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When Is It Time to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel?

Nov 5, 2020

Every home is equipped with an electrical panel that operates as a central replay point. If you have an older home, it may be in need of an upgrade. Considering the damaging and life-threatening nature of electrical fires, you will probably agree that it is well worth the investment to upgrade your panel to handle your electrical needs while ensuring your electrical system is current to code.

If you have never considered a panel upgrade before, you may not know whether the time is right to make this move. Our goal is to bring clarity to this topic by explaining the role of amperage in the home and discussing different signs that will indicate a need for an upgrade.

Difference Between a Replacement and an Upgrade

In simple terms, a replacement is when you switch an old panel for a newer one that is nearly identical. An upgrade is when you get a new panel that has more amps, and therefore has a greater capacity for supporting multiple electrical appliances. We will get to the bottom of what amps are and how they can affect your electrical usage in the next section.

Amps, Volts, and Watts Explained

Most homes today have anywhere from 100-amp service to 200-amp service. Amps, short for amperes, describes the quantity of electrons that are flowing past any given point in one second. Volts is a measurement that describes the pressure or force that is exerted on these electrons, making them move faster or slower past that point. When you multiply the two, you get a unit of measurement called “watts.” This is used to describe how much electrical power is needed for, or consumed by, each appliance in your home.

Your electric panel has different circuits, and the appliances in your home are connected to these circuits. Each panel, as well as each circuit, lists the amount of amps that can be used. If an appliance exceeds this amount, the circuit breaker is designed to trip so that your home is protected from power surges and overloads. Each large appliance is placed on a different circuit, and the larger appliances you use in your home, the more amps you will need.

If your home was built more than 20 years ago, you may still have a 60-amp panel which typically isn’t enough for modern electrical usage. In fact, with a 60-amp panel, you will only be able to run two or three appliances at the same time without overloading your system. A panel with 200 amps, however, will be able to easily support your HVAC, oven, desktop computer, and lights at the same time without the danger of overload.

Signs that You Need an Upgrade

When paying close attention, it is easier to see that many of the little quirks that you have become accustomed to in your home may be subtle hints that an upgrade is needed. It is important to listen to what your electrical system is trying to tell you, and call your electrical company if you feel something is not right. Here are a few of the biggest signs that an upgrade may be needed for your electrical panel.

Signs of Faulty Wiring

One of the first indications that you need a panel upgrade is the presence of faulty wiring in your home. As a homeowner, you should always be mindful of these signs so that you can catch problems before they become a hazard to your family.

One of the first signs of faulty wiring is flickering lights. While flickering lights in the movies may be foreshadowing the presence of something not altogether human, in the real world they are an indication to call an electrician. Lights often dim or flicker in homes with faulty wiring because of bad connections. Corrosion and fraying can cause decreased conductivity, which causes the flickering phenomenon and increases the risk of an electrical fire. Lights can also flicker when your circuit is close to being overloaded. Either way, an upgrade is most likely in your future.

You may also have faulty wiring if you are receiving small shocks when you touch an appliance, or you notice burn marks, scorch marks, or sparks near your outlets. In dry environments, it is normal to get small shocks from static electricity buildup. However, if you feel a shock every time you touch an electrical appliance, you should call an electrician to check that your appliance is properly grounded. It may be a sign that you need a panel upgrade.

Finally, although you may expect your electrical panel to be warm just like your electronic devices after a lot of use, this should not be the case. An electrical panel should never feel warm to the touch. If it is warm, the panel will need to be repaired, replaced, or upgraded.

While many of the other signs on our list do not require immediate action, it is vital to have an electrician perform an inspection if you notice any signs of faulty wiring in your home. Faulty wiring can pose a risk to your family and should not be taken lightly. As always, if you see smoke or a fire, you should call emergency services right away to ensure your safety before calling an emergency electrician.

