How to Tell If It Is Time For An Electrical Panel Upgrade
Your electrical panel is a crucial part of the electrical system in your house. If your panel is old or not working correctly, your home is at risk of fire and the whole system can break down. Keeping your electrical panel updated and maintained should be one of your first considerations when looking for ways to improve the comfort and safety of your Kitchener or Ontario home. You will want to keep an eye out for signs that your electrical panel needs to be repaired, replaced, or upgraded.
Types of Electrical Panels
Depending on where you live and what your electrical needs are, you may have one of several different types of electrical panels. Houses built before the 1960s which have never had their panel upgraded may have a fuse box. A fuse box works the same as a circuit breaker but contains fuses that burn out and have to be replaced each time there is a surge of electricity. Fuse boxes are generally thought to be antiquated and can carry a higher risk of an electrical fire.
Most modern homes contain a circuit breaker panel. These panels are either a main breaker panel, the main lug panel, or a transfer switch. Main breaker panels have a breaker on the panel that switches off the power in the home, while main lug panels typically have an off switch located conveniently next to the meter for easy emergency access. Transfer switches either manually or automatically switch between power sources during a power outage.
Signs of Needing a New Electrical Panel
Regardless of what kind of electrical panel you have, there are certain signs that you should look out for that indicate that a new panel is needed. If any of the following situations describe your panel or home, you should contact an electrician right away.
You may get a sense of impending doom when you notice the lights in your house flickering ominously. However, flickering or dimming lights are actually just a sign of impending electrical panel replacement. The first time you notice your lights flickering, it is okay to wait a while before taking action. Often, flickering lights may just be the result of a heavy thunderstorm or another disruption of power that is unrelated to your home’s electrical system. However, if you notice your lights dimming or flickering on a regular basis, then it is likely that you will need a panel upgrade.
Melting or Burning
Any signs of burning or melting on any part of your electrical system, whether it is on the panel or near power outlets, should be an immediate red flag that warrants an urgent call to your electrician. Burning or melting could indicate that there is faulty wiring or a circuit breaker in need of replacement, and it could pose a serious risk of fire or electrical injury.
Breaker Tripping with Appliance Use
Most people know what it is like to be microwaving something and turn on the hairdryer at the same time only to have both appliances suddenly shut down. If your circuit breaker is working as it should, there will be an occasional surge of electricity that will cause the breaker to trip, shutting off power in that particular area. This is no cause for concern, but if your breaker is tripping every time you plug in a certain appliance or turn on your microwave, this is a strong indication that a new panel is needed.
New Appliances or Home Add-Ons
In your excitement, you may forget about your electrical panel when you are installing an exciting new appliance. While purchasing a new coffee maker will probably have no effect on your electrical system, adding a new spa or a modern washer and dryer may have a profound impact. The same can be said for the addition of a new bedroom or bathroom in your Kitchener or Ontario home. When calculating the cost of these items, you will want to budget some money for a new circuit breaker panel as well. Electrical panel upgrade cost can be anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 depending on your electrical needs.
A Warm Panel
Unlike light bulbs or a laptop, an electrical panel should not generate any heat when it is working properly. Place your hand gently on the outside of the panel. If you notice any warmth coming from the panel, this is a sign that your panel is either malfunctioning or is too small for the electrical usage of the home. You may also notice an odor that smells hot, and this could be a sign of faulty wiring. Any heat on or around the electrical panel should prompt an immediate call to your electrician as there could be danger of sparks or fire.
A Breaker that Won’t Reset
Ideally, a tripped breaker is easy to reset, allowing you to go on with your day. However, if you try to reset a tripped breaker only to have it switch immediately back off again, you may be in need of an upgrade. This type of malfunction usually points to a problem with your circuit breaker.
An Old Electrical Panel or Fuse Box
While fuse boxes perform the same function like a newer circuit breaker, there is some risk involved with still using one. Not only do they pose a higher fire risk than a circuit breaker, but they are also much more difficult to maintain. Each time a surge causes a fuse to burn out, the fuse must be replaced. In a circuit breaker, a simple switch is turned on, which immediately restores power. You should consider upgrading your panel if you still have a fuse box. Additionally, consider an upgrade if either your home or your electrical panel is 20 years old or more. Older panels do not account for the greater amount of electricity that is used in modern homes and likely do not support this additional need.
Excessive Power Strip Use
One or two power strips in the home is not a big deal, but too many power strips or extension cords can put too much of a burden on the electrical system and the panel. If you are using a lot of extension cords, it may be time to think about a panel upgrade to help support the number of appliances that you are using in the home.
A New Member of the Household
The addition of a new family member or an additional resident in the home may result in increased electrical use. Even a new baby can create a need for a service upgrade. Although they don’t take up much space, the cumulative effect of the bottle warmer, the baby monitor, and the extra loads of laundry, can be enough of a reason to purchase a new electrical panel.
Repair, Replacement, or Upgrade?
When you are having problems with your electrical panel, you may be wondering if an upgrade or a replacement is necessary or if a simple repair will fix the problem. If one of the circuit breakers is malfunctioning but the others seem to be fine and there are no other problems such as flickering lights or a warm panel, you may be able to get away with hiring an electrician to perform a repair on that one circuit breaker. However, if there is more damage to the panel, it is likely you will need an upgrade or a replacement.
A replacement is generally done when the circuit breaker panel has sustained damage or is no longer working, but the electrical needs of the home have not increased. Often this can happen if the panel has sustained water damage, has been damaged by pests, or has faulty wires. If your panel is more than 20 years old but has been working well for you, this also may be a reason to get a replacement rather than an upgrade.
For many homes, electrical needs have increased exponentially within the last 20 years. A house that used to only have to support a dishwasher, laundry machine, and an oven may now be supporting a flat-screen TV, smart home devices, computers, and much more. Many homes have electrical panels that simply cannot keep up. There are many things that can be the tipping point for needing an upgrade. When this happens, your electrician will perform what is known as “heavy up” to give your panel a fighting chance to handle your modern usage.
Upgrading your electrical panel can be a very positive decision for your home. If your home’s electrical needs are too much for your current panel you risk overloading the system which can be extremely dangerous and minimize the fire danger. Upgrading from a fuse box to a circuit breaker type panel can also save you the hassle of replacing fuses. With a new panel, you can be confident that your electrical system is functioning well and keeping up with any new technology that you have added to the home. An electrician in Kitchener or Ontario can help you decide which panel is appropriate for both the size of your home and the amount of electricity that you use.