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Like all other electrical components at home, the electric panel needs regular checks and monitoring.

If you’ve never had any need for electrical fixes, you won’t realize that an electric panel needs inspection.

However, you still must do it to look for signs of rust or scorching – both of which are indicative of potentially irreparable damage.

But even with sufficient attention and maintenance, you’ll eventually need to upgrade your electric panel to a newer (and better) system.

What’s an Electrical Service Panel?

The electrical panel is the key to handling appliances and equipment that use electricity in a residential setting. You need it to have the proper rating to prevent frequent tripping of the circuit breaker and ultimately fire.

The electrical service panel acts as the distribution center for electricity, and it contains circuit breakers and fuses that protect your wiring from dangerous overloads.

Most panels are metal boxes; yours may be housed in plastic. The panel’s job is to break the electricity down into circuits so that it can be distributed throughout the living area without problems.

Re-wiring a house is not common for homeowners. It’s much more likely you’d upgrade your electrical service panel if it doesn’t have enough capacity for your new appliances and devices.

The small home electrical panel upgrade costs around $650, the least expensive service type.

A few hundred dollars more, you can have a trained electrician install a new high capacity receptacle circuit if you’re adding a large appliance, such as an electric range or space heater.

A plan to upgrade to at least 200 amps but no more than 400 amps will cost you between $1400 to $2500. Meanwhile, a 400-amp upgrade may go north to $4000.

It’ll take at least eight hours for a qualified electrician to replace a standard 200-amp electrical panel. The job requires installing a new panel along with the primary breaker, ten circuit breakers, and other materials.

A significant percentage of your investment in an electrical panel upgrade goes to the labour cost. It’s the reason why many property owners choose to handle the job on their own. But it doesn’t mean you should do the same. The lack of experience and required skills can potentially turn the job into a nightmare.

It’s not that easy to handle all the wiring, and it’ll take several hours to complete. If you’re up for the task, make sure you obtain the necessary materials.

The home electrical panel will need to accommodate your new appliances, so if you want everything in one box, make sure you get a large panel with the right amperage.

How Much Does An Electrical Panel Cost?

Should you choose to hire an electrician, prepare to pay an hourly rate ranging from $35 to $100, depending on location and company. The hourly rate can shoot up to $200 on occasions, especially during peak season.

The electrician replaces old fuses and breakers with new ones in the service panel. Most likely, your home electrical panel doesn’t have space for extra fuses or circuit breakers if it’s not intended to be upgraded. So that means additional wire running and electrical box installation, which drive the cost up.

Is It Time for an Upgrade?

Electric panels must be replaced every 30-40 years. So, if you’ve been living in the same house that long and you haven’t replaced the panel once, it means you’re due for an upgrade.

It’s also important to be aware of other signs that let you know when your current system needs updating. Here’s what to think about when upgrading your electrical panel:

1 – Faulty Wiring

Safety is of foremost importance when handling the electrical system.

The most common cause of fires in North American homes is faulty wiring. The older your wiring is, the more likely it’ll produce a faulty connection. Regular electrical panel inspections prevent this from happening.

You have an issue with the wiring on your electrical system if you notice any of the following:

  • Burning smell
  • Minor electrical shocks when touching an appliance
  • Flickering lights
  • Sparks on the power outlet
  • Burnt or scorch marks on the power outlet
  • Warm temperature around or on the surface of the electrical panel

2 – New Appliance(s)

Consider upgrading the electrical panel if you’re bringing in new appliances, especially if it’s an energy guzzler like a central AC unit or heater.

An old electrical panel is ill-equipped to handle modern appliances.

Suppose you install a new AC without minding the electrical panel; you’ll notice that the circuit breakers constantly trip. It’s a telltale sign that the panel is no longer capable of handling the added load.

If a home improvement or renovation project requires additional electrical power, then the current electrical circuit may not be enough, forcing you to upgrade the panel.

3 – Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are the modern counterpart of the standard electrical fuse.

Both break a circuit when currents increase to a certain point, thereby providing an indispensable safety feature within a building or home’s electrical system.

The difference is that the fuse is meant for one-time use – it works by melting as soon as the current exceeds what it can handle.

Out of all the methods for power restoration, replacing a fuse is the most difficult because it requires additional effort and can lead to fires. It’s the reason why builders no longer use fuse boxes in modern homes.

The fact that you’re still using a fuse box means that your home is certainly due for an upgrade.

