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.

Fuse Boxes

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.

Original post from Mr. Electric

 

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