Upgrading a Circuit Breaker Panel

Written by Marion J. Lougheed
Updated January 7, 2016
Federal Pacific circuit breaker box with connecting wires in home
Older homes with Federal Pacific circuit breaker boxes may pose a fire hazard. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Steger, WIN Home Inspection)

Many older homes need a circuit breaker upgrade.

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Your circuit breaker panel plays an important role in supplying power throughout your home. It acts as a switch for controlling the amount of power that runs through each circuit in order to prevent dangerous circuit overloads. At the panel, you can manually control the power to each individual circuit, or shut off power to the entire home.

A circuit breaker’s electrical capacity is measured in amps. Typically, older homes have 60- or 100-amp breaker panels while newer homes tend to have 200-amp breakers. You should be able to determine your breaker's load by locating the number on the inside of the panel door. If it isn't labeled, consult an electrician.

Updating your electrical panel

Many people in older homes choose to upgrade their panels to meet the demand of modern electrical appliances. One way to easily determine if your house doesn’t have enough power is if your circuit breaker frequently trips while multiple appliances are running simultaneously. Appliancesthat cause circuit breakers to trip include space heaters, ovens, hair dryers, dish washers, vacuum cleaners, toasters and air conditioners.

Overloading your circuit breaker can create a fire hazard, especially if you’re also using frayed or old plugs and cheap extension cords. Too much electricity going through the wires can heat them up to very high temperatures. Consider budgeting how much it costs to install a dedicated outlet, which is an easy way to protect your appliances and electrical system.

Hire an electrician

Upgrading a circuit breaker panel is one task you should leave to a professional. Working with electricity is extremely dangerous, and a faulty installation can have severe consequences for your home and family. In many states, only a licensed electrician can install a circuit breaker panel, and some insurance policies will void electrical work that isn’t performed by a licensed electrician.

For more information, visit the Angie’s List Guide to Hiring and Electrician

This is an edited version of a story published on Oct. 25, 2012.

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