How To Know When It Is Time To Replace Your Home’s Electric Panel
Does My Home’s Electrical Service Panel Need to be Replaced?
We do a lot of work for realtors and home owners in Northampton and Lehigh Counties and from time to time we get asked; “When is it time to upgrade an electrical panel?” So, we thought we should share with you the following advice from our experience.
It may seem a bit long, but it’s what we think you need to know to make your own good decisions about keeping you, your family and your home safe!
First, what IS your electrical panel?
The electrical service panel is the component of your house’s electrical system where the electricity is brought in to the house from your power company. The electricalwiring that runs throughoutHow To Know When It Is Time To Replace Your Home’s Electric Panel 1 your home starts at the service panel and is used to separately feed the different areas and appliances at your home that require electricity. Each separate wire leaving the panel and feeding your home is called a circuit. This panel is like the “heart” of the electrical system of your entire home. Like veins and arteries, any and all wiring going throughout the walls and ceilings of your home all originate at this location! Keeping this in mind, there are several reason it may be necessary to upgrade your electrical panel.
WHY DO I NEED TO UPGRADE MY ELECTRIC PANEL?
As a rule of thumb, electric panels need replacing every 25-40 years, so if your home is that age, there’s a likelihood that you will need to upgrade. However, there are other key signs to look out for that will tell you when your existing system is becoming outdated.
5 Signs it’s Time to Upgrade Your Home’s Electrical Panel
Your home’s electrical service panel consists of a series of circuit breakers and fuses that allow you to control all the electrical components of your home. The electrical panel divides all the electrical power into different circuits, each of which is protected by a circuit breaker.
Circuit breakers can be quite fickle and sensitive to various factors. Here are five signs that your home’s electrical service panel might need an upgrade.
- Faulty wiring issues
Faulty wiring is one of the leading causes of residential fires in the United States. The risk of a fire caused by faulty wiring dramatically increases based on how old your house is. Older wiring may not meet code, and wire insulation and other materials tend to deteriorate over time. Have a professional electrician inspect the wiring in your electrical panel and throughout your home. Warning signs of faulty wiring include:
- Flickering or dimming lights
- Slight shock or tingling sensation when you touch appliances
- A persistent burning smell
- Sparking or discolored power outlets
- Installing new appliances
We’re not talking about a new blender or toaster here. If you plan on installing a new hot tub, air conditioner, refrigerator, or other machine that consumes lots of energy, your electrical panel may not have enough power to keep those appliances going.
Standard electrical panels provide 100, 150, 200, and 400 amps of power. Anything less than that is actually illegal. If your amps don’t meet your electrical needs, your circuit breakers will trip any time you try to turn on that air conditioner or hot tub, so it’s a good idea to upgrade to a higher amperage. This also applies to any large remodeling projects (e.g. adding a new room or story).
- Replacing fuses with circuit breakers
Fuses and circuit breakers both essentially perform the same function: they prevent short circuit or overload by disrupting (or breaking) electrical currents that channel to any connected devices. Fuses, however, are one-time use. When they detect that a current is running at too high of a level, the fuse will melt, interrupting the flow of electricity. Circuit breakers simply have to be reset.
While there’s nothing particularly wrong with fuses, they are outdated; designed for an age when homes didn’t have so many things plugged into the electrical outlets. These days, fuses can actually pose a fire hazard, and many insurance companies will actually refuse to insure homes that still use fuses.
- Excessive use of extension cords and power strips
If you find yourself plugging nearly everything into one power outlet via power strips and extension cords, it’s a good idea to upgrade your electrical panel. You can allow each circuit to run straight from the panel or install a new electrical outlet and circuit, minimizing the fire hazard.
- Planning ahead
Who knows the types of devices and appliances we’ll be using ten or twenty years from now? If you’re already remodeling or upgrading your home, it’s a good idea to invest in some quality wiring, namely structured wiring, which consists of heavy-duty cables that enable the latest features in all your electrical devices. Structured wiring will also increase your home’s value.
What Should I Expect from a Service Upgrade or Panel Change?
Bear the following in mind before you hire an Electrical Contractor for this project:
- The power will be out for a minimum of four hours. Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
- Unplug all electronics. The power will be turned on and off repetitively and may cause problems.
- The workers will stay working on the panel (and surrounding area), which could be outside. But, they may need to get to the water meter and water tank to do other work.
- Since the power will be off, the worksite will be dark. Please keep the areas clear for them.
- The EC will need power. Please try to arrange a power source that the EC can plug an extension cord into that is always helpful. Asking your neighbour is a great option.
- The EC may have to go to other rooms in the home to test and identify receptacles, or lights etc. They will use generic terms like “master bathroom”, “SE bedroom”, etc. Use the same lingo you are talking to your EC about your home (they don’t know where “Bob’s Room” is, for example).
Questions to Ask Electricians You’re Considering
You should not assume that someone who self-identifies as an electrician actually has the experience and credentials needed to do the job. There are a lot of amateurs out there seeking work these days! So be sure to check them out.
We recommend talking with at least three electricians before hiring. Ask them things such as:
- Are you licensed?
- Are you insured?
- What kind of work do you do most?
- What special training/experience do you have for this kind of work?
- Can you provide references (for past jobs similar to mine)?
- What does your estimate include?
- Do I need a permit for the work I’m requesting? Will you obtain it?
- Who (all) will perform the work?
- When would you be able to do this work?
- (How) do you guarantee your services?
Be sure to take notes on their answers. That way, you will have points of comparison for the different candidates and won’t lose track of important details between the interview and the hire.