What Is An Electrical Panel and Why Do You Need An Upgrade?

Many homeowners must get an electrical upgrade when they move into an older home. For first-time homeowners, electrical panels and electrical service can be something of a mystery. The more you know about panel upgrades and your home's electrical service when seeking an electrical upgrade, the better.

What is an electrical panel?

Your home's electrical panel is like the control center for your home's electrical service. The panel divides the power coming from the electric company into circuits which are then distributed throughout the house. The electrical panel can stop electrical service to each circuit through switches, and has the ability to stop all electrical power to the house through the main switch.

What is a panel upgrade?

Each electrical panel has a capacity to handle a limited number of amps. Common amperages for a modern household can range between 100 and 200 amps. Older electrical panels usually have a lower capacity than newer panels, because homes of many decades ago required less electricity to keep functioning. In order to increase the electrical service to a household, an electrical upgrade must be performed. 

What happens if you don't upgrade your electrical panel?

This depends on the circumstances. Each circuit is allowed to draw a maximum amperage, usually around 15 or 20 amps per circuit. Electrical panels are designed to monitor the amount of electricity flowing into each circuit, and will cut power to any individual circuit that draws too much power beyond its allotted amperage for too long a period of time.

This prevents the wires from overloading, melting and causing a fire. In homes where too many appliances are trying to draw too much power on too few circuits, the circuit breakers will trip on a regular basis, causing frequent interruptions of power. Panel upgrades are done to ensure the occupants of a home can operate their electrical devices and enjoy uninterrupted electrical service at the same time.

In some cases, panel upgrades must be done when a major appliance, like a central air conditioning unit, is being added to the house. Large appliances of this nature require their own dedicated circuits that can draw as much as 30 or 50 amps. Without this upgrade, the installation of the new appliance cannot be done. 

How much does an electrical upgrade cost?

Panel upgrades usually cost a thousand dollars and may cost more depending on the location of the house, the size of the upgrade and on other factors. Homeowners who wish to get the most competitive rate will need to have several electricians come out to their home and provide quotes. However, cost is not always the most important issue. Electrical panels are a critical component of a home's electrical service. Improper installation can result in damage. Finding a qualified and capable electrician to install your panel upgrade is more important than paying a lower price.