Circuit Breaker Panel Upgrade
Your home has either a fuse box or a circuit breaker panel. It can be located inside or outside the building. This panel serves as a switch to turn off power to a circuit or to the entire home as well as a safety feature to guard against circuit overloads. Many older homes using fuses or low amp breaker panels are good candidates for an upgrade to a safer and higher capacity, circuit breaker panel. As a result of the increasing electrical demand our lifestyles place on our electrical systems, even not-so-old homes may be a candidate for an upgrade.
Circuit breaker panels are rated by amperage, or amps, as a measure of their electrical capacity. That capacity rating indicates how much power can be safely delivered to a home. Many old electrical service panels are rated for about 60 amps, while new homes often have 200 amp panels or even higher. This demand for power can place a strain on an old panel resulting in overloaded circuits, inadequate power for modern devices, lights dimming as other devices come on and excessive fuse "pops" or breaker trips.
If you upgrade your electrical panel, here are some things to consider.
Work with an electrician, utility company or building department to determine your load requirements
Replacing the panel does not necessarily add capacity to your home, you may have to add new wiring, or circuits, inside your home
Most wet locations such as the kitchen, bath and outdoor outlets require the use of GFCI outlets. Consider using GFCI breakers instead
The wires coming to your home from the utility may have to be upgraded. This may or may not be at your expense
Some old wiring, such as knob and tube or aluminum wiring may need to be replaced at the time of the panel upgrade
A panel upgrade will typically require the replacement of the entire breaker box and the all of the breakers. Reuse of the breakers may be possible, but it might not be your best choice, depending on the circumstances
How Much Does it Cost to Upgrade a Circuit Breaker Panel?
An electrician should be able to install a new breaker panel, install and wire the individual breakers and connect to the utility in a few hours to two days, depending upon conditions. Material costs are fairly even around the USA and could run around $500, depending on the number of breakers. Labor cost varies by region, so as an example, if an electrician charging $125 an hour works for 8 hours to upgrade your electrical service, the cost of labor would be $1,000 and the materials might be $500 for a total of $1,500. A very rough range of $1,500 to $2,500 will cover most typical upgrades. Of course, this does not include the addition of new circuits or complexities related to your particular project, which could make your price tag much higher.
Replacing a fuse box or upgrading a circuit breaker panel is NOT a project for the average do-it-yourselfer. Some cities and counties do not permit anyone other than a licensed electrician to perform such work. Some home insurance policies do not cover losses that result from electrical work that was not completed by a licensed electrician. Mistakes made in an electrical system can lead to tragedy. We recommend hiring a licensed and insured professional for the sake of safety and to transfer the burden of liability.