Panel Upgrade : Do I need one?

What is the electrical panel?

The electrical panel is the core of your electrical system. This is where your home receives electricity from the utility company. The power is then distributed throughout your entire home until every outlet and light has the power that it needs.

When there is too much current flowing through your electrical system, overheating, melting and fire could occur. Overloaded wires can lead to deadly electrical shock. In order to help prevent this from happening, electrical panels are designed to tell whenever there is a problem with  your electricity and cut off power to that circuit. Older electrical panels did this uses fuses, while newer panels rely on circuit breakers.

It is neccessary that the circuit breakers in your panel be fully operational, at all times. This panel should be able to handle the amount of electricity that your family needs. Whenever you make expansions, such as new Air conditioning units or other appliances, you may need to expand your panel by adding more circuits. This is often referred to as a “Service Upgrade” or “Panel Upgrade.”

How do I know if I need a panel upgrade?

Although it is a very important device, your electrical panel is not designed to automatically change the amount of power flowing to your home whenever you add new large appliances such as  refrigerators or air conditioners. if you find yourself frequently replacing fuses or flipping breakers, there is a good chance that you need a panel upgrade.

Common situations requiring an upgrade include:

  • Installing central air
  • Moving to an older house, that has an undersized panel
  • Putting in a new oven, hot tub, spa or other high-powered device
  • Room Additions
  • Bathroom and Kitchen renovations

Upgrades for Safety

Modern Breaker panels are designed with a high level of safety in mind. Many earlier installed panels, however, can present high fire and shock dangers today. Although they could have been very safe when first installed, the boxes listed below have been proven unsafe and should be replaced immediately.

  • Fuse Boxes
  • Federal Pacific Electric Company Electrical Panels
  • Zinsco and Sylvania Electrical Panels
  • Pushmatic Electrical Panels
  • Challenger Electrical Panels
  • Crouse Hinds

Fuse Boxes 

Many older systems utilized fuses rather than circuit breakers. When these were installed, the amount of electricity used by an average home was much less. These boxes were built to handle around 30-60 amps of power. Today’s home, however, will easily use 100-200 amps of power or even more. This causes older fuse boxes to overload frequently, which will blow fuses and shut off power to those circuits.

Many homeowners are inconvenienced that they are tempted to place over sized fuses so that their system will not stop providing power as often. This can be very dangerous, however, leading to overheating, overloading and possible fire. In more extreme cases, some people replace fuses with pennies. This can be even more dangerous because the penny will virtually never fail, allowing a very dangerous amount of electricity to flow through your system.

Federal Pacific Electric Company Panels

Stab-Lok electrical panels made by the Federal Pacific Electric Company were commonly installed between the 1950s and 1980s. These boxes have serious design flaws that can lead to shocks and fire.

In a statement from the Consumer Product Safety Comission, Dr. Jesse Aronstein said “The presence of a Federal Pacific  panel in a home should be classified as a “Safety Defect”…There is not question that the FPE Stab-Lok panels should be replaced. There is no practical or safe alternative.”

If you have an FPE Stab-Lok panel, or believe you might, call us for a consultation.

Zinsco Electrical Panels

New Zinsco panels have not been made since the mid-1970s and have had serious manufacturing flaws that can allow your circuit breakers to melt and malfunction. Furthermore, these panels will often have circuit breakers that look as if they are in the off position, when in fact they actually are providing power to your circuit. These panels are a serious safety risk and should be replaced immediately.

Pushmatic Electrical Panels

Pushmatic Panels are unsafe because their circuit breakers become progressively more difficult to reset. As a result, they will also flip themselves off because they have weakened. These panels also have no main breaker. The purpose of a main breaker is to allow you to stop the flow of electricity to the entire panel in the case of too much electricity or an electrical problem. Modern panels all have this feature but Pushmatic Panels do not.