Updated: Mar 23
Electrical panels are like anything else in this world. They eventually need to be replaced with something newer and safer. It can be a costly expense and may seem overwhelming for some people to get done. But when is a good time to do this job without wasting your hard earned money prematurely?
Electrical panels typically have an average life span of 40-60 years. However this is not the only thing to consider. Safety of your home and business may be a factor as your electrical system may not work as well as it used to. Here are the top 6 reasons you might want to upgrade your electrical panel.
Figure 1 : Electrical Panel
Top 6 Reasons You Might Want to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel
No More Available Breaker Spots - This by far is the biggest reason people upgrade their electrical panels. People want to add a new item to their panel and there's simply no more room.
You could add a sub panel(new smaller panel in addition to the original panel) to extend the original panel, but is that the right answer? It might be just make more sense to just install a new electrical panel and have one panel that houses the entire electrical system. How many things are you wanting to add? How old is your panel? Condition? These will be all things to consider when deciding what the right course of action is.
2. Breakers May Not Work Properly - Over time, if circuits are loaded very heavy, the breaker may trip. You may have reset the breaker a few times no problem, but eventually the breaker may become weak or not work correctly anymore. This becomes a safety concern as breakers protect people and property from harm.
3. Older Home That Has Seen Many Renovations - If you have a home that has seen multiple renovations by many different people, your electrical panel area may show that's its time for an upgrade. Common issues include:
Multiple subpanels in various locations
Sloppy workmanship inside and outside the panel area
Breakers inside the panel with 2 wires on a breaker
Incorrect breaker or fuse sizes for the wire use. If your electrical panel area exhibits some or all of these troublesome traits, it might be time for an upgrade
Figure 2 - Subpanel
If your electrical panel area exhibits some or all of these troublesome traits, it might be time for an upgrade.
4. Outdated Equipment Creating Unsafe Conditions - Over the years just like any other product, there have been recalls on electrical panels/equipment. Here is a list of some examples of manufacturers that have had recalls/quality issues
If you have one of these brands, you might want to do a little bit more research into what years the recalls were for, or what problems these brands had. It will not be covered here in detail as it is a topic all on its own.
Another type of panel in general that would be recommended to be changed would be a fuse panel. The biggest problem with fuse panels is that people put in larger fuses so they wouldn't pop anymore. This causes a potential fire hazard as wires could potentially become overloaded and start a fire in the wall. Fuse panels are no longer installed in homes as breakers have proven to be much safer.
Figure 3: Old Fuse Panel
5. Not Enough Power! - Every home/business has one main electrical panel, which is the main source of electricity. An electrical panel has a rating, in Amps. Amps in simple terms for what we are going to be referencing is how many electrical items can I hook up to the electrical system. Common sizes of residential services would be 60 amp,100 amp, and 200 amp.
You might want to consider upgrading your electrical panel based upon what you want to add it. If your home/business was built a long time ago, your electrical service may be undersized for todays current electrical needs. This might be the reason you get a new panel!
6. Overall Condition of the Panel Just like everything else in this world, things get older over time. Some of the signs that it might be time to get a new one might be:
Burned areas in and around the panel area
Odd smells coming from the panel area
Breakers don't function properly anymore(lights flicker or dim)
Open holes in the side of the panel where insects and rodents can get in
Signs of Rust outside or inside the panel
Figure 4: Rusted Panel
If upon inspection of your electrical panel, it has some or all of these traits, it might be time for an upgrade!
Your electrical panel is an important part of any building that needs to be maintained. It ensures that people, property, and equipment and are kept safe. If you are unsure what you need as far as an upgrade goes, consult with your local electrician for advice.
They should be able to advise you based upon where your electrical panel is in the life cycle suggest what you should do and what it will cost.
The electrician will be able to get the required permits and ensure the job is completed in a safe and efficient manner. They can also get any major code deficiencies you might have sorted out at the same time.
Electrical panels don't have to be a confusing or complicated thing once you know the basics of how they work and all the things that can go wrong over periods of time.