The electrical panel is the heart of an electrical system and supplies power to every circuit inside and outside the home. No matter the age or size of your home, there will eventually come a time when you need to upgrade or replace your electrical panel. Panel upgrades are usually necessary either for safety reasons or because the current panel is no longer sufficient to meet all of the home’s electricity needs.
Home Has Knob and Tube Wiring or a Fuse Box Instead of Breaker Panel
Knob and tube wiring was the very first method of standardized wiring used in the US. Despite it mostly being phased out in the 1930s and 40s, there are old some homes that still have this type of wiring. In this type of system, you’ll see copper wires that run through porcelain tubes or cylinders mounted into the floor joists. Homes that still have knob and tube wiring don’t just need a new electrical panel, but they will also need to be completely rewired since this type of wiring is extremely outdated and can be a major fire and safety hazard. This is partly why most insurance companies won’t cover a home with knob and tube wiring.
You should also schedule an electrical panel upgrade if your home has an old fuse box instead of a modern circuit breaker panel. Fuse boxes can also be a major fire hazard as the fuses don’t always blow when the circuit gets overloaded. This is why many insurance companies also won’t cover homes with a fuse box, and you usually won’t be able to sell your home until you have the fuse box replaced with a new breaker panel.
Panel Only Has 60-Amp Service
Electrical needs have greatly increased over the years. In the past, electrical panels typically only provided 60-amp service, which was more than sufficient. Nowadays, most homes need at least 100- or 200-amp service to meet the higher energy requirements of modern appliances and devices. If your home only has a 60-amp panel, you again may not be able to insure it or sell it until you upgrade to a higher-amp panel. Upgrading to a higher-amp panel will also eliminate lots of electrical issues and ensure you have plenty of power for everything you need.
Existing Panel Is More Than 20-25 Years Old
Electrical panels should generally be replaced after 20 to 25 years, and this is primarily for safety reasons. They can often last longer, but most panels will start to have various issues as they get older. For instance, the insulation around the wires inside the panel can start to degrade, which can lead to dangerous arc faults that could cause the panel to catch fire.
Some of the circuit breakers may also eventually fail and not trip as they should if the circuit gets overloaded. This can also be a major safety hazard as an overload causes the wiring in the circuit to get extremely hot. When this happens, the insulation can melt, causing a short circuit or ground fault or setting nearby building materials on fire.
A licensed electrician can replace any damaged wires in the panel or any breakers that have failed. However, you’re still better off just replacing the entire panel if it has multiple issues or is more than 20 years old.
Panel Has Visible Rust, Corrosion or Burn Marks
It’s always a good idea to open the door on your electrical panel occasionally and perform a quick visual inspection. The panel will likely feel a bit warm, which is normal. However, if it feels hot to the touch, emits a burning smell or you see any smoke, burn marks or scorching, you should cut off the power by flipping the main breaker switch off. All of these issues indicate that the panel is overheating and could potentially start an electrical fire if you don’t shut the power off. Once the power is off, have an electrician inspect the panel and, most likely, replace it.
You also want to make sure there is no rust or corrosion inside the panel. Rust indicates that either water is getting inside the panel or that high humidity has led to condensation forming in the panel. As the panel starts to rust, the terminals where the wires are connected to the panel will eventually begin corroding. If the terminals are corroded, you’ll see that they’re covered in a white, chalky film. Corrosion is also a major fire hazard as it increases resistance in the circuit, and this increased resistance creates heat that could cause a fire. If an electrician determines that the panel has lots of rust and corrosion, you’re always best to have it replaced as soon as possible.
No Space in the Panel to Add New Circuits
There are occasionally situations where you’ll need to have a new circuit wired into the panel. For instance, if you’re wanting to add outdoor lighting to your patio, an electrician would put all of the lights on a new circuit and then need to add another 120-volt breaker into the panel. Hot tubs, air conditioners, clothes dryers, EV charging stations and even microwaves all have to be on dedicated 240-volt circuits. This type of circuit uses a double-pole breaker that requires two open spots instead of just one like a single-pole 120-volt breaker.
Depending on the size of the panel and how many circuits there already are in the home, there may or may not be extra space in the panel to add another single-pole or double-pole breaker. If there isn’t any space, you may be able to install a sub-panel or you may need to replace the existing main panel with a larger one.
Service Needs Upgraded
If your home was built between the 1960s and 1980s, your electrical panel possibly only has 100-amp service. You can usually run a smaller central AC unit off of a 100-amp panel, but you’ll often have issues with power temporarily cutting away from other circuits whenever the AC runs. This is why most homes built from the 80s onward have 200-amp panels to ensure that everything in the home always has sufficient power.
Upgrading to a 200-amp or 400-amp panel is usually necessary if you want to install a hot tub or EV charging station. It is also a good idea if you have frequent electrical issues. For instance, if your lights dim or flicker when you use your microwave or when your air conditioning turns on, it indicates that the panel doesn’t have enough amperage to supply power to all of the circuits at one time. This means that there will temporarily be less power flowing through some circuits, which is what leads to the lights dimming and flickering.
For smaller homes or those without lots of high-power equipment and appliances, 200-amp service is usually sufficient. If you have a larger home with lots of high-power things like a large AC unit, jet tub, sauna, home theater, etc., you’ll usually need 400-amp service to ensure you have sufficient power.
If you need to have your electrical panel inspected or your service upgraded, Finch Home Solutions is here to help. We proudly serve customers in Shakopee and the Twin Cities area, so give us a call for all of your electrical repair, upgrade and installation needs.