Electrical panels provide a central place for controlling how electricity is distributed in a building. The panel comprises of components such as circuit breakers and fuses, rated according to the power requirements of the consumer. The devices provide protection against overloads and other electrical faults, hence ensuring safety.
If the load demands too much power, beyond the installed capacity, the circuit breaker trip and disconnect the electricity so as to protect the overloading and possible overheating of the conductors.
Older electrical panels were rated at capacity of about 30 or 60 A, and these were adequate for most installations. However, today’s homes and buildings have an increased number of electrical appliances, which combined power needs are beyond the design specifications of the older buildings or installations.
It is common to find a household with a television, radio, computer, cable box, video game console, microwave, toaster, hair dryer, table lamp and other appliances. The combined power demand for these appliances can be very high, especially if all or the majority of them are turned on at the same time.
However, a majority of the older panels cannot handle the increased power demands – leading to regular tripping and blowing up of fuses. These outdated and overloaded panels are usually an inconvenience and dangerous, often requiring an upgrade to ensure functionality and safety.
Reasons for upgrading electrical panels
There are various reasons for upgrading the electrical panels. One sign of an outdated panel in need of an upgrade is the regular tripping whenever you turn on some loads or a combination of high power loads.
Tripping breakers and use of extension cords to provide additional outlets is a sign of an overstretched panel. Sometimes, the consumer has to turn off some of the appliances in order to use others.
Symptoms of a bad Electrical panel
Flickering lights, blown fuses, tripping the circuit breaker, crackling sounds and increased temperature inside the panels are some of the signs that an immediate upgrade is necessary.
An electrical panel will malfunction when the power demand is beyond its capacity, or due to the aging of the components inside the panel. For example, the lifespan of older circuit breaker is between 25 and 40 years, but may be shorter depending on operational conditions. As the age, the older breakers become unreliable and will sometimes not trip when there is an overload or other faults, hence become dangerous and a safety hazard. In addition, obtaining replacement parts is a challenge, especially if the components have become obsolete.
The typical costs of upgrading the electrical panel
Some of the factors that influence the cost of upgrading the electrical panel include the;
- Type of contractor: the reputable, licensed and insured professionals are more expensive and reliable, so you will be paying for quality.
- Urgency of the job: a quick or emergency upgrade is expensive
- Type of work: A complex job will be more expensive.
- Type of components: the cost of materials depends on the manufacturer, quality and reliability. The more reliable components provide a better service, but cost more.
The cost of an upgrade doesn’t have to be high, especially if the project schedule is flexible, less complex, and the building owner can combine the upgrade with other related projects.
Below are some of the typical costs of an upgrade.
- Material cost
The parts to replace differ from one installation to the other. These include replacing existing but functional panel box, meter, and circuit breakers with those that handles more power. Other upgrade parts include replacements for outdated, damaged or dangerous breakers or electrical panels as well as related materials such as connectors, fasteners, fittings, junction boxes etc.
Additional materials may be required for the extra circuits, and breakers to accommodate the extra load. After an electrical panel upgrade, the installation can now handle more load and consumers may consider adding more electrical outlets and as well as replacing the old and worn out sockets.
- Labor costs for the panel upgrade
This is directly related to the time it takes to plan the upgrade, acquire the materials, prepare the area, install the new components, and cleanup upon completion. The labor costs vary from one job to another and increases if there is extra work to perform.
If the existing, wiring cannot accommodate the added capacity, the electrician will spend more time replacing this with higher capacity cables and add extra electrical outlets. More time will be required to add sub panels and carry out other related tasks to ensure the installation fully maximizes the added capacity while still conforming to electrical and building codes.
- Cleaning up the work area
Removing and disposing of the waste and debris upon job completion.
- Additional costs
The building owner may incur other costs for extra work such as modifying, removing, or relocating other electrical systems such as the HVAC, and nonelectrical systems such as plumbing. The owner will have to meet other costs for other activities to make the installation into comply with the area’s building codes.
In addition, the panel upgrade may require the replacing of old cabling, either to increase capacity, or due to aging; replacing worn out sockets, damaged circuits, outdated lighting fixtures, and other components necessary to maintain a functional and safe electrical power system.
Benefits of upgrading the electrical panel
An upgrade will be designed to handle the current and future electrical needs of the installation, hence increased capacity, safety (reduced tripping, reduced arcing and reduce overheating etc.). The increased capacity of say from 60A to 200A will allow the consumer to add more load and modern electrical appliances.
Older protective devices such as the circuit breakers were not as sensitive as today’s devices. As such, an overload can persist without the breaker tripping, and this can lead to damage of equipment, insulation and sometimes fire or accidents. In addition, newer protective devices such as the ground fault circuit interrupters and others are included to provide higher levels of protection.