9 Signs You Should Upgrade Your Electrical Panel

Rochel Maday
Written by Rochel Maday
Updated October 19, 2021
Family watches TV and play on electronics
Photo: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images

Knowing the signs of a failing electrical panel can help you avoid serious electrical issues, including fire hazards

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Your home’s electrical panel supplies the right amount of power to each space in your home. While typically reliable and safe, electrical panels can begin to show signs of wear and tear. If flickering lights or strange smells have left you wondering whether you should upgrade your electrical panel, you’ll want to browse through our top nine signs that warrant having an electrician take a look.

Out of sight, out of mind: manufacturers design electrical panels to keep them out of view. It’s easy to forget about them until a serious issue demands our attention.

Electrical panels connect the main power line to your home and distribute electrical currents accordingly. Without them, homes are at risk for serious electrical problems and even fires.

Please note that upgrading electrical panels is dangerous and should only be handled by a professional electrician. Start your search for a local electrician here.

It’s easy to ignore an electrical panel. But here are some signs that yours needs some attention.

What Does an Electrical Panel Do?

Think of your electrical panel as an electricity warehouse. When your kitchen or living room “orders” electricity, the warehouse sends out just the right amount.

But sometimes an order comes in for too much electricity. When this happens, the warehouse temporarily stops shipments. This protects your home from serious electrical hazards, including fire. 

Electrical panels can begin to struggle with day-to-day demands for electricity. A malfunctioning panel will often put out warning signs. Here’s what to scope out.

Should I Replace My Electrical Panel? 9 Signs That Point to Yes

1. It’s Original to Your Home

The average lifespan of an electrical panel is 25 to 40 years. Does yours fit into this age range? 

Even if you don’t notice any obvious signs that your circuit breaker is struggling to power your home, it may be worth having a professional electrician come out. They can quickly evaluate your home’s electrical system.

2. You Constantly Flip Breakers

Your electrical panel trips when an area of your home tries to draw too much power at once. When this happens, you have to flip the affected breaker to allow power to flow again. 

This doesn’t automatically signal a problem. But if it seems like you constantly flip breakers, it’s likely time to have your breaker inspected.

3. Your Panel Doesn’t Use Breakers

While flipping breakers can be a sign that it’s time to upgrade your electrical panel, yours may not use breakers at all. In homes built before 1960, fuse panels directed electricity. Though revolutionary for their time, fuse panels are now a fire hazard, and you should have them replaced. If you have to switch out a fuse instead of flipping a breaker, it’s time for an upgrade.

4. Not Enough Outlets

Do you often find yourself reaching for a power strip to make up for the lack of electrical outlets throughout your home? This is a sign that your electrical panel may not be able to handle an increase in electrical flow. 

If your panel can accommodate additional circuits, an electrician can install additional outlets. But if it can’t, replacing it is your best option.

5. Smells Like Something Is Burning

Smelling something burning in your home is always concerning. If the smell seems to be coming from your electrical panel, act quickly. A failing circuit breaker can quickly cause a serious house fire. 

If you smell burning plastic or wood, it’s likely the plastic jacket of an electrical wire melting. If you smell wood, the damage could be within your home’s walls.

If the smell is subtle and then disappears, an electrician may be able to fix the problem. But if the smell is overpowering and you’re worried a fire has already broken out, evacuate your home and call 911.

6. Warm or Hot Electrical Panel

Your circuit breaker trips if it begins to overheat. But, if you notice that your circuit breaker is warm or hot to the touch, this is a potential sign of a severe malfunction. Have an electrician out immediately to see if your panel needs an upgrade.

7. Lights Flicker or Dim When Turning an Appliance On

Luxurious kitchen and dining space with modern chandelier lighting
Photo: bmak / Adobe Stock

Do your overhead kitchen lights dim when you use the microwave or start the dishwasher? If so, this is a sign there’s too much power drawn from a single circuit. 

You may be able to add extra circuits, but a total replacement may be the best option. A professional electrician can let you know which route is best.

8. You’re Getting Ready for a Remodel

We’ve already talked about replacing your electrical panel if it’s outdated. But, when remodeling your home, it’s almost a given that you’ll have to replace your breaker as you update different parts of your home’s electrical system. 

Replacing old wiring and junction boxes can be a blessing in disguise. You’ll have an electrical system that’s safer, more efficient, and boosts your resale value.

9. You’re Adding Additional Appliances

If you have an older home, or its previous owners had a modest appliance list, you may need to update your breaker as you update certain areas. 

For example, if you’re adding a dishwasher to your kitchen or a large freezer in the basement, your current panel may not have enough juice to keep everything running. An electrician can come out and see if your panel’s amps match your home’s demand

How Much Does It Cost to Update My Electrical Panel?

What is the cost to update an electrical panel? It depends on the number of amps and whether you’re upgrading or installing. For example, upgrading to a 100-amp panel can be as low as $500. However, installing a brand new 400-amp panel can cost as much as $4,000. 

But don’t let the cost deter you. Protecting your home from serious electrical hazards is great for peace of mind. If you need help finding a local electrician, start here.

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