When Installing a New Appliance

Large appliances make up a significant portion of your electrical usage. For example, the average HVAC system requires around 30 amps, and a hot tub requires 50 or more. If you are thinking about installing any new appliance, you should research or check with your electrician to see if your current electrical panel has sufficient amperage to support a new appliance. For example, if you have a 150-amp service and are currently using 100 amps or more, you will have to upgrade before installing a hot tub.

Adding a Room to Your Home

Similarly, if you are adding a new room to your home, it may be that your current panel will not be able to support the additional lighting, appliances, devices, and outlets in your new room. However, if there is still room, you may be able to add circuits to your existing panel. If your panel is insufficient, you will want to budget for a panel upgrade.

You Have a Fuse Box

Fuse boxes are now considered an antiquated method of protecting against power surges. While they are effective, they are much more laborious to take care of and they can come with an increased risk of electrical problems.

Fuse boxes often are simply not designed to handle the modern voltage demands. This leads to fuses frequently blowing and the temptation to install larger amp fuses on circuits that are designed for something smaller which can lead to a fire hazard. Rather than resorting to dangerous modifications, homeowners should consider investing in an upgrade. While having a fuse box does not necessitate a call to an emergency electrician, you should consider having it upgraded soon.

You are Using Power Strips and Extension Cords

Older homes were often built with fewer outlets in each room. If you are living in an older house and are trying to support numerous devices by using power strips in each outlet or extension cords to route the electricity to where you need it, you are likely putting too much strain on an insufficient electrical panel. An electrician can assist by adding circuits or upgrading your electrical panel, and then installing additional outlets where needed throughout the house.

Future Electrical Needs

When your current electrical panel requires a replacement, you have the option of replacing it with a panel that has the same amperage or upgrading your service. Many homeowners are happy with the service they have and don’t foresee any big purchases or major remodels in the future. Others may not need the amperage now, but wish to prepare for increasing electrical needs in the future. If you can see yourself needing more amps in the future, you can have your electrician upgrade rather than simply replace your panel and save time and money.

Increase the Value of Your Home

A panel upgrade can do a lot to boost the value of your home and provide an incentive for prospective buyers if you are hoping to sell your home in the future. Many buyers are looking for homes that won’t need any major improvements upon moving in, and a new electrical panel will give them peace of mind for many years.

Save on Your Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance can be expensive, and while an upgrade to your panel may be a large expense initially, it can help you save money on your insurance premium. Many insurance companies will apply a discount when you upgrade your panel. Your electrical company may also offer a discount as well.

Your Electrical Panel is Old

Many of the older homes on the market today have far more character than some of the newer cookie-cutter homes that are built merely with expediency in mind. Older homes can have a lot of warmth, not to mention architectural details that are unique and add character and flair to the building. However, when it comes to your electrical panel, you want predictability, organization, and structure with none of the “charm” of an older system.

If the dream home that you have purchased is over 20 years old, you may want to take a closer look at your electrical panel. If the panel has not been replaced since it was built, or if it is a mess of wires, rust, and corrosion, it is time to upgrade. Additionally, you should also check the manufacture of your panel – Federal Pacific Electric, Stab-Loc, Zinsco, or GTE-Sylvania panel, may be unsafe and are in need of an upgrade.

Circuit Breaker is Frequently Tripping

While a frequently tripping circuit breaker may point to other problems in your electrical system, one of the most common reasons is that you need a service upgrade. It is normal to have to reset a breaker on occasion. After all, your panel is there for that very reason. However, if you have to reset it weekly, this is an indication that your electrical usage is too much for your current panel.

Hiring a Professional For My Upgrade

Any type of electrical project from ceiling fan installation to an electrical panel upgrade needs to be performed by an electrician. Even if you have a cursory knowledge of electrical panel wiring, make no mistake, it can be risky to attempt it yourself without the proper education.

Concluding Thoughts

Moving forward with an upgrade for your electrical panel can be a daunting task. However, if your electrical panel is exhibiting several of the signs mentioned in this article, you can be assured that you are making the right choice for your home and family by calling Safe and Sound Electric.