Why Only An Electrician Should Upgrade Your Service Panel
Homes that do have a more modern service panel may need an upgrade. Homeowners may find an upgrade necessary when buying new appliances that put higher demands on the electrical system. An electrical panel has a lifespan of between 20 to 25 years. When homeowners start experiencing flickering lights and can feel heat coming the panel, it is time to call an electrician for an upgrade. In some situations, circuit breakers deteriorate to the point where they burn out. Waiting too long to replace an old system runs the risk of the electrical panel shutting down or possibly causing a house fire.
Having an electrician replace or rebuild your present electrical service panel will prevent many problems in the future. In most situations, a complete replacement will cost less than constantly making repairs. Homeowners need to check with their insurance company to learn about the requirements to reduce their premiums for making electrical upgrades. Typically, both utility bill reductions as well as insurance cost savings will easily justify the investment in a panel change out.
When upgrading to a modern service panel system, it may be necessary to have an electrician rewire the entire building to meet the increased electrical demands, replace ancient wiring and improve energy efficiency.
Electrical upgrades are governed by local building code regulations. Many electrical repairs, installations and repairs must be inspected and approved. Because of the skill and knowledge it takes to upgrade a service panel, only a licensed and experienced electrician can do it safely and efficiently.
Signs You Should Replace or Upgrade the Electrical Panel
There are a few instances where you’ll want to replace your electrical panel as soon as possible.
If you have any of the following electrical panels, contact an electrician right away to diagnose the situation:
Outdated Electrical Panels
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) and Zinsco electrical panels were a very common choice from the 1950s to the 1980s. Unfortunately, as years passed, people started realizing that they weren’t functioning properly. Too often, the panels would fail to cut off power when there is a short circuit or too much current.
If your electrical panel does not properly trip when an electrical hazard is detected, a fire could start.
Outdated panels are any panels that are more than 30 years old. If you have an older panel, you may only have 60-amp electrical service as opposed to the 150 or 200-amp service of modern homes. Contact an electrician if your panel is over 20 years old.
If you experience a water leak near your electrical panel, keep away from the area and call an electrician immediately. If there is any evidence that the panel has been exposed to water (including rust stains or corrosion on the wiring), it will probably need to be replaced.
Every electrical panel has a maximum power rating – which dictates the amount of space for breakers. The original fuse panels offered 60 amps of power which were followed by the standard breaker panels at 100 amps. The recommended amount for modern builds and upgrades is 200 amps. If you are planning on a remodeling project or adding on to your home, you may need to replace your panel entirely.
If you are experiencing frequently tripping breakers, speak with an electrician about adding more power.
Poor installation can contribute to a number of problems that should be addressed in an electrical panel. Oversized breakers, circuits doubled-up on a single-pole breaker and wires crossing over the panel’s center are just a few problems that would require an update from an electrician.
Call an electrician right away if you notice:
- Buzzing sounds
- Smells of burning plastic or wires
- Overheating of wall plates, outlet covers, cords and plugs
- Sparks around any electrical item
Some electrical panels were simply manufactured with defects – sometimes these defects weren’t evident immediately. You might even own a panel that is on the “should be replaced” list. Problems with these faulty panels include breakers failing to trip, breakers that fall out of place and non-standard designs (resulting in improper installation).
What Is a Breaker Panel?
Before we discuss how and why your electrical panel might not be working, let’s talk about the breaker panel itself. An electrical panel is the central point that connects the wires from outside to the wires inside your home and how your electric service provider provides electricity to your home. It’s often also called the main breaker box, the fuse box, a distribution panel, a load center and even a breaker panel. This is where you go when you need to flip the breakers off and on to get the power back on when you’ve tripped the breaker. It is usually located in the garage, on your home’s exterior or in a utility room, but can be anywhere in your home.
There are a few different types of panels: main breaker panels, main lug panels and transfer switches.
MAIN BREAKER PANELS
These panels have a main built-in breaker that can shut off all the power to your property. This double-pole circuit breaker both identifies the capacity of your panel’s circuits and protects those circuits from becoming overloaded.
MAIN LUG PANELS
Instead of having a main breaker, line wires go to lugs in these types of panels. Main lug panels have a separate shut-off system, which could be near the meter or connected to the main panel’s breaker. Having a disconnect near your meter allows firefighters to cut your power without needing to enter your living structure.
If you need more than one circuit in a particular area, such as in a greenhouse or a workshop, you may want a sub-panel. Sub-panels typically don’t have their own disconnect and are generally powered from the main panel.
Appliances with High Electrical Demands
Also consider upgrading the present system if you hear hissing from the box, circuit breakers trip repeatedly or you have an old-fashioned fuse box rather than a panel box.
The best way to determine if you require an upgrade is to discuss the system with an electrician. Better yet, get the advice and a written estimate for the work from at least three electricians.
Upgrading electrical service means replacing the current panel box with a new larger one. The cost to upgrade to a 200-amp panel will be $2,000 to $3,000. The job is going to involve a licensed electrician, the utility company and a local building inspector, because you will need a building permit to have the work done. Basically, the utility will cut the power to your home from outside to enable the electrician to safely make the switch. The electrician will reattach the wiring from the existing circuits to the new box. He will also add new circuits for the new appliances or the addition. He will ground the box by running a copper electrode from the box to a water pipe or a grounding electrode that is buried in the ground.
When the electrician is finished, the building inspector will check the work. If the electrical work passes, the utility company can reconnect the outside power lines. The utility company won’t reconnect the lines until the inspector signs off on the job. Be warned that the electrician or the building inspector may spot other problems with the electrical system once the job is under way. If the system does not meet the electrical code, the inspector will not allow the utility to reconnect the power lines until the problem is fixed. Sometimes the utility has to replace the cables that run from the utility pole to your house. You may be charged for this, so be sure to ask about this when you contact the utility about the upgrade.
It is important that you work with a qualified electrician. There are a number of different people involved, and you will be without power while the work is being completed, so make sure that you or your electrician has everyone on the same page.
Upgrading your electrical service can seem like an overwhelming task, but it is best to be sure your home can safely support the everyday electrical devices you need.
Can I Replace My Electrical Panel Myself?
We strongly advise against it. When handling an electrical panel, you’re dealing with high voltage levels of live energy. In other words, it’s an incredibly dangerous process in which a single mistake could lead to serious injury or even death. In addition, the process of changing an electrical panel is pretty complicated. If you’re replacing a breaker box, you’re probably installing new cables and an electrical meter as well. This is all to say that working inside of an electrical panel is dangerous and is best left to a professional and licensed electrician.
Working with an electrician not only guarantees a safe and successful experience, it also saves you the headache of figuring out if you need a permit and the following hassle of actually getting one. Electricians also know about building codes in your area, so that way your box is up to date on local regulations. The only time we would suggest working with your own electrical panel would be when inspecting it to decide whether it should be upgraded in the first place.