Is Your Home in Need of an Electrical Service Panel Upgrade Here is How to Tell – Part One

You’re sitting at home enjoying your evening when the lights flicker again.

It makes you wonder – could it finally be time to replace that ancient electrical panel that’s been lurking in your basement?

Upgrading to a newer panel would provide way better safety. If your current one is over 25 years old or maxed out on space, an upgrade is probably a smart move.

Let’s see why!

Those Old Electrical Panels Don’t Last Forever

Electrical panels are the beating heart of a home’s electrical system. But just like your heart, those panels aren’t designed to last forever.

Over years of faithful service, the components eventually wear out from normal electrical stress and strain. When that happens, annoying electrical issues start popping up all over your house.

There’s no definite timeline that dictates when you absolutely must upgrade an old electrical panel. They don’t come with an expiration date stamped on the side.

But if you notice any of the following signs, it might be a clear indicator it’s time to consider swapping that clunky old thing out for a shiny new upgrade:

  • Lights dimming or flickering for no apparent reason
  • Circuit breakers tripping frequently
  • Buzzing, sizzling, or crackling from outlets
  • Unexplained power surges and outages
  • GFCIs or AFCIs not working properly
  • Hot spots on outlets or switch plates
  • Burning odor coming from outlets or wiring
  • Odd electrical gremlins like gadgets charging slowly or malfunctioning

Any of those obvious red flags likely point to major underlying issues with your ancient electrical panel or wiring.

To truly confirm whether your outdated panel truly needs to be pensioned off, have a licensed electrician perform a thorough evaluation and inspection of the entire electrical system.

They’ll be able to diagnose any lurking fire or shock hazards and give their professional advice about replacement options.

Electrical Panel Upgrade Costs

Of course, with any major home project the looming question is always: how much is this gonna cost me?

The price tag for an electrical panel upgrade can vary widely depending on factors like:

  • The full scope of work needed to complete the upgrade properly
  • The amperage and number of circuits in the shiny new panel you’ll be installing
  • Whether the new panel will need to be relocated to a completely different spot from the current one

And a few other considerations that factor into the overall cost:

  • How many new circuits need to be installed in the upgraded panel to support additional electrical needs?
  • Will the home’s electrical service amperage also need to be increased?

This often requires installing a larger capacity panel box.

With all those variables, typical costs can range anywhere from $1,500 on the low end up to $4,000 or more for a full overhaul.

Just swapping out the actual electrical panel itself with labor included averages around $2,000.

Expect to tack on an extra $500 to $2,000 if the new panel needs to be moved to a different area of the house.

For simpler upgrades, installing a lower capacity sub panel can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 depending on the work required.

On the higher end, a full 200 amp electrical service upgrade including new meter and panel boxes plus some rewiring usually runs $4,000 to $8,000 or more in some cases.

Here are some of the other common extra costs that come along with an upgrade, especially in older homes:

  • Moving the panel from a closet or cabinet into an area that meets current electrical code clearance requirements. Those have gotten stricter over the years.
  • Electrical wiring updates, especially if the existing wiring is undersized, ungrounded, or needs to be extended and rerouted to accommodate the panel moving.
  • Upgrades to the home’s meter base to allow for a main disconnect or increased service amperage.

Just for comparison, a full overhaul upgrading to a modern 200 amp panel can end up costing a homeowner upwards of $4,000 after factoring in labor, all required equipment upgrades, wiring improvements, new meter bases, AFCI/GFCI protection additions, and more.

So while certainly not cheap, the peace of mind of having a completely updated, code-compliant electrical system is priceless!

But Do You Really NEED to Replace the Old Electrical Panel?

After seeing the cost, logical question – do you actually need this headache?

The old one powers the house fine. Plus, who doesn’t love the retro style?

Once it’s faulty though, it’s too late. Think electricians just want your money? Not so.

As experts, we have a duty to advise you on deficiencies that could become safety issues.

Your safety is #1. Cost is secondary. Outdated and dangerous doesn’t mix well.

Expensive upgrade? Yes. But better safe than sorry when dealing with sketchy old electrical.

How Long Is This Panel Replacement Going to Take?

For most typical panel upgrades, the total downtime is generally somewhere between 6 to 8 hours.

Of course that’s assuming no major complications crop up. Some panel upgrades involving substantial rewiring or relocation of components can stretch the process out to several days.

And if the main power feed needs to be fully disconnected at any point to make the critical panel switchover, you’ll need an inspection and approval from the local building department.

That administrative process alone can sometimes add up to a week or more with zero power before the utility company can actually come out to set your new meter and restore electricity.

The total timeline truly comes down to the details of your home and the scope of work needed:

  • How much electrical wiring will need rerouting or replacing in conjunction with the panel upgrade? More time needed.
  • Will any circuits need to be entirely relocated because of the panel moving? More time needed.
  • How quickly can you get approvals for scheduled shutoffs? How’s the utility company’s workload looking?
  • Any other quirks of your home layout or electrical system that complicate things?

As you can see, the duration can vary tremendously based on the specifics of your situation.

Do You Really Have to Swap Out the Entire Electrical Panel?

The answer is fortunately not always a definitive yes. Some aging panels can still accommodate a few new breakers if absolutely needed.

One option is tandem breakers, which take up the space of a single standard breaker but contain two individual breaker switches to control two separate circuits.

This effectively doubles the available capacity without expanding the actual panel box itself.

However, it’s very important to note that not all panels are compatible with tandem breakers. Very old fuse boxes definitely won’t have this option.

And overloading an antiquated box with tandem breakers that it wasn’t designed for is extremely dangerous and violates electrical code.

If your particular panel is not rated for any tandem breakers, the main options are:

  • Carefully double lug some circuits within the existing breaker box to free up spaces.
  • Bite the bullet and replace the entire outdated panel with a modern one.
  • Install a subpanel to supplement the original main panel if it’s still in decent shape.

Either way, proceeding cautiously and hiring a pro electrician is highly recommended.

Do Electrical Permits Apply for Swapping Out the Old Panel?

Virtually any alterations, upgrades, or major repairs on a home’s electrical system legally require securing a proper electrical permit beforehand.

This includes replacing an outdated panel. Even if you plan to DIY the work yourself.

Pulling a permit ensures the project will adhere to all electrical codes and safety standards.

A reputable electrician will always obtain necessary permits themselves before starting work. That keeps everything kosher.

After completing the permitted work, the local building inspector will also come out to check over everything and make sure it’s 100% safe and compliant.