Electrical Panel Upgrades: Do I Need One?
Electrical panels typically need to be replaced under the following circumstances:
- Not Enough Power. If anyone has ever told you that you need to add additional circuits, or that you just don’t have enough power, you should read more about upgrading to a larger electrical panel.
- Safety. If your panel is outdated or contains fuses, read more about unsafe electrical panels here.
What is the electrical panel?
The electrical panel is the core of your electrical system. This is where your home receives electricity from the utility company. The power is then distributed throughout your entire home until every outlet and light has the power that it needs.
When there is too much current flowing through your electrical system, overheating, melting and fire could occur. Overloaded wires can lead to deadly electrical shock. In order to help prevent this from happening, electrical panels are designed to tell whenever there is a problem with your electricity and cut off power to that circuit. Older electrical panels did this using fuses, while newer panels rely on circuit breakers.
It is absolutely necessary that the circuit breakers in your panel be fully operational, at all times. This panel should be able to handle the amount of electricity that your family needs. Whenever you make expansions, such as new air conditioning units or other appliances, you may need to expand your panel by adding more circuits. This is often referred to as a “Service Upgrade” or “Panel Upgrade”.
We have included a list of common names for your electrical panel, which include “electrical box”, “electrical service”, “circuit breaker panel” and more.
How do I know if I need an Upgrade?
Although it is a very important device, your electrical panel is not designed to automatically change the amount of power flowing to your home whenever you add new large appliances such as refrigerators or air conditioners. If you find yourself frequently replacing fuses or flipping breakers, there is a good chance that you need to upgrade your electrical panels.
Common situations requiring an upgrade include:
- Installing central air
- Moving to an older house, that has an undersized panel
- Putting in a new oven, hot tub, spa or other high-powered device
- Room additions
- Bathroom and kitchen renovations
If you have been told by your air conditioning contractor that more power is required, or that your AC unit could be triggering your breakers to flip, call us for a free consultation with our in-office technician.
Upgrades for Safety
Modern breaker panels are designed with a high level of safety in mind. Many earlier installed panels, however, can present high fire and shock dangers today. Although they could have been very safe when first installed, the boxes listed below have been proven unsafe and should be replaced immediately.
- Fuse Boxes
- Federal Pacific Electric Company Electrical Panels
- Zinsco Electrical Panels
- Pushmatic Electrical Panels
Many older systems utilized fuses rather than circuit breakers. When these were installed, the amount of electricity used by an average home was much less. These boxes were built to handle around 30-60 amps of power. Today’s home, however, will easily use 100-200 amps of power or even more. This causes older fuse boxes to overload frequently, which will blow fuses and shut off power to those circuits.
This can be an inconvenience to any homeowner. Many are so inconvenienced that they are tempted to place over sized fuses so that their system will not stop providing power as often. This can be very dangerous, however, leading to overheating, overloading, and possible fire. In more extreme cases, some people replace fuses with pennies. This can be even more dangerous because the penny will virtually never fail, allowing a very dangerous amount of electricity to flow through your system.
What many people don’t know about fuse boxes is that you can actually stick your finger into the openings if you are not careful. Your best bet is to upgrade these systems.
Federal Pacific Electric Company Electrical Panels
Stab-Lok electrical panels made by the Federal Pacific Electric Company were commonly installed between the 1950s and 1980s. These boxes have serious design flaws that can lead to shocks and fire.
In a statement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Dr. Jesse Aronstein said: “The presence of a Federal Pacific panel in a home should be classified as a “Safety Defect”… There is no question that the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels should be replaced. There is no practical and safe alternative.”
Furthermore, states such as New Jersey have brought lawsuits to FPE as a result of their lax testing and manufacturing.
If you have an FPE Stab-Lok panel, or believe that you might, call us for a free consultation today.
Zinsco Electrical Panels
New Zinsco panels have not been made since the mid-1970s, and have serious manufacturing flaws that can allow your circuit breakers to melt and malfunction. Furthermore, these panels will often have circuit breakers that look as if they are flipped to the “off” position, when in fact they actually are providing power to your circuit. These panels are a serious safety risk and should be replaced immediately. For more information about Zinsco electrical panel hazards, click here. If you have any questions, or believe that you might have a Zinsco panel, give us a call.
Pushmatic Electrical Panels
Pushmatic panels are unsafe because their circuit breakers become progressively more difficult to reset. As a result, they will also flip themselves off because they have weakened.
These panels also have no main breaker. The purpose of a main breaker is to allow you to stop the flow of electricity to the entire panel in the case of too much electricity or an electrical problem. Modern panels all have this feature, but Pushmatic panels do not.
Other names for electrical panels
- Main Panel
- Service Panel
- Distribution Board
- Residential Service
- Breaker Box
- Power breaker
- Circuit breaker panel or box
- Fuse box
- Load center
- Panel board
- Fuse board
Although these names are different, they all refer to the box that helps distribute the power throughout your home.
What do I do now?
If you have any doubts about your electrical panel, whether it be for power constraints or safety reasons, please call us to speak with our in-house electrician.