If you think about your home like the human body, the electrical system is the circulatory system. Just like the heart regulates the blood pumping throughout the body, the electrical panel regulates the electricity coursing through the home. If too much electricity is demanded on a circuit, a “breaker” is tripped in the electrical panel to stop the electricity from overloading the wiring. An overload can cause a fire or smoke damage. So it’s the job of the electrical panel to break the circuit and regulate the electricity in the system to keep your home and family safe.
Unfortunately, as homes get older the electrical panel could have a hard time keeping up with the increased electrical demands on the system. Our appliances, televisions, computers, HVAC systems, lights and other electrical gadgets are more energy efficient, so electricity hogging is not the issue. The problem is that we have so many more gadgets in our homes than ever before that all need electricity at the same time. If your home is more than 10 years old, it may not be able to keep up with the electrical demand. How do you know for sure?
How an Electrical Panel Works
The main power line from your electric company connects directly to a box on the outside of your home, usually at a meter box. Then the line goes directly to the electrical panel inside of the “breaker box.” You can find your home’s breaker box in a garage, utility room, closet or basement. It’s usually painted gray.
When you look inside the breaker box you will see some rows of switches. This is the electrical panel. It distributes the main power line into smaller branch lines. Some of the switches are doubled or tripled together because they are larger branches designed to power appliances that require the most electricity. Inside the breaker box door, there should be a label that maps out the locations of the outlets and appliances according to the numbers on the switches. The switches also have numbers on the switch itself that tell you how many amps the branch line can carry before the breaker switch is tripped off. The electrical panel also has a main power breaker that can turn off power to the whole system.
Symptoms of Sick Electrical Panels
Old electrical panels can malfunction, but most of the time their circuits are overloaded. At first you might notice flickering lights or you might have to turn off an appliance in order to use another on the same line. But if the panel is malfunctioning or defective, the breakers will trip often, or they will fail to trip and someone might be shocked. In the worst case, a breaker that fails to trip may cause fire, smoke and melted wires from overheating. And that’s dangerous.
Checking Your Electrical Panel
Your breaker box needs a checkup, especially if it’s more than 25 years old. But don’t stop at the breaker box, take a good look at the entire electrical system. Here are the signs to look for to see if you might need a new electrical panel:
- You hear crackling sounds from the breaker box panel.
- You see corrosion and rust on the breaker switches.
- The interior of the breaker box feels warm.
- Appliances are running at less than full power.
- Your home has two-pronged outlets, not three-pronged grounded outlets.
- Outlets near water sources – such as sinks, tubs, dishwashers and clothes washer lines – are do not have GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupters) in them. These outlets stop the electricity if an appliance comes into contact with water, preventing electrocution.
- You need surge protectors for computers and other valuable appliances.
- You’re always using extension cords.
- Your home has a 60-amp electrical service.
- Your home has 100-amp electrical service, but it still can’t operate some appliances.
- Your older home has a fuse block panel or split-buss panel, which do not have a main breaker.
Watch Out for Specific Bad Breaker Boxes
Your home’s heart might have a serious defect if it’s more than 25 years old, because there are some electrical panels back then that now have known safety issues due to poor designs. Electrical panels installed after 1990 are generally well designed and safe. Call Mr. Electric right away to replace the following types of defective panels:
Federal Pacific Electric Electrical Panel
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission classified this panel as a safety defect warranting a new electrical panel. These panels, installed in homes between 1950 and 1980, have design and manufacturing defects that cause fires or shocks.
Zinsco Electrical Panel
Thankfully these panels were taken off the market in the mid-1970s. They have a defective design that allows power to flow even when the breakers are switched off. Breaker switches also melt, which basically renders them useless. Zinsco electrical panels are fire and shock hazard. Replace them with a new electrical panel immediately.
Pushmatic Electrical Panel
These breaker boxes house weak breaker switches that get harder to reset over time. Pushmatic panels also do not have a main breaker switch to stop power into the panel. Mr. Electric recommends that these panels be replaced with a better functioning panel.
The oldest electrical panel is actually called a fuse box. Today’s homes require up to 200 amps of power or more. Fuse boxes can only handle 30-60 amps. Back in the day, fuses would break and they had to be replaced. You can’t even get fuses for many fuse boxes anymore. That’s because these outdated systems are a huge fire and electrocution risk. Immediately contact Mr. Electric and replace a fuse box with a modern electrical panel. We can also assess whether or not the wiring in the home is sufficient and up to modern electrical codes. Chances are, it’s not – but we can help fix that too.
A Word About Renovations
If you’re thinking about making a major improvement to your home, don’t forget to assess the additional power that you will need. Room additions, kitchen remodels and major appliances such as heating & air conditioning systems, hot tubs, double ovens, garage door openers, and outdoor lights all may require an expanded breaker box and electrical panel. You may have to add outlets to a wall, or add special 240-volt circuits, or add a sub-panel for a generator. If your body add a few pounds of muscle, your heart will have to pump more, right?
Your Home’s New Lease on Life
When you notice one or more of the symptoms listed above, contact Mr. Electric for a home electrical inspection. We’ll measure how much power is being used on the circuits, and we’ll thoroughly check the electrical panel to make sure it’s safe. If it’s not working properly or it needs to be expanded, our professional electricians can install a new breaker box and panel that will exceed state and local regulations. Keep your home’s power system in great shape, and keep your family and property safe, with a healthy electrical panel.