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Should you Replace your Electrical Panel?

Upgrading or Replacing Your Electrical Panel\ Your electrical panel is a very important part of your home’s electrical system. It really is the brains of the operation. So you want to make sure it meets your power needs while performing safely.

What does an electrical panel do?

Simply put, your electrical panel connects the wires from outside your house to the wires inside your house. It’s how you get electricity into your home. It is also called a breaker panel, main breaker box, fuse box, distribution panel, and load center.

Your electrical panel breaks down any power supply of 100 amps or higher for your branch circuits. Branch circuits can require 15 amps and go as large as is required by the specific item and voltage.

Most panels are 100, 150, or 200 amps and the average home needs 200 amps to meet our society’s current electricity demands. Your panel’s size will be on a label inside your panel, usually on the door. This label tells you the maximum voltage, current, and power dissipation capability for the panel. 

To properly supply the electricity coming from the grid to the various locations in your house, your electrical panel has several components. They are the:

Main Breaker Controls the power to your entire house.

Circuit Breakers Provide electricity to specific areas of your home. They are also a safety feature which automatically turns off power to that part of your home when you overload a circuit. 

Bus Bars Bring power from your electrical meter through two black, thick wires to your individual circuits.

Neutral Bus Bars Connect to the main circuit’s neutral wire and bring electricity back to your panel after delivering it to the different areas of your home. Sometimes your neutral bar is connected to the main grounding wire.

Grounding Bus Bars All the grounding wires come together at the ground bar, which connects to the grounding conductor, which goes underground.

Reasons to upgrade or replace your electrical panel

If you have an older home, there is a good chance that your current panel doesn’t have enough capacity to meet today’s power demands. We have more appliances and gadgets that reqire more power than we did even 10 years ago, let alone 20, when your house was built. In fact, houses that are 20+ years old often have 60 or 100 amp panels which will not meet your needs today. This is probably the number one reason people replace their panel.

Other reasons to upgrade your panel include:

  • Your home has an old fashioned fuse panel. These panels don’t have breakers, but have fuses that screw into the panel. Some insurance companies will not insure a house with an electrical panel that uses fuses.

  • Old panels have limited space for new circuits. These panels were designed for different electrical standards and usage.

  • Old panels may be of an inferior quality or have an older design that no longer meets electrical safety standards.

  • There is evidence of corrosion in your panel. It could be a sign moisture is seeping into your panel. As you know, electricity and moisture never mix.

  • When you see signs of electrical fires in your panel. In fact, this could be very serious and you may need a licensed electrician address the problem immediately. Look for these signs:

    • a charring, burning smell; and

    • warm to the touch panel.

  • When you are increasing the demand on your electrical system. For example,

    • when you add square footage to your home (e.g. basement renovations or an addition); 

    • when you upgrade your appliances; or

    • when you get an electric car (the dedicated car charge will put a huge demand on your system).

  • Your panel doesn’t meet your current electricity needs. Example of this are:

    • your lights dim or flicker when you use other appliances; and

    • your appliances and devices don’t run at full speed or power.

  • When you need to add speciality breakers (GFCI or AFCI) and your current panel can’t accommodate them.

  • Problems with your circuit breakers. If you are constantly resetting your breakers or if a breaker keeps tripping immediately after you have set it, you could have a short circuit and you may need to replace your panel. Short circuits occur when an electrified wire (hot wire) touches another wire. The safety feature of your breaker will kick in, stopping the flow of power, and making you traipse down to the basement to reset the breaker, only to have it blow again. 

  • And the most obvious one, it has stopped working

If you are dealing with any of these issues, please consult a reputable and licensed electrician. If your electrician recommends a new panel, please, please let them install it. Replacing your electrical panel is a big job and not the time for DIY. Especially, when you consider mistakes with electricity can be fatal. 


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