sigh of frustration. You can hear them muttering under their breath while they have to spend a half hour (at their significant hourly rate) flipping switches and walking around the house trying to figure out which switch supplies power to what area. This I cannot abide. (In general I think it’s never a good idea to irritate people that are working in your home. If you want to annoy people, stick with family members.)

Thus, in the many older homes we’ve lived in, our family has always done the legwork of trying to figure out the chaos that is the electrical panel organization and create proper labeling. Now with cell phones this is an easier process: One person flips the electrical box switches and another walks the house with something to plug in while communicating via phone. But in our early days my husband and I would just yell back and forth, often misunderstanding each other. Of course, this would eventually lead to absolute frustration and wondering why in the world we ever got married in the first place.

Things got better when our boys were small. They were our runners who would zip back and forth like spies between enemy lines. Then our oldest son made an amazing suggestion: “Just use our walkie-talkies.” Talk about a game changer.

Still, even now with cell phones it’s a time intensive process to unravel the electrical craziness: Who would think that on one switch you would have the outlets for the south side of the dining room, the front porch light and the laundry room fan? After identifying everything on our current panel, I would. It’s a mad, mad electrical world here. But now all this zaniness is organized with beautifully clear labeling that even Marie Kondo would admire. So very rewarding. And when a busy electrician now comes into our house, opens the electrical panel door and sees that all the switches are well identified, I hear nothing but a sigh of relief.

By Mary Lynn Bruny. Mary Lynn writes about local real estate and home-related topics. Contact her at [email protected]. To read previous The Lighter Side articles, go to