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Tax return season is upon us, often spelling the purchase of some bigger ticket items. But before you make that purchase, be sure you know its entire cost. If that item requires the use of your home’s electrical system, there may be additional expenses required in upgrading that system.

Hot tubs

Hot tubs draw a significant amount of electricity and come with some pretty specific electrical requirements. The first consideration is your electrical service - is it enough? Most hot tubs recommended for our area draw 220 volts of electricity and require a 50-60 amp breaker. The 100 amp service of many older homes, perfect for supplying the electrical needs of a home in the 1940s, will not suffice today. Upgrading an electrical service from 100 to 200 amps can cost $800 to $1200 - no small chunk of change.

Because hot tubs draw 220 volts of electricity, they need to be placed on a dedicated circuit - one that does not share electrical draws with any other light or appliance. That circuit is placed on a 50-60 amp GFI breaker that, by code, must be visible from the hot tub. This means that breaker can’t be housed in the main panel with the rest of the breakers. If this code isn’t followed, it could compromise the warranty on the hot tub as well as your homeowner’s insurance. Running a dedicated circuit to a hot tub can cost $400 or more - the price dictated by the ease of accessing the main panel.

Appliances

Here, I'm not talking toasters, but large appliances. Especially problematic - a new stove. Gas stoves require only 120 volts of electricity, allowing them to be plugged into any available outlet. Electric stoves are an entirely different story. They require 240 volts of electricity, brought to them by a dedicated circuit on a 50 amp breaker.

Running a dedicated circuit for a stove is constrained by the same factors as the hot tub. How close is your main panel? The main panel for most new homes is in the garage. If you are building a new house, it would behoove you to consider adding a subpanel in the basement. That way, when electrical needs change and new circuits are required, it is cheaper because access is closer. Subpanels placed initially are around $300, versus $600 to $700 when installed after sheetrock is hung.

Home entertainment systems

Most electricians have little involvement wiring entertainment systems. If an outlet needs to be moved so the TV can be mounted over it to hide the cord, then an electrician should be consulted. However, if it’s simply low-voltage speaker wires, a technician can easily install the system. If outlets do need moving, or additional outlets are required, that cost can range anywhere from $150 to $400. Again, that expense is dependent on the new outlet’s distance from the power source.

Even though the language of a stereo system is in watts (i.e., a stereo system with 25 watts per channel covers an 18 by 18 foot room), the voltage requirements never exceed what is supplied by a standard outlet. Although a dedicated circuit is best practice, as many different components of these systems are often on simultaneously, that’s not a requirement.

Although a new hot tub, appliance or home entertainment system may be on your refund wish list, eliminate sticker shock by doing your homework before making a decision that could come with hidden long-term costs.

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