If you have been considering an upgrade to your electrical panel, you may be wondering how urgently this work is needed. Investing in an upgrade is something that should never be put off as the consequences for not doing so can be devastating. Many homeowners are not aware of the importance of keeping the electrical panel up to date, so it is a good idea to begin to think ahead and start to research panel upgrades.
You may be wondering what situations will lead to the necessity of upgrading your electrical panel. We hope to clarify some of the signs of needing an upgrade, as well as provide much of the information that you will need when considering this important service.
What is the Difference Between an Upgrade and a Replacement?
Just like many other things in the home, your electrical panel has a lifespan and will need to be replaced every once in a while to ensure that your home continues to have the protection from electrical surges that it requires. Many homeowners try to replace their panel every 20 years even if it appears to be functioning correctly still.
A replacement is typically needed when the panel becomes too old or is damaged by water or pests. Homeowners choose this route when the electrical needs of the home have not increased and there is no need to upgrade the service. The electrician will simply replace the panel with one that has the same amperage.
An upgrade, on the other hand, is typically done when, in addition to needing a new panel, the home also requires additional amperage. Many homeowners are faced with the situation of needing significantly more amperage because of the gradual or exponential increase in electrical power needs.
Making the decision between an upgrade and a replacement is something that your electrician can help you with. An inspection of the home’s electrical system by an electrician can help to make clear whether an upgrade is needed. In addition to having your home inspected, there are many signs that you can observe on your own that will tell you that an upgrade is your next home maintenance priority. Here are a few of the signs to watch out for.
Lights that Dim or Flicker
Lights that flicker or dim without the use of a dimmer light switch can be a sign that there is something wrong with your wiring and your panel. If this flickering coincides with a message from your utility provider that they are doing work, there is likely no need to worry. Your lights should stop flickering as soon as the utility company is done. However, if your flickering lights are a constant problem in your home and you notice it happening for weeks, it is time to do something about it.
Flickering lights can happen when the wiring inside the home was poorly installed. It can also happen with wiring that is too old. Finding the source of flickering lights and getting it fixed is important for the safety of the members of the household. Ignoring these problems can lead to an electrical fire or electrical shock. It is important to always have a licensed electrician perform any installations or repairs to avoid faulty wiring that can cause flickering lights and a potential fire hazard.
Updates to the Home
Updating your home can be an exciting process. Whether you are adding on to the existing house or investing in a new appliance, these updates can greatly add to your comfort in the home. However, most homeowners forget to evaluate their electrical systems at the time of the update. Any time you are updating your home, there is a high likelihood that you will also need to update your electrical panel.
Large appliances like a new dishwasher, heating or air conditioning, a new hot tub, or a new refrigerator use up a lot of electricity. It is probable that your existing panel is not able to support these additions without an upgrade. If you are considering a new appliance or any other major changes to your home, plan on budgeting at least an additional $1500 for a panel upgrade.
Your Panel is Old or You Have a Fuse Box
If you have lived in your home for 20 years, but have never had the electrical panel upgraded, it is almost certainly time to contact your electrician and have them upgrade or replace the panel. The electrical needs of today are a far cry from what they were 20 years ago. A gradual acclimation to our increasing dependence on technology can blind us to the strain that we are putting on systems that were never built to withstand today’s electrical usage. Many older panels have 100-amps (the minimum that is set down by the NEC), when in reality, some modern homes need a 200, or even as much as 400 amp panel.
Additionally, many homes that were built in the 1960s or earlier still retain their old fuse boxes. While it is true that a fuse box performs the same basic function as a circuit breaker, and this type of panel is still installed today due to its affordability, fuse boxes come with their own set of disadvantages that may make an upgrade a priority for your family.
While fuse boxes are not technically unsafe, they are often not a safe option for homes that have increased energy needs. Homeowners may try to modify their panels by replacing fuses with more amps to prevent frequent blowouts. However, doing this is a huge hazard. Instead of trying to modify your fuse box to be able to handle your electrical needs, it is better to have the panel upgraded to something that can easily handle all of your appliances.
Problems with Your Electrical Panel
You should always pay attention to your panel and make a call if anything seems wrong. The first sign to look out for that may indicate that your panel is not working correctly is any warmth coming from the panel. Many people mistakenly think that, just like the light in your lamp, an electrical panel should feel warm after operating. However, the opposite is true for electrical panels. The external portion of the panel should feel cool, and any warmth indicates that something is wrong with the wiring inside the panel.
Another problem that you may experience is a circuit breaker that will not reset. When a circuit breaker is tripped, it should be easy to open the panel and flip the affected switch from off to on. The power in the area should be immediately restored. However, if the circuit breaker is not resetting easily, or immediately switches back to off, there is likely something wrong with the panel and it will need to be inspected and replaced or upgraded.
Crackling or buzzing sounds on any part of your electrical system are a bad sign. Loose connections can cause buzzing or crackling sounds, and this can lead to problems with your outlets as well as a fire danger. Changing temperatures can cause aluminum wiring to contract or expand. Over time, this could cause the wiring to become faulty and cause a buzzing sound. Not having a buzzing or crackling sound checked could lead to numerous undesirable circumstances such as circuit failure, fire, or damage to your appliances or electrical system. Be sure to make an appointment with your electrician right away when you notice any of these signs.