You must realize that most home insurance companies use old fuse boxes as a valid reason not to cover your home in case of a fire.

4 – Limited Number of Sockets

Outdated electrical panels aren’t built and designed for modern devices and gadgets, i.e., computers and smartphones.

These things demand a lot more electricity, something that the electrical panel manufacturer couldn’t have anticipated two decades back.

You know that an electric panel upgrade is in order when you run out of wall sockets at home. That’s when you rely heavily on extension cords and power strips to accommodate all your devices.

Although it is convenient, using extension cords is always a safety risk. The solution is to upgrade to a modern electrical panel.

Upgrading from 100-amp to 200-amp Electrical Panel

This is a popular upgrade plan; expect to pay between $1500 and $2500. If the job requires replacing the service panel, you’re looking at an extra $500 or more. At least four hours are required for this upgrade, which comes with all types of complications that only an experienced electrician can handle.

Opting for a 200-amp Service Panel

Upgrading to a 200-amp electrical service panel has an average cost of $1900, which is usually the most reasonable option for most homes. You’ll spend more if the electrician deems it necessary to install a new service panel instead. Some factors can’t be avoided, i.e., replacing old wires.

You won’t have any problem with heat dissipation because it’s not too big for a typical house. You can add six additional circuits to the existing five, but you better consult an electrician before making any purchase decision.

A new 16-space electrical panel costs around $50, while a large 42-space variety costs upwards of $350.

The more spaces you have, the more circuits there are. Bear in mind that most homes can’t use all 42 breakers at once.

How About a Fuse Box with a Breaker Panel?

This project’s cost depends on the capacity of the new breaker panel; you’ll shell out at least $1100 and up to $4000 to replace a fuse box with a breaker panel. Nevertheless, you’re better off getting a new breaker box installation than a fuse box because it’s not as old and costs the same.

Once a fuse goes out, there’s no other option but to replace it. The reason is simple: an old fuse box isn’t designed to handle the average electrical load in a typical modern home. It isn’t recommended to use bigger fuses because they’re a fire hazard.

Primary Circuit Breaker Replacement

The purpose of the main circuit breaker is to shut the electricity off to the entire house or building in one switch. So, if it’s broken or has malfunctioned, you must replace it right away.

The cost of a circuit breaker hovers around $70 to $100, but you can buy cheap ones for as little as $40. Factor in the labour cost, too, and a qualified electrician is likely to charge $30 to $100 per hour, depending on the complexity of the installation and type of breaker.

Why Should You Upgrade Your Electrical Panel?

It’s a given that the standard equipment in an electrical panel manufactured several decades ago wasn’t designed for your modern home appliances and other electronics. Also, it doesn’t have any space for additional fuses or circuit breakers that come with new appliances and larger circuits.

The old 200-amp box can no longer handle modern loads, so move on to a new service panel before you face a major electrical failure. You’ll get more usable space for circuit breakers and fuses that will eventually come with your upgraded appliances.

Let’s be honest. A new home electrical panel costs around $1500 upfront, but it will save you loads of cash in the long run. That’s because a faulty electrical panel can lead to a fire hazard, and it could even cripple your appliances.

Should You Be Upgrading Your Electrical Panel Yourself?

You can, but you shouldn’t.

It’s normal for homeowners to consider a DIY approach since labour comprises more than half of the expense in upgrading an electrical panel.

Nonetheless, you have no choice but to hire a professional if your state considers a DIY project illegal.

There’s a reason why it’s illegal – the job is awfully dangerous for anyone with no education or training in electrical wiring.

So, you’re doing yourself a huge favour by hiring an expert.

Investment for the Future

You think about what lies ahead every single time you throw your money on a home improvement project. Well, upgrading your electrical panel is no exception.

It’s one way of “future proofing” your home, especially when a renovation or remodelling project involves rewiring. The same holds true if you plan to sell your property. A recent upgrade to the electrical system is music to the ears of prospective buyers.

Upgrading the electrical panel is a pricey endeavour, but it’s something that homes require at some point.

It’s economically sensible to upgrade an electric panel when you think about the risks of getting denied a claim by your homeowner’s insurance company, not to mention the safety concerns.

Further Reading

The Guide To Outdoor Lighitng in Vancouver

What Makes an Electrician Qualified? 

What Colour Temperature Lights Should I Use?

The Top 10 Reasons to HIre a Residential Electrician? 

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