Have you inspected your panel box recently? Chances are, you won’t be thinking about checking the condition of your electrical panel a.k.a. circuit breaker, if you don’t run on any electrical issues. However, it’s important that you include your electrical panel on your regular home maintenance inspection and consider having it checked by a professional electrician at least every three years. Routine inspections will prevent any future problems with your circuits and you’ll also be able to identify if it’s time to have it upgraded.
When should I replace my electrical panel? Ideally, electrical panels should be replaced every 20 to 30 years. Older circuit panels may not have the capacity to handle modern electronics and appliances. It will be dangerous to maintain an electrical panel that’s over two decades old as this could lead to an overload and is an electrical fire risk.
Besides old age, we listed in this article the signs you should look out for to tell if your circuit panel is in need of a replacement.
10 Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Electric Panel
If you notice a burning smell around the electrical panel
It’s never normal for any electrical component, much more an electrical panel, to smell burnt. If you notice that there is a smell of burnt plastic or wood smell around your circuit box, this is a serious concern as it could mean that the breaker panel is failing and could cause a house fire. Call a licensed electrician immediately if you spot this.
If the circuit breaker often trips
Circuit breakers are designed to interrupt the flow of electricity if there is an excess current, a power surge, or if there is an issue with a component in your electrical system. Tripping breakers may also be a sign that you need to upgrade your panel.
When an electrical panel does not have the capacity to carry adequate electrical flow, this will cause breakers to trip frequently. Instead of resetting the breaker every time it trips, it is safer to have your panel checked by an electrician to get the proper upgrades.
If you will add a large appliance
If you have an old panel and you’re bringing in a new large appliance (like a dishwasher or dryer) it is highly probable that you will also need to have your panel upgraded or replaced. These appliances draw higher electricity than older models, so you want to make sure that your panels are at capacity so that you can run the appliance safely.
If you lack outlets
Do you constantly use extension cords because you lack outlets in your rooms? What you’re doing is a safety risk as power cords are not designed for long-term use and should not be left plugged in on wall sockets when not in use. The best solution for this is to get additional outlets installed by a qualified electrician so that you won’t risk overloading a circuit.
If there is still room in your electrical panel, the electrician can add more circuits to supply power to new outlets. However, if your current panel can no longer accommodate circuits, you may need to have it replaced so you can have dedicated circuits for the additional outlets.
If you still use fuses instead of circuit breakers
Fuse boxes are old technology that was used in homes built before 1965. Although a properly maintained fuse box could still be safely used, it is possible that fuses are unable to meet modern electrical needs.
Also, compared to a circuit breaker that you can simply reset by a flip of a switch, fuses need to be replaced when they blow.
If the electrical panel has rust or is corroded
A clear indication that a panel needs to be replaced if there is rust or if you see corrosion around it. Rust is a symptom that there is water damage to your panel, which is a serious safety issue. Get help from a pro to have the rusted panel replaced and also help you detect what caused the water damage.
If the electrical panel is hot to touch
An overheating plug or wall outlet could be regulated by the circuit breaker by tripping to interrupt the flow and protect the home from a possible electrical fire. However, if it’s the electrical panel that is too warm to touch, it indicates that you have a more serious problem. Do not brush this off and have an electrician troubleshoot the issue. You may have to be prepared to get your electrical panel replaced.
If the circuit panel is making buzzing sounds
A normal electric panel should run quietly and with only an occasional click when a circuit breaker trips. If you hear any buzzing or hissings sounds from your electrical panel, it is a sign that there is a loose electrical connection or a damaged wire in your system. If left unresolved, your electrical panel will be damaged and you’ll have to get your system rewired and your breaker box replaced as well.
If the lights dim or flicker when something is plugged in
Do you notice your lights flicker when you turn on the microwave or when you plug in another appliance in the outlet? This occurrence isn’t normal as your lights shouldn’t be affected by something as simple as plugging in an appliance. If this is happening to you, it is probable that your electrical panel is unable to provide power for your needs and would need an upgrade.
If the electrical panel is directly damaged
This may sound obvious, but it’s good to remember that if an electrical panel has sustained direct damage (e.g. it was hit by a car since the panel is placed in your garage), you should have it assessed by an electrician to see if it requires a replacement.
Can I replace my own electrical panel?
You may think that the easiest and most cost-effective way to upgrade your panel is to replace it on your own. Yes, you could easily search for YouTube videos on how to do it, but it doesn’t assure you that you’re doing it correctly and safely. Even if you’re a good handyman, handling an electrical panel (and other electrical work) is highly dangerous, where one mistake could lead to fatal injury.
In addition, the process of upgrading an electrical panel is complicated and only a highly trained professional can do that job correctly. You will also find yourself on the wrong side of the law if you attempt to replace an electrical panel on your own, as you would need to pull electrical permits before you can carry out this task. In most states, only a master electrician or a licensed professional electrician is granted permits.
How much does it cost to replace the whole electrical panel?
In the US, the average cost to get an electrical panel replaced is $1,475,or anywhere from $1,287 to 1,707. The amount will depend on the type of home, the number of circuits you require and the amperage. Note that a subpanel with a low amp can cost $500 to $1,000, while a 200-amp panel upgrade (from a fuse box to a breaker panel)can cost up to $4,000.
An electrical panel is costly because of these key reasons:
- The actual panel itself is costly and will cost more if the amperage is higher.
- Labor is also a huge part of the cost; but since the electrical panel is the backbone of your electrical system, you’ll only want to hire a contractor with extensive experience and expertise to do the upgrade and installation. Of course, hiring a licensed electrician costs more, but it’s definitely worth the investment.
- Materials also add costs to the overall amount of an electrical panel replacement. These materials should be of high quality to ensure the quality of work.
- Lastly, unforeseen instances, such as a panel needing to be relocated, have an effect and will drive up the cost.
Can an electrical panel upgrade increase the value of my house?
Yes, an electrical panel upgrade is a significant investment; however, they are absolutely worth it. A new circuit panel will improve the safety of your home and your loved ones, and it will increase the resale value of your house.
Note that to achieve a good sale on the real estate market, you need to constantly get improvements for your property. An updated electrical panel that has a life span of 20 to 30 years will improve your property value.
How long does it take to replace an electrical panel?
Generally, an electrical panel upgrade or replacement will take anywhere from six to eight hours. However, if there would be relocation or some rewirings involved, it could take several days to complete the process. Some of the things that could affect the timeline of this project include the type of work that needs to be done, the number of circuits that will be relocated, and the time needed to coordinate with the electrical company.
Some homeowners will only take notice of their electrical panel when it’s no longer working correctly, but this could lead to emergency repairs, which are far more costly. If you see any of the signs from the list above, we highly recommend that you schedule a visit from a professional to see if your electrical panel is already in need of a replacement.
Where do I find electricians near me? Click here.