Any Signs of Burning, Smoking, or Sparks
Some of the signs that we have mentioned do not necessarily call for urgent action. However, signs of burning, smoking, or sparking are cause for emergency repair. Burning or melting wires have a distinct hot odor. If you notice this odor while you are near your electrical panel or close to any of your outlets, it is time for an emergency call. Signs of scorching near the panel or outlets should also be cause for concern.
As always, if you see sparks or smoke and you sense that your family is in immediate danger, contact 911 right away. You should keep a fire extinguisher in your home at all times because using water on an electrical fire is dangerous and could lead to electrocution. In case of an electrical emergency, prioritize getting everyone out safely. If you and your family are safe, you can then turn off the electricity in the home. If you have the main lug panel, you can often shut off the power to the home without entering the house in case of fire.
If you can do so safely, use a fire extinguisher on any open flames. Once everyone is out of danger, contact your emergency electrician. They will come quickly to fix the problem and ensure that your wiring and panel are safe. An upgrade is almost always recommended in the case of burning or smoking.
Overuse of Extension Cords or Power Strips
If you live in an older home, you may notice that there are not as many outlets as in newer homes. Newer homes are mandated to have an outlet placed roughly every 12 feet. Many times, they are required at each corner of a large room in addition to one at the halfway point across the wall. However, older homes were built according to the electrical needs of the time. As a result, many contemporary homeowners resort to using power strips at each of their outlets to accommodate the number of appliances that are in use. If your panel has not been upgraded, this additional strain can put too much pressure on a panel that was never meant to handle so many appliances.
The same thing is true for extension cords. Extension cords are a great thing to have around the house for occasional use or special occasions. It is fine to use your extension cord to string up lights for a party or to run an appliance outside for a short time. However, when an extension cord is used full-time to make up for a lack of outlets, this could spell trouble for your panel. The best solution to the extension cord problem is to have an electrician come to your home, upgrade your panel, and install outlets where they are needed in your home.
Why is Upgrading a Good Idea?
If you have not had any problems with your electrical panel such as frequent tripping, a burning smell, or a circuit breaker that does not reset, you may be wondering if an upgrade is really necessary on your outdated panel. For instance, you may assume that, since it doesn’t seem to be causing any problems, it is okay to continue using power strips in all of your outlets without upgrading the panel or adding new outlets. You may also be wondering if an upgrade is needed on an old panel or fuse box that has worked fine for years.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, electrical malfunctions cause around 51,000 fires per year. These fires result in a cumulative 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and approximately $1.3 billion dollars of damage to home and property. The National Fire Protection Association ranks electrical failures as the second most common cause of house fires in the United States.
Many future fires could be prevented by proper care and maintenance of the electrical system, including the electrical panel. Fires can also be prevented by paying attention to the warning signs in your home such as flickering lights or scorch marks around the outlets. If your electrical system has not been inspected for a long time, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment in order to ensure that your home is safe from electrical accidents.
Another reason to upgrade your electrical panel is to make sure to stay ahead of electrical codes and regulations in your area. Most cities require homes to adhere to the National Electric Code and having old or faulty wiring can put you at risk of violating the NEC. This could be a problem if you are trying to sell your home or have your home insured, and it could be dangerous for your family. Codes are in place to ensure the safety of your family, so every effort made to adhere to these regulations is time and money well spent.
Preparing for Your Upgrade
Once you have made the decision to upgrade your electrical panel, you will want to spend some time with your electrician to decide on the right panel for your home. There are several things to consider when preparing for your upgrade. You will want to think about amperage, the number of breakers, the brand, and the panel installation process.
Your electrician will be there to advise you each step of the way. If you are updating your panel, it is likely because you need more amperage or breakers to keep up with your electrical needs. Older homes may have panels with 100 amps or less and will need to be upgraded to a panel with 125, 200, or even more amps. This will all depend on how big your home is, and how many appliances you will need to run. The amount of breakers is also a key factor and your electrician can help you decide how many breakers to include on the panel. Your electrician will also be armed with knowledge about which current brands are reliable and safe for you to have installed in your home.
You will want to prepare yourself for the process itself. Replacing an electrical panel can leave you without power for a day, so be sure to take this into consideration. Before work can proceed, you will want to get an electrical permit. The power will then be turned off for work to begin. Once the panel is installed, the city will inspect the work and then the power will be turned back on. The whole process may take a whole day or perhaps more.
Finally, it is important to do your research before selecting a company to upgrade your panel. Make sure that they have good reviews from satisfied customers. Ensure that the company is both licensed and properly insured. The best companies will be confident enough in their fantastic service to have a 100% money-back guarantee for all work done. This means that they will take the time to ensure that each job is done to perfection.
It can be difficult to decide if an upgrade for your electrical panel is right for you. However, watching out for signs such as flickering lights, overuse of power strips, buzzing sounds, or a burning smell can help you know when to call your electrician. If you have noticed any of these signs, you have an old panel, you have purchased a new appliance, or if you are planning a new remodel, it is time to call your electrician to talk about upgrading your electrical panel.