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How to know if your electrical panel needs to be updated

In this article, we will go over several things to look for to understand if you actually need to upgrade your electrical panel.

smart home kb home projekt showing smart house of the future
Image: Builder Magazine

Not too much thought goes into your electrical panel or even your overall system. We expect to plug in lights and appliances and for them to work. And most of the time it does. That is until we started making our homes smart and adding a lot of different devices to our daily lives. Suddenly, things that worked before start to show signs of problems. 

You could also be buying a home that hasn’t been updated in a while and wonder if all of your electrical needs are going to be met. Many older homes still use Federal Pacific Breakers that need to be upgraded or even worse, are still using fuse boxes.

It is actually extremely important that your needs match well with the system that you have. It is very dangerous to stick with an older system that may not be able to deal with the demand and cause a fire. How do you know if this could happen in your home? 

In this article, we will go over several things to look for to understand if you actually need to upgrade your electrical panel. 

What does the electrical panel actually do? 

The only real reason to understand the inner workings of an electrical panel if you aren’t an electrician is to understand the signs it is giving you that it needs to be changed. As a homeowner, you need at least a basic understanding of these things to know what you are looking for. 

Your electrical panel is the heart and soul of your electricity in your home. It’s what controls the flow of electricity and manages it at the same time. Essentially, it is what keeps the system running efficiently and safely. 

When your electrical panel is malfunctioning, or is not up to the job of managing your power demand, then this is when things will start happening. It is a serious hazard and is dangerous to keep the system in its current state.

Lights dim or flicker

A very obvious sign that something is not right is when you notice your lights suddenly get dim or that they flicker on and off very quickly. Almost like when a light bulb is not firmly in its socket. Though this can happen during a big storm when there are high winds, it shouldn’t happen during normal operation. 

Take notice of this if it happens once. Sometimes a substation may blow a transformer and disrupt the power for a second before it comes back from other parts of the grid. If it happens twice then it is time to consider that you have a problem. 

When lights dim when you use another appliance then this is a sure sign that your system is not able to keep up with demand. You should be able to use multiple appliances at one time without it affecting the overall power. For instance, if you have the air conditioning running and then turn on the microwave, that shouldn’t cause any problems. 

Circuit breakers trip regularly

A circuit breaker is a sort of lifesaver as they shut off the electricity in case of an overload on the system. It can be annoying when your breaker is always tripping for mundane things like plugging in an electric kettle to boil water or turn on the air conditioner. However, this can also keep you safe as it can shut off the power if the system is in danger of creating an electrical fire.

Breakers can trip even when your system is in good working condition and everything is fine. Overloads happen once in a while so that is nothing to worry about. It is only when this happens regularly especially in the above instances when you are turning on an appliance that causes the breaker to trip.

There is also the possibility that you just need to replace your circuit breaker and not the whole panel. In fact, it could be a specific breaker that is malfunctioning. If the frequent breaks are the only sign then this could be a cheap fix that doesn’t require upgrading your electrical system.

Smelling smoke or burnt rubber when your circuit breaks is a sure sign that your system does need to be upgraded. In fact, it is an emergency if you smell any burning and need to call an electrician immediately and shut off your power completely. 

Thinking ahead

Have you had the breakers tripping regularly or dimming lights but felt like you could live with it? Well, if you plan on buying new appliances or you are trying to create a smart home that uses a lot of devices then you will definitely need to upgrade.

Your house was probably wired for life that was normal decades ago. Your future house is not going to work as intended if you don’t upgrade the system to be able to meet the demand. Make sure to make the changes now to take care of the issues you are currently having and also prepare your house to meet the demands in the future. 

Do you use a lot of extension cords?

If your house is older then you likely lack the number of outlets you need to power your life in the 21st century. If you need an extension cord here and there to make sure you get power where you need it then this isn’t much of a problem as much as it is simply an inconvenience. 

However, it is dangerous to need too many of them. If you have multiple extension cords or power strips that have all of the plugs filled then you are likely going to overload the system. 

Feel these cords and power strips to see if they are hot. If so then this is a fire waiting to happen and you need to upgrade as soon as possible. You could add more outlets, but if you don’t also upgrade your system then it will simply get overloaded again anyway. 

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