As modern electrical needs and demands have increased, the same demand for higher and more reliable power. To meet modern electrical needs and ensure your electrical system is safe, you might have to upgrade your residential electrical panel. At some point, any homeowner will likely find themselves in the position where an upgrade is necessary. When that time comes, it is important to know what to expect and how much it’ll cost. That way, you can make the most informed and cost-effective decision for your home and lifestyle.
When and why replace an electrical panel?
Like all things, electrical panels have a set lifespan before they eventually need to be replaced. The older the wires in the panel, the more risk there is of short-circuiting or even sparking hazardous electrical fires. It is possible that your older panel is not up to recent code, and for safety reasons, an upgrade is needed. Other times, it may just be that your household’s power needs have changed and so an upgrade is in order. Either way, knowing the signs or reasons you need an upgrade or replacement will help with that final decision.
SIGNS IT’S TIME TO REPLACE THE ELECTRICAL PANEL
Regular maintenance and checkups by a professional will help keep your electrical panel in excellent condition. Generally, this should be done at least every 3-5 years. That said, any problems that come up before, such as an overloaded circuit, can pose premature issues. If that happens, don’t wait to buy a replacement and risk a safety hazard. Instead, knowing the signs of when it’s time to replace will help keep your home safe.
Breakers trip frequently: If your safety panel is getting old, it may wear down and be more at risk of power surges. When this happens, the circuit breakers will trip more often as a result. It may also be that your home’s electrical demands are too high for the electrical panel and is causing it to trip more often.
Breakers don’t reset: A related problem with breakers tripping is if they don’t reset afterward. In this case, it’s likely a fault with the electrical panel itself. A professional electrician is the best way to identify the problem and then either repair or replace it.
Burn marks or odor's: The wires inside the panel can also wear down, and as they do, it risks causing electrical fires inside the panel. That is a more severe problem that should be dealt with immediately by a professional. If any wires become exposed, that is another safety hazard that should never be ignored. Turn off the power and call in a professional right away.
Flickering lights: If the problem isn’t fixed at the light source, it may be a problem with a lack of energy. You might notice lights flickering when the microwave runs or the furnace kicks in. Old homes have fewer circuits, so they aren’t able to meet the demands of modern electrical needs. Replacing your old electrical panel or adding more power will help stop this problem. OTHER REASONS TO UPDATE THE ELECTRICAL PANELIf your electrical panel needs constant repairs, it is more cost-effective to upgrade it instead. The same can be said if you own an older fuse box instead of a modern circuit panel. Newer models offer more power, better efficiency, and improve overall safety in the home. To decide, consider some factors or any changes in your lifestyle that may benefit from an upgraded electrical panel.
Adding new appliances: Adding or updating your electrical appliances will add value to your home but only with the right power. Old panels can quickly become overburdened and end up blowing a fuse or even damage the new appliance. If you are planning to renovate and add appliances, also plan to upgrade your old panel or add more power.
Adding and Electric Vehicle Charger: As the transportation industry is shifting towards electric vehicles, it is necessary and valuable to have a new electrical panel that is sized correctly to accommodate the high demand of an electric vehicle charger (EVSE). We recommend having 125A or more at your home depending on what other electrical loads you have in your home.
Increase value: Adding a new electrical panel to your home will increase the value of your home as it will be an asset if and when you do sell the home in the future.
You have a fuse box: Unlike modern circuit panels, fuse boxes offer fewer benefits and overall safety. There is also less room to customize, such as adding more power or installing a ground-fault circuit interrupter. Any fuses that blow from a power surge will cost extra money to buy replacements.Once you’ve decided to upgrade, it’s time to consider how much does it cost to upgrade your electrical panel. There are a few different ways available, and each will vary in cost. Keep in mind that while it is a major investment, upgrading electrical panels is often the safest thing to do and very worthwhile.
Types of upgrades and replacements
The cost of upgrading or replacing an electrical panel depends on what change is planned and the work involved. Adding more circuits, increasing amperage, or switching from a fuse box to a circuit panel will vary in cost.
Fuse box vs circuit breaker
While fuse boxes and circuit breakers both prevent hazardous overloads, they do so differently. Fuse boxes work faster, but when a fuse blows, it melts and must be replaced. Circuit panels, on the other hand, are better suited to modern needs and are easier to reset. Changing to a circuit panel may also be necessary if breakers, such as a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), are required.
The benefit of a fuse box is how quickly they can flip and prevent electrical fires caused by overloaded circuits. When this happens, the fuse melts, cutting off the line of power. The downside is that fuses are expendable and must be physically replaced. Fuses themselves will cost between $5 to $40 for each new fuse. Replacing them in the dark can be a challenge, as is replacing the fuse with the wrong voltage. If that happens, the fuse box can overheat and result in much more costly repairs.
When a power surge occurs with a circuit breaker, it triggers the panel to throw the switch and turn off the current. To reset the breaker, turn the switch back on to reset the circuit and restore power. That also makes it easier when working with wiring in any part of the home as power can be targeted and turned off in specific rooms. Upgrading to a circuit breaker is also necessary when adding things like a GFCI. These are required in areas where water is involved, such as kitchens or bathrooms, to prevent hazards. Circuit breakers can also be outfitted with more power down the road to support changing electrical demands.