Today that little gray or painted metal box hiding in your utility room, basement, closet or garage has some pretty major demands. The electrical panel is responsible for bringing power into your home and routing it through circuits to operate all of your appliances and gadgets – in essence, it is the heart in your home’s circulatory system. Although it may not be the most exciting item to spend money replacing, it may be one of the most important. If you are remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, or even just adding a new appliance such as central air conditioning or a stove, a new panel may be essential to those upgrades. It is important to ensure that all those beautiful changes you’re making to your home are not ruined by an inadequate electrical system.
#1 - Your home was built in the ‘50s or ‘60s or earlier.
Older electrical panels are quickly overloaded by modern technology. Most homes built before 1960 were built with 60 or 100 amp panels. A 60 amp panel is no longer adequate for a modern home, especially those over 1200 square feet. A 100 amp panel may suffice for a home that is less than 2000 square feet and does not have central air conditioning or electric heat. Even if your home was built after the 1960s, tripping breakers often signal that your electrical panel is just too small for the energy loads that are being drawn. Most homes today require a 200 amp electrical panel.
#2 - There are fuses in your panel, not breakers.
Fuses in and of themselves are just as safe as breakers; it is often what has been done to these fuse block panels that make them dangerous. By the nature of their design, fuses cannot be reset after they have been tripped like a breaker.
Fuses that go out have to be replaced. Because of the inconvenience of having to replace them, along the way homeowners may have “cheated” and replaced them with fuses that are too large for the wire they are designed to protect. Inappropriately sized fuses, which fail to trip when the power load has exceeded that which is safe for the wire, allow the wire to heat up and become dangerous quickly.
Fuses in your electrical panel also indicate an undersized panel. Fuse block panels are typically just 60 amp panels and therefore don’t offer room for all the circuits required of a modern home. For example, just the kitchen alone in today’s homes have an average of nine circuits run to them.
Fuse block panels typically allow for only 6 circuits to be run to the whole house. Again, over time, this deficiency leads to homeowners tampering with the panel. To create more circuits, rather than upgrading the panel, more than one wire is added to each fuse lug. This quick fix creates a hazardous electrical panel. For these reasons, if made aware, some insurance companies even refuse to insure a house that has a fuse block panel.
#3 - You have a Federal Pacific brand panel.
Some estimate that Federal Pacific panels were installed in as many as 90% of all homes built in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Although once widely used, these panels are now viewed as defective and even dangerous. This older style panel has breakers that do not consistently trip with overloading or overheating of circuitry. In fact, laboratory studies have found that 25% of all Federal Pacific breakers are defective. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has even weighed in on this issue, stating that they do not feel Federal Pacific panels are safe and suggest they be replaced.