The electrical panel (or "breaker box") is something most homeowners probably avoid. It's good to have some healthy fear regarding electrical panels, although as long as you aren't doing more than turning breakers on and off, it's okay not to be afraid! But the negative side of ignoring your electrical panel is that it often doesn't get the attention it deserves. It's
really important to have regular panel tune ups (where we tighten connections, check for any melting or hazardous warning signs, and do a visual inspection), but when should you replace your panel? Like your roof or your hot water heater, your electrical panel will need to be replaced eventually. The good news is that it'll last many years.
But when should you take the leap and get it replaced, or upgrade it? We're here to answer that for you!
Here are 5 reasons or signs that you should upgrade/replace your electrical panel.
1. If the Panel is Damaged or 25+ Years Old
The average lifespan of an electrical panel is 25 to 40 years. However, this lifespan depends on several factors, such as the quality of the panel, the maintenance history, and the environmental conditions.
If you live in one of the beach towns like Sullivan's Island or Isle of Palms, the electrical
panels unfortunately degrade faster due to corrosion from the saltwater in the air. We see these panels needing to be replaced sooner than their inland neighbors. If your electrical panel is older than 25 years or shows signs of damage such as rust, corrosion, cracks, burns, or melting wires, it may be time to replace it.
2. Prevent Electrical Fires
One of the most serious risks of having an outdated or damaged electrical panel is the possibility of an electrical fire. Electrical fires can be caused by faulty wiring, loose connections, corroded parts, or overloaded circuits. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical failures or malfunctions were involved in an estimated 44,880 home fires per year between 2012 and 2016, resulting in 440 deaths, 1,250 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage. If you have a recalled or outdated electrical panel and are having power issues, you should have an electrician inspect the panel for melting, which can happen with recalled breakers and panels, or simply aging of outdated panels. Upgrading your electrical panel can reduce the risk of electrical fires by ensuring that your wiring and circuit breakers are in good condition and functioning properly.
3. Fulfill Your Home’s Power Demands
Modern homes have more electrical devices and appliances than ever before, such as computers, TVs, air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, electric vehicle chargers, and
more. These devices require more power than older homes were designed to handle. Upgrading your electrical panel can increase the amount of power available to your home and give you the flexibility to add more modern amenities.
4. Frequently Tripping Breakers
Another indicator that you may need to upgrade your electrical panel is if you experience frequently tripped breakers in your home. Circuit breakers are designed to trip when they detect an overload or a short circuit in the wiring or appliances connected to them. This is a safety feature that prevents overheating and fire hazards. However, if your breakers trip too often or for no apparent reason, even after being inspected by an electrician, it may mean that your electrical panel is overloaded or malfunctioning. Upgrading your electrical panel can resolve these issues (but you'll want an electrician to inspect to ensure the issue is your panel).
5. Recalled or Obsolete Electrical Panels
Some older homes may have recalled types of electrical panels that are no longer considered safe or reliable by today’s standards. For example, some homes may have split-bus panels, which have two main breakers instead of one and do not have a single shut-off switch for the entire panel. Other homes may have Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels, Challenger
panels, or Zinsco panels, which have been found to be defective and prone to failure. (Read more about recalled panels on our blog HERE). These types of panels pose a serious fire hazard and should be replaced as soon as possible with modern and code-compliant panels.
Upgrading your electrical panel is an important investment for your home’s safety and efficiency. It can prevent electrical fires, improve the performance of your devices and appliances, increase the value of your home, and save you money on energy bills in the long run. If you notice any of the signs mentioned above that indicate that it's time to upgrade or replace your electrical panel, you should contact a licensed electrician as soon as possible to get a professional assessment and estimate. Upgrading your electrical panel is not a DIY project and should only be handled by a qualified expert.
We appreciate you reading and hope you've learned something helpful!
The Gloudeman Electric Team