How do you know whether your home will benefit from an electric panel upgrade? It can be a tough call to make if you are unfamiliar with what the electrical panel does for your home or if it is working as it should. You may not even realize that the panel is substandard, unsafe or inadequate. The following information will help you determine whether you would benefit from an inspection to determine the current condition of your electric panel.
What is an Electric Panel?
This is the gray, metal box on the outside of your home where you electric meter is, or in your basement, utility room. Your electric panel holds a series of circuit breakers. The panel is responsible for directing the electricity that comes in from the main power supply from the electric company outside your home throughout your house via those various breakers. Each breaker has a job as well, distributing smaller amounts of electricity to outlets and light switches throughout the home. Your electrical panel, sometimes called a circuit breaker box, is the control center for a series of outlets and switches in a section or room of the house.
Signs of an Aging or Bad Electric Panel
Even if a panel appears to be working okay or you don’t think you’ve had any ‘real’ problems with it, there could be underlying issues. Because an electric panel is so important to the normal, daily function of everything you do in your house, it is important it is in good condition. There is also the safety factor that must be considered. An outdated or bad panel can be a fire risk as well as an electric shock risk. A bad panel is not something to be taken lightly or ignored.
The following are some of the signs of a panel that is in need of replacing.
- Wires that appear melted inside the box
- Flickering lights, especially lights that flicker when you are running the microwave, air conditioner, or another appliance
- Breakers that regularly trip for no reason or when you make the mistake of using two appliances at the same time
- A breaker that DOESN’T trip when the circuit is interrupted, which causes an electric shock when using an appliance or results in sparking
- Rust or corrosion on the panel itself or the breakers
- Crackling sounds coming from the breaker panel (indicating burning wires)
- Appliances running at less power; a refrigerator compressor may come on more frequently than it should, when the refrigerator compressor kicks on, lights may dim
- Large appliances, like the heater or AC, won’t run properly because there isn’t enough electricity
- The panel is hot to the touch
- Smoke coming from the panel or the smell of smoke coming from around the area where the panel is located
Reasons to Replace an Electric Panel
Even if your existing panel is technically in good working condition, you may find it isn’t working for you and your needs. Panels that are older than thirty to forty years or so, were simply not made with today’s technology in mind. Homes require a great deal more electricity than they did a few decades ago. The older panels are not equipped to handle the all the electrical demands of today’s world. A couple of outlets in a room was adequate a couple decades ago, but with entertainment systems, various chargers and technology in general, that won’t do today.
The typical life expectancy of an electric panel is about forty to fifty years. If you know your panel is at least that old or possibly older, it wouldn’t hurt to have it inspected to learn more about what kind of shape it is in and how you could benefit from a new one.
If you are considering the purchase of a new home, due diligence is a must. Check the current electric panel. If possible, order an inspection to determine what condition the electrical system is in before you move forward. This can save you unexpected costs after the close of the home.
The following are some other reasons you will want to consider an electric panel upgrade.
- Your home has a 60-amp service panel or a 100-amp service that doesn’t provide enough power to meet your electrical needs.
- You are using a lot of extension cords inside the home due to a lack of outlets
- You want to install a new AC, hot tub, swimming pool or electric car charging system that requires a 240-volt circuit
- You want to remodel or add onto your home to add an additional room or living space that will require additional lights and outlets
- You want to add a home office or a work space that requires a subpanel
- A kitchen remodel or upgrade will likely include more appliances that will require more electricity
Known Electric Panels Brands that are Dangerous
There are some brands of electric panels that have known issues and should be replaced, even if you haven’t experienced any issues, yet. You can help reduce the risk of a home fire or the slow destruction of expensive appliances because of a lack of controlled electrical flow by having these brands of panels replaced immediately:
- Zinsco (later bought by Sylvania) – This electric panel hasn’t been manufactured since the 1970s, but prior to that, they were widely used in home construction. They are a fire and shock hazard due to the increased likelihood breakers will melt or not trip when the circuit has been interrupted.
- Pushmatic – This is another panel that will eventually cause problems due to weak breakers. These panels often do not have a main breaker switch for quick power shut down to the home.
- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) – These panels are known to be dangerous and should be replaced immediately. Some homeowner’s insurance policies may require the panel to be replaced before a policy is issued.
- A fuse box system is an old panel that is outdated and no longer safe to use. – To meet today’s electrical standards, the fuse box should be replaced with a modern electric panel with breakers.
Replacing the Electric Panel
If you have made the decision to replace your old panel, the work must be completed by a licensed electrician. Permits will be required for the work and there will be inspections to check the installation. Electric panels are the hub of your home. Having a panel that meets your needs with a little room to spare means you will never have to fight over outlets again when you need to charge your phone.
Having a modern electrical panel and electrical system will allow you to enjoy the freedom of having plenty of electricity available to meet all of your electrical needs. In some cases, you may even find your homeowner’s insurance company will give you a discount because of a panel upgrade.
What to Expect During and After the Panel Upgrade
The electrician will need to disconnect your home from the main power in order to replace the panel. Make arrangements to put chilled foods in a cooler or do what you can to limit the amount of food in your refrigerator or freezer on the day of the panel upgrade. Generally, food in the freezer will remain at a safe temperature if you do not open the doors for up to 24 hours. You will not have any electricity in the home, which means no hot water as well.
The time to complete the job can vary depending on the electrician, the placement and any other problems that may arise during the project. You can typically expect the complete installation to take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. The length of time will also depend on how much additional work must be done beyond the panel replacement. If new wiring is needed, outlet replacements and other issues your electrician identifies.
Before beginning the electrical work you should get an estimate of the cost of the upgrade that will include any of these additional items needed to bring your home’s electrical system up to today’s electrical code requirements. All of these items will be addressed during the initial inspection of the electric panel and recommendations will be made at that time, before the work is started.
Once your new panel is installed, you should immediately see the difference in the way your home functions. You won’t have to worry about flickering lights or deal with cumbersome extension cords and endless power strips. You can also rest easy knowing the electrical panel in your home meets today’s safety standards.