11 Signs You’re Due for an Electrical Panel Upgrade

Rochel Maday
Written by Rochel Maday
Updated May 10, 2023
Family watches TV and play on electronics
Photo: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images


  • Electrical panels supply electricity to each area of your home.

  • Malfunctioning electrical panels can cause serious hazards, including fire.

  • Common signs of a necessary electrical panel upgrade include rust, consistent need to flip breakers, and a burning smell.

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Your home’s electrical panel supplies the right amount of power to each space in your home. Electrical panels connect the main power line to your home and distribute electrical currents accordingly. Without them, homes risk serious electrical problems and even fires.

While typically reliable and safe, electrical panels can begin to show signs of wear and tear over time. If flickering lights or strange smells have left you wondering whether you should upgrade your electrical panel, you’ll want to browse through our list of warning signs that warrant hiring a local electrician to inspect it. Please note that upgrading electrical panels is dangerous and should only be handled by a professional electrician. Let’s review some warning signs you may need an electrical panel upgrade.

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 the right amount.

But sometimes an order comes in for too much electricity. When this happens, the warehouse temporarily stops shipments. This action 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 keep an eye out for.

Signs You Need An Electrical Panel Upgrade

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 perform an inspection. They can quickly evaluate your home’s electrical system for signs of damage or wear and tear.

2. Need to Flip Breakers Constantly

It’s normal for your electrical panel to trip when an area of your home tries to draw too much power. When this happens, you have to flip the affected breaker to allow power to flow again. 

This action doesn’t automatically signal a problem. But if it seems like you constantly flip breakers, it’s likely time to have an electrician inspect your breaker for issues.

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 replace them with an electrical panel. If you have to switch out a fuse instead of flipping a breaker, it’s time for an upgrade.

4. Your Electrical Panel is Rusted or Broken

If you open your electrical panel and spot rust or water, avoid touching it and call an electrician immediately. A rusted, broken, or corroded panel is a sure sign that you’ll need to repair or replace the system, as it’s a potential fire hazard.

5. Not Enough Outlets

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

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

6. Smells Like Something Is Burning

Smelling something burning in your home is always concerning. Act quickly if the smell seems to be coming from your electrical panel. 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.

7. 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.

8. You See Sparks When Plugging Things In 

While it’s not unusual to occasionally see small sparks when plugging something into an outlet, you should stay vigilant about the size and frequency of the sparks. If you notice repeated or large sparks coming from your outlet, that’s a clear sign that something is off with your electrical system. While the cause could be a wiring or outlet problem, it’s best to heed this warning sign and hire an electrician to take a look.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

Do I Need a Larger Electrical Panel For My Home?

The size of your home will help determine the size of your electrical panel. Usually the decision comes down to a 100-amp electrical panel versus a 200-amp panel. Smaller homes, especially those without an HVAC system may be able to get by with a 100-amp panel. If you have a larger home or need to power AC, a 200-amp panel should be the best fit. It’s unlikely that you’ll need a larger panel than that, unless you have a larger home or unique electrical needs, but an electrician can help you make the final call.

Is It Worth it to Upgrade My Electrical Panel?

A safe home is priceless, so upgrading your electrical panel, if you need to, is always worth the cost. The primary benefit of upgrading your electrical panel is preventing fire and other electrical hazards. A malfunctioning panel can cause electrical fires and other issues if not resolved quickly, so it’s essential to upgrade your panel to keep household members safe.

Aside from safety and increased peace of mind, this upgrade guarantees a steady flow of electricity to all corners of your home. That way, you can say goodbye to flickering lights and flipping breakers constantly. An upgraded electrical panel also allows you to connect additional appliances without worrying about tripping your breaker or blowing fuses.

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, having a local electrical panel upgrade company upgrade your home 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 well worth the price.

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