Electrical Panel Upgrades

It’s hard for electrical panels to handle increased power demands on the system as homes age. Today we have so many more devices that require power at the same time than ever before. How do you know if your 20-year-old home can keep pace with today’s electrical demands?

The electrical panel is like your body’s heart, but instead of circulating blood, it circulates power throughout the home. Unlike our hearts, an electrical panel has “breaker” switches to stop electricity from overloading a circuit. It’s like having a failsafe switch to stop a “heart attack”. If the electrical panel is not functioning, when wiring gets overloaded the excess electricity can start a fire or cause smoke damage. The electrical panel is essential keeping your home safe.

About Your Electrical Panel

On the outside wall of most homes there is a meter box that has a large conduit pipe running into the ground or a thick wire running up to a power pole. The meter box is where the main power line from your electricity provider connects to your home’s electrical system. The main power line runs from the meter box directly to the interior “breaker box.” This box is usually painted gray and located in a garage, utility room or basement. The electrical panel is housed inside of the breaker box and consists of rows of breaker switches. Breaker switches send electricity to circuit wires. Some breaker switches are doubled or tripled together because they control larger capacity wires that power appliances such as clothes dryers, HVAC systems and hot tubs that require more electricity. The breaker switches on the electrical panel are labeled with the locations of the outlets and the major appliances. There are numbers on the breaker switches that correspond to the label map. Also each switch handle should have imprinted the number of amps the branch circuit can carry until the breaker is tripped to turn off power to the line. Every electrical panel should have a main power breaker that controls the entire system.

Problem Warning Signs

Most electrical panels will occasional trip a breaker switch from an overloaded circuit. Flickering lights or outlets that cannot handle more than one appliance without tripping a breaker switch are the early warning signs of a problem with an electrical panel. Older electrical panels might malfunction, but most electrical panels seldom get overloaded circuits. Defective or malfunctioning electrical panels will trip breakers quite often, or they may fail to trip a breaker switch, which can cause fire, smoke and melted wires. That can be a dangerous safety hazard a licensed, general electrician from Mr. Electric should assess, and repair or replace.

Have your electrical panel inspected if it is in a home that’s more than 25 years old. Even a newer home in the 10-year-old range should have its entire electrical system inspected every 10 years. Warning signs that your home might need a new electrical panel include:

  • Rust and corrosion on breaker switches from condensation or water leaks.
  • Crackling sounds can be heard from outside the breaker box.
  • The breaker box feels warm to the touch.
  • Appliances connected to outlets run slower than they should.
  • Your home experiences frequent power surges and bright lights.
  • Your home has dangerous two-pronged outlets, not three-pronged grounded outlets.
  • Extension cords are often used to get enough power, even inside the home.
  • The home has 60-amp electrical service and is more than 25 years old.
  • The home has 100-amp electrical service, but some appliances still do not operate properly.
  • Your (very) old home has a fuse block panel or split-buss panel, which do not have a main breaker and are fire hazards.

Electrical Panel Defects

Your home could have a heart defect in its electrical system waiting to cause serious damage if your home is more than 25 years old. There are electrical panels in homes built before 1990 that have demonstrated defects and safety issues due to design flaws. Electrical panels in homes built since 1990 are generally safe, but they may have issues. If you think your home has a defective electrical panel similar to the ones described below, contact the experts at Mr. Electric of Huntsville immediately.

Pushmatic Electrical Panel

These electrical panels have weak breaker switches. The older they are, the harder it is to reset the breaker switches. Also the Pushmatic electrical panels do not have a main breaker switch to stop all power into the system. Mr. Electric of Huntsville recommends replacing these electrical panels with modern equipment.

Zinsco Electrical Panel

The Zinsco electrical panels were discontinued in the mid-1970s and they should be replaced if a home older than 1980 is being renovated. The panels’ defective design allows power to dangerously flow even when the breakers are switched off, which could cause electrocution. Zinsco electrical panels also may overheat, which can ruin the breaker switches, cause scorch marks, or start fires. Replace Zinsco panels with a new electrical panel from Mr. Electric.

Federal Pacific Electric Electrical Panel

The defective Federal Pacific Electric panels can cause fires or shocks. They were installed in homes built between 1950 and 1980. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission classified this panel as a safety defect warranting a new electrical panel. Contact Mr. Electric for a replacement electrical panel and breaker box.

Fuse Boxes

Fuse boxes are not manufactured at all any more, and replacement fuses are difficult to obtain. A fuse box only handles 30-60 amps of power, and today’s homes require at least 200 amps. A fuse box works when the circuit fuse breaks whenever there is an overload. That requires the old fuse to be removed and replaced with a new one. Old fuse boxes are a huge fire and electrocution risk. Fuse boxes overloaded by a lighting strike power surge can explode. Immediately contact Mr. Electric of Huntsville to remove a fuse box and install a new electrical panel with a breaker box. That said, the wiring in the home may not be up to modern electrical code standards if it still has a fuse box. Our general electricians will need to do an assessment and decide how to correctly re-wire the home.

Look Before You Leap Into Renovations

If you are making a home renovation or major improvement, think about how much power you will need to add to your electrical system to be safe. You may need another separate electrical panel and breaker box if you are adding a room, remodeling a kitchen, or installing major appliances such as heating & air conditioning systems, hot tubs, double ovens, garage door openers and outdoor lights. The home may need modern three-prong outlets, special 240-volt circuits, or sub-panels for a hot tub or power generator. Mr. Electric of Huntsville can do a power estimate for you. If your body adds a few pounds of muscle, your heart pumps harder. Likewise, if your home requires more power, your electrical panel will have to provide more power safely.

Your Home’s New Electric Life

When you’re ready for renovations or you’re concerned about warning signs, contact Mr. Electric of Huntsville. Our licensed electricians can assess how much power is carried through your home’s electrical system. They also can inspect the electrical panel for safety, and if the electrical panel is old, not working properly, or should be expanded, our electricians can install a new breaker box and panel that will exceed state and local regulations. Mr. Electric of Huntsville installs electrical panels in homes throughout the metro Huntsville area, including Albertville, Arab, Athens, Brownsboro, Capshaw, Decatur, Harvest, Madison, Meridianville, New Market and Tanner. Call Mr. Electric today to schedule an appointment – we have the power to make things better!