When Should I Make an Electrical Panel Upgrade?

Posted by Mark Stevens | Jan 01, 2011
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The circuit breaker
source: Flickr: stepnout

We Americans love to use energy. Whether it’s a high-powered air conditioner during the hot summer months, a big screen TV, a washer and dryer or multiple computers, we use more energy today than ever before. The problem is, not all homes are equipped for such a large quantity of energy. The electricity you use enters your home through the electrical panel. This is a box that contains either fuses or circuit breakers, and has a certain amount of energy that it can handle. If your electricity intake exceeds your panels capacity you will need to upgrade it.

When to Upgrade Or Replace?

If you live in a city like Boston, which has many older homes, your home might have the old kind of electrical panel which uses fuses. If so, you should contact an electrician and have the electrical panel replaced with one that uses circuit breakers instead of fuses. Fuses are considered a fire hazard and as a result most insurance companies will not insure such a home. If you’re considering purchasing a home that still has fuses, have the owner convert to circuit breakers before purchasing so that you can be eligible for homeowner’s insurance.

Alternatively, you may be adding an addition on to your home or installing a high-powered air conditioner, hot tub, or any other energy-consuming machine. If this is the case, your current electrical panel may not provide adequate energy. Standard electrical panels can provide 100, 150, 200 or 400 amps of power, and anything less is illegal. If your electrical needs exceed your amp capacity your circuit breakers will trip whenever you attempt to power the appliance, leaving you without electricity, so be sure to upgrade to a higher amperage.

Does a Tripped Breaker Mean I Need a New Electrical Panel?

Often people think their circuit breaker or electrical panel is faulty because they experience a tripped breaker. This is not always the case. A breaker’s purpose is to protect the electrical circuits from damage caused by an overload or short circuit. When either of these occurs the circuit will cutoff the electrical flow and “trip.”

Alternatively, you may have a faulty breaker. To test this, unplug all electrical devices. With the breaker off, reconnect a single device and then try to turn on the breaker. Repeat this process with each device. If the circuit trips, you have identified a problematic device. The device may either have an electrical problem or just require more energy than your electrical panel can provide. If, for example, your air conditioner is tripping the circuit, you may want to contact an air conditioning contractor and discuss downgrading or rewiring.

In many cities it’s illegal for anyone other than a licensed electrician to perform electrical work, and many home insurance policies do not cover damage incurred by a non-licensed electrician. Therefore, this and other electrical work should only be performed by a professional.

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