The electric panel is like a distribution center for electricity coming into your home. Large wires connect outside utility power to your panel, then smaller wires branch out of your panel like the veins of your house. When a light turns on, it’s consuming power that’s coming from a small wire protected by an appropriately sized circuit breaker in your panel. Circuit breakers that trip indicate that there’s something wrong with your electrical system – this should not be ignored.
What is the difference between service and panel upgrades?
The electric service of your home refers to the wires and equipment connecting utility power to your home’s wiring system. This would include your outside meter enclosure and riser cable if the service runs overhead from the pole to your house. Services are normally replaced due to age and condition or upgraded with larger wires if you are planning to add appliances that your existing service couldn’t handle. The most common residential service upgrade is to go from a 100 amp service to a 200 amp service, and the most common reasons for upgrading are adding air conditioning equipment, hot tubs or EV chargers.
Panel upgrades are exactly that – replacing the electric panel. This is normally due to age and condition, brand, or needing more spaces for additional circuit breakers. Unsafe panels will most likely be flagged during a home inspection prior to buying or selling a home.
When does an electric service or panel need replacing?
Replacing your electrical service or panel is more about safety than anything. Here are the main reasons you may need to replace or upgrade your service and/or panel:
- Cracking or peeling insulation on your riser cable
- Physical damage from water or trees falling
- Adding appliances or equipment to your home
- If you have a brand of panel that is outdated, recalled, or no longer considered safe
These are brands of panels that are no longer considered safe. You may not be able to get homeowners insurance if you have one of these in your home. More importantly, they are potentially dangerous:
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
aka “StabLok” panels; these were popular between 1950-1990. Overloaded circuits have been known to fail to trip, causing the system to overheat and potentially ignite a fire.
Zinsco panels, purchased by Sylvania in 1973, have poor connection points and aluminum components, which can cause a fire. The panel may also still be conducting electricity even though the breaker is off.
A very popular panel installed throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. This brand had a recall in 1988 due to a mechanical part that failed, causing the panel to overheat. There was another 1000 panels recalled in 2014.
These panels were popular from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. No formal study has been made; however, the main problem is the breakers are grease-fed as opposed to magnetic. Eventually, the breaker can become stiff and fail to trip, which could cause the entire circuit it feeds to heat up and lead to fire.
Knob and Tube with Fuse Box
Knob and Tube circuits fed from a fuse box were okay for the era they served 1880-1950; however, they do not contain a ground wire and are insufficient for today’s appliances and demands. Most knob and tube wiring still in use is about 100 years old, and its cloth insulation is brittle and fraying. For fuse boxes the biggest problem is people replacing blown fuses with a fuse rated for a higher amperage than the wire it is protecting can handle.
Not sure if you need a panel or service upgrade?
Your safety is important to us! Call Berube Electric for a free estimate on your electrical panel and service.