5 Signs You May Need to Upgrade Your Home’s Breaker Panel
Your home’s breaker box, electrical panel, or circuit breaker box, may need to be a candidate for upgrade.
1. Your house was built before 1980.
Many electrical panels that were installed in home built prior to 1980 would not meet code requirements today.
That does not mean it is unsafe, it is just how the breaker box has its MAIN BREAKER setup.
In the picture to the right, there are four breakers located in top half of the panel. By switching the one circled, labeled MAIN, to OFF, you will only turn off power to the breakers in the lower half of the panel. Items like the Range, Dryer and Air Conditioner will still have power, these are the other “mains” in the upper half of the panel.
New code requires a breaker box that when the MAIN is triggered or switched to off, all power to the remaining breakers will also be turned off.
Newer panels like the one pictured to the left shows a main breaker at the top of the box.
One time you may not wish to find you have an older breaker panel is when you sell your home. The home inspector may flag the panel as something that needs to be upgraded. It all depends upon the type of loan the buyer might be using as well (i.e., VA, FHA, etc.). Certainly an extra expense in selling a home you had not planned on.
2. The Home’s Electrical Service is 150 amps or less
Today’s modern homes rely more and more on electricity.
Appliances, electronics of all kinds, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters, maybe even furnaces, all draw more power than what was ever conceived 40 years ago.
How can you tell what the electrical service is to your home?
To figure out what the electrical service is to your home, look at the main breaker. It may be one or more breakers ganged together.
It is not surprising there are homes in older parts of Omaha that still have fuse panels. Most fuse panels are only rated at 60 amps.
Even in newer neighborhoods that are 40 years old you will see breaker panels that have only 100 amp service. Today, you will find panels rated at 200 AMPS or higher.
Not every home needs a larger panel, some homes may even have a lower electrical usage than before. It is best to have a Licensed Professional Electrician perform a load calculation for your home.
Another indication that your service is too small is that you have several smaller boxes attached to your main panel. These “buddy boxes” have been added over the years as additional circuits have been added to your house. These are often installed incorrectly and can be the source of electrical problems.
3. Your Home has a Fuse Box and Not a Breaker Panel
Fuses and circuit breakers perform the same function. They both prevent circuit overloads and short circuits. They are designed to break the circuit to prevent a larger problem.
Breakers can be reset, after the reason the breaker tripped has been removed. Fuses have to be replaced. It is very easy to install the incorrect fuses in these panels. Incorrect fuses can be dangerous, so an upgrade to a panel with circuit breakers is a good idea.
If all of the round, screw-in fuses in your panel are 20 and/or 30 Amp (Red or Green), then the fuses in your panel are the wrong size. A panel of this age should have mostly 15 Amp fuses (Blue).
4. Faulty Wiring Issues
Here are some common problems we have come across which signal you may need to have your electrical panel replaced:
- You have seen lights flicker for no reason. Most often it is not one light, but all the lights in the room.
- You get a slight shock when you touch appliances.
- There is sparking by an outlet or discolored power outlets.
- You get close to the panel and there is a persistent burning smell.
Call us to have your wiring issues inspected. One home the owner reported lights flickering in the kitchen, was traced back to the circuit breaker panel which needed to be replaced. Fortunately, an upgrade to a higher amperage panel did not require service to the home to be upgraded. It already had the higher service.
5. Excessive Use of Extension Cords/Power Strips
If you find yourself using a lot of extension cords or power taps to have multiple outlets, maybe it is time to add some circuits to your current home. Many home fires are caused by clothing or carpets being placed on top of extension cords. In a properly wired home, you should not need to use extension cords.
Perhaps your current panel has extra room for new circuits. This certainly makes it easier for an electrician to add circuits and balance the load in your home. Balancing the load is also important. The added amperages should also be equally balanced on the two power feeds in the panel. Not that all circuits are used to the maximum capacity at the same time, but making sure appliances such as a refrigerator and washing machines or even microwaves need to be on separate legs.
You may also find that the current electrical panel is undersized. In any case, having a certified electrician inspect your home’s breaker box is a good idea. Make sure you always contact a licensed professional electrician to do all your electrical work.