How to Determine if Your Home Needs a Electrical Service Panel Upgrade – Part Two
If you’re wondering if you should upgrade your electrical panel, here’s some key points to consider.
If your home’s current electrical panel is:
- Less than 200-amp service
- Running at maximum capacity, or
- Over 25 years old
It’s highly likely that you would benefit from an electrical panel upgrade, especially from a safety perspective.
Eventually you’ll have to replace your circuit breaker panels because they don’t last forever and the electrical load will take its toll, resulting in electrical issues.
While there’s no definitive timetable for replacing your electrical panel, you should consider replacing it if you see any of the items listed below.
Some of these will give you a clear indication that something is wrong with either you’re wiring or your electrical panel, but it’s a good idea to have a detailed inspection carried out by a qualified electrician.
Breakers Not Working Correctly
The electrical breakers are the main component that keep your family safe from the risk of electrical fires and shocks. So if they aren’t working correctly, there’s an increased likelihood of these occurring. Routine electrical inspections are recommended to test and replace breakers when required.
Bad Wiring or Old Ungrounded Wiring
There are many safety issues associated with old wiring due to natural wear and tear. In addition, bad wiring practices can be hazardous and require your electrical panel to be upgraded. Some examples of these are:
- Messy wiring – This generally refers to multiple electrical connections being made outside of a junction box with a cover plate. This is more prevalent in older homes where rooms were originally wired in series on one circuit. Outside of a junction box, one leg of the wiring is replaced and ties into several other branch legs of older wiring.
- Oversized breakers – I have often found mismatched electrical breaker brands during home inspections that I’ve done. This is incredibly dangerous and unsafe.
- Double tapped electrical breakers – these can be a fire hazard waiting to happen. A specific breaker may trip more frequently than it should.
Some breakers are designed for 1 or 2 Pole (circuits) and these will operate correctly. However, breakers labeled 1 Pole should only have one circuit wire connection.
Consolidating Multiple Electric Subpanels
Every home has one main electrical panel which provides the primary source of electricity. However, some homes may have one or more subpanels installed. There are several reasons why your home may have subpanels:
- A subpanel may offer more cost-efficiency. Instead of running multiple wiring to a subpanel, you can run single wiring to the main panel.
- It may be more convenient to operate specific electrical circuits from subpanel. This can be seen often in areas such as granny flats, garages and other home additions.
This is also often seen in older homes where the main panel box is already running at maximum capacity. Adding a subpanel can supply additional circuits and is an alternative to upgrading to a modern panel.
However, if you consolidate multiple subpanels, you will more than likely must upgrade or replace your main electrical panel. This can often be done with one 200-amp panel, however some larger homes may require two 200-amp panels, where one is the main and the second is run as an equal-sized subpanel.
One of the downsides to consolidating multiple subpanels is the sheer quantity of wiring work required, which can be very expensive and labor-intensive.
Flickering or Dimming Lights
These are another indication that you need to upgrade your electrical panel.
When an underpowered electrical panel is in high demand, lights will often flicker. This happens more often if you have an older home with an older breaker panel. This can also be caused through faulty wiring, but in either case, an electrical inspection will determine the cause.
However, it’s not necessarily a faulty electrical box if you have modern LED lights. These can flicker or dim when they’ve been on for a long time.
Using Several Power Strips
We’ve all known situations where there haven’t been enough electrical outlets available. What do we do? We use power strips, and overloaded power strips are one of those things that can be easily overlooked.
Especially in older homes, several rooms may share the same circuit and by adding a power strip to the circuit, you run the risk of overloading the circuit.
All the electrical outlets in our homes are on different electrical circuits. These circuits are usually 15 – 20 amps for a standard 120-volt circuit, but the amperage on specific circuits has limitations.
By adding a power strip to an outlet and connecting multiple appliances, you will often trip the breaker associated with this electrical circuit. Bear in mind that the more power-demanding appliances may require a dedicated electrical circuit.
If you try to connect multiple appliances to the same circuit, you can damage the appliances, but even more importantly, this is downright dangerous.
You may need to upgrade your electrical panel to add more wiring circuits, especially if you buy an older home.
By exchanging your electrical panel for a newer model, you are opting for better safety when operating higher-demanding appliances and you are adding more circuit breakers to the service panel.