How to Determine If Your Home Needs an Electrical Service Panel Upgrade – Part One
Chances are at some stage you’ve wondered if you should upgrade your electrical panel. And if you’re reading this article, maybe that’s now!
Here’s some key points to think about:
If your electrical panel is less than 200-amp service, is at maximum capacity or is over 25 years old, you would definitely benefit from upgrading your electrical panel – especially for safety reasons.
Like it or not, circuit breaker panels will eventually need replacing as they don’t last forever. Following the electrical load taking its toll, electrical issues can develop.
Some of these indications will be obvious, and some not so obvious, however if you are in any doubt, have a detailed inspection carried out by a qualified electrician.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive timetable for replacing your electrical panel, however if you see any of these warning signs, best consider it sooner than later.
Rusted Electrical Parts on Electrical Panels
As we all know, the combination of electricity and water can be a fatal combination, and rust inside your electrical panel would indicate contact with water.
There are many causes of rust appearing, including high humidity levels, chipped paint, or leaks. Because there are high levels of electrical current passing through the panel, the presence of water in any shape or form is a huge red flat. Eventually, the rust will render the breaker box unsafe and prevent it from operating correctly, which leads to electrical faults, and maybe even a house fire.
If there is rust within your electrical panel, it will need replacing. Find the source of the moisture and perhaps move the position of the electrical panel to avoid future rusting.
Constantly Tripping Circuit Breakers
A circuit breaker that occasionally trips doesn’t necessarily mean you need to replace or upgrade your electrical panel. The only reasons you should have to replace your electrical panel are:
- Scorching from arcing
- Electrical panel is undersized
- Electrical panel is overloaded
- Any damage that prevents a proper connection
You could however have a potential electric problem if your breakers are inclined to trip regularly. Either that, or you just have a bad breaker.
A constantly tripping breaker can be caused by:
- Electrical wiring that is undersized
- An electrical fault in the circuit
- Overloaded circuits
If any of these things occur, make sure you have a licensed electrician examine your electrical panel as you may need to look at panel replacement.
Before you consider replacing your electrical panel, ask your electrician the following questions:
- Is the breaker undersized for the circuit?
Under certain usage loads, an undersized breaker will routinely trip. If you are running too many items at once from your power source, this can cause overloading and trip the breaker. For example, vacuums are notorious for causing frequent breaker trips.
- Are the breakers double-tapped?
Meaning, are their multiple circuits being operated from a single breaker? Routinely tripping the breaker can occur when two or more branch circuits enter a single-pole breaker. This may be corrected easily by separating the circuits into separate breakers or installing a two-pole to tandem breaker if this is something your electrical panel will allow.
- Is there any indication of burn marks?
If there are indications of burn marks on the bus bar where the breaker connects inside the panel, this could indicate an issue with the panel, the circuit breaker or even both. If there is any sign of scorching or burning, we recommend panel replacement.
- Is it the same breaker that is constantly tripping?
If it’s the same breaker tripping constantly, it’s more likely to be an issue with either the breaker itself or the circuit entering the breaker.
Undersized Electrical Panels
The power rating of your electrical panel directly correlates to the size of the electrical panel and how many breakers it can accommodate.
Some of the first electrical breaker boxes that contractors installed in residential houses carried around 60 amps of power. This subsequently increased to 100 amps, although today, this is considered insufficient and ineffective. Nowadays most homes will have 200 amps of power.
With the increase in technology and advancement in the electrical field, the demand on electrical panels and circuit breakers has increased dramatically. If your home has an older electrical panel installed, a simple act such as plugging in an additional appliance may trip the breakers.
Therefore, it’s recommended to change out an undersized electrical panel when:
- You add additional appliances with high electrical consumption
- The number of people living in your home increases, thereby creating a likelihood of overloading the panel’s electrical capacity
- You are renovating or doing major remodeling.
Scorching Inside the Electrical Panel
We’ve touched on this before, but it’s worth going into a bit more detail. The average life of an electrical panel is estimated at between 40 – 60 years, however everything eventually requires replacement. Don’t forget that incidents such as power surges take their toll and can damage a service panel at any time.
Even though manufacturers may state to the contrary, mechanical can often break down prematurely. Specifications given by manufacturers can only give an estimate based on ideal circumstances and don’t consider any additional incidents above the norm.
The electrical wiring too can wear out with time, just like the electrical panel itself.
Another troubling fault can be caused through damaged insulation on wiring. This can produce electrical arcs that generate immense amounts of heat and can therefore start a fire.
Always be vigilant and check for charred or burned areas, or any distinct smells:
- Around the wires – is the insulation around the wires melted?
- Around the breakers – are the connectors scorched?
- In the electrical panel itself at the breaker, or on the bus bar if the breaker has been removed.
If you notice anything that doesn’t seem quite right, give yourself peace of mind by having a detailed inspection of your electrical panel by a knowledgeable, qualified, and licensed electrician.