Electrical Panel FAQs

electrical panel faqs

Q: What is an electrical panel?

A: An electrical panel, often referred to as a breaker box or distribution panel, acts as the heart of your home's electrical system. It serves to distribute power from the main electrical service to the various circuits throughout your house.

Q: How does an electrical panel function?
A: An electrical panel operates as the primary safety mechanism for your home's electrical system. Here's a breakdown of its function:

  • Circuit Breakers: These devices are designed to trip, or shut off, when there's an overload in a circuit. Their primary purpose is to protect both the electrical devices in your home and the home itself from potential damage.

  • Safety Measures: If circuit breakers didn't shut off power during overloads, there could be serious repercussions like fires or electrocution.

  • Breaker-Circuit Relationship: Typically, one breaker controls one circuit. Each circuit usually caters to a specific area or room in the house. Appliances that consume more power, like air conditioners or electric stoves, might have dedicated breakers.

  • Breaker Capacity: Every breaker is tailored to handle a specified electrical load. If the load on a particular circuit exceeds the breaker's capacity, the breaker trips. This can occur, for instance, if too many devices are plugged into a single circuit.

  • Variety in Breakers: Depending on the electricity they're designed to manage, breakers come in different sizes. They are categorized by their amperage capacity. Commonly used breaker amperages are 15, 20, or 30 amps, but they can range up to 200 amps.

  • Voltage Considerations: Individual breakers typically provide 120 volts, which is sufficient for most household devices like lights and TVs. However, larger appliances that draw significant power, like electric dryers or stoves, might require a double circuit breaker rated at 240 volts. It's recommended that such high-demand appliances have their dedicated breakers.

  • Resetting Breakers: If a breaker trips, it can usually be reset by simply flipping its switch. However, in older homes equipped with fuse boxes, a blown fuse would need to be entirely replaced instead of just being reset.

Q: How much does it cost to change an electrical panel?

A: Various factors influence this cost, including the type of panel, the state of existing wiring, local labor rates, necessary permits, and installation complexity.

Q: When should I change my electrical panel?

A: Consider changing your panel if:

  • It's old and outdated with a typical lifespan of around 20-30 years.
  • It no longer meets current electrical codes.
  • It's insufficient for your home's electrical demands, especially if you've added appliances or new circuits.

Q: When should I repair my electrical panel?
A: Your electrical panel may need repairs if:

  • Circuit breakers trip frequently.
  • Fuses blow repeatedly.
  • You notice scorch marks or burns on the panel.
  • There's a distinct burning smell coming from the panel area.

Q: What factors determine the cost of changing or repairing an electrical panel?
A: Several factors can influence the cost:

  • The type and capacity of the new panel.
  • The condition of the existing wiring.
  • The local rates charged by licensed electricians.
  • Permits required by your municipality or city.
  • The complexity of the installation, including accessibility, location, and any modifications required.

Q: Is it more cost-effective to repair or replace an electrical panel?
A: It depends. Minor issues might be more economical to repair, but an old, outdated, or severely damaged panel may be more cost-effective to replace entirely, especially when considering long-term safety and efficiency.

Q: Does the brand of the electrical panel affect the cost?
A: Yes, premium brands or those known for high quality might have a higher price tag compared to generic or lesser-known brands. However, quality and reliability might save costs in the long run.

Q: Will I need to pay for a permit to change or repair an electrical panel?
A: In many areas, a permit is required for major electrical work, including changing or repairing a panel. The cost for the permit can vary depending on your local regulations.

Q: Can I reduce costs by doing it myself?
A: Electrical work can be hazardous if not done correctly. While doing it yourself might save costs upfront, it could lead to potential dangers or code violations. Hiring a licensed professional ensures the job is done safely and to local codes, possibly saving you from costly mistakes in the long run.

Q: How can I get an accurate estimate for the cost?
A: To get an accurate estimate, it's best to contact a local licensed electrician. They can assess your current setup, understand your needs, and provide a detailed quote based on your specific situation.

Q: Does the location of my home influence the cost?
A: Yes. Costs can vary by region due to differences in labor rates, supply costs, and local regulations. Urban areas might have different pricing compared to rural areas.

Q: Will there be any additional costs besides the panel and labor?
A: There could be. Costs might include new circuit breakers, additional wiring, connectors, or other hardware. There might also be costs for patching or repairing the wall around the panel if modifications are needed.

Q: How long does it take to change or repair an electrical panel, and does the time affect the cost?
A: The time taken depends on the scope of the work. A straightforward replacement might take a few hours, while more complex jobs could take longer.

Q: How can I be sure I'm getting a fair price?
A: It's advisable to get multiple quotes from different electricians. This allows you to compare costs and services offered, helping you make an informed decision. Ensure each electrician is licensed and reputable, and read reviews or ask for references.

Q: Is there a way to mitigate the cost to replace an electric panel box or the cost of changing an electric fuse box?
A: While seeking multiple quotes can help ensure a competitive price, it's essential to prioritize safety and quality. Sometimes, investing a bit more upfront ensures long-term reliability and safety.

Q: What's the average cost to replace a breaker box panel?
A: While we aren't providing specific dollar amounts, the cost to replace a breaker box panel depends on factors like panel capacity, brand, local labor rates, and any additional parts or modifications required.

Q: Is it advisable to undertake a DIY panel upgrade?
A: Strongly discouraged. Not only is there no guaranteed cost savings, but even a minor error can jeopardize your home's entire electrical infrastructure. Such mistakes can pose severe fire risks and lead to expensive repair costs. If a fire results from an improperly replaced DIY electrical panel, insurance claims might be rejected. The statistics showing injuries and even deaths faced by professional electricians yearly highlight the dangers of electrical work. The risks simply outweigh the benefits. A skilled electrician will:

  • Thoroughly assess your home's electrical needs and your lifestyle.
  • Advise on the most suitable panel for your premises.
  • Properly install and connect the panel and circuit breakers.
  • Perform tests and ensure compliance with local code and zoning requirements.

Q: What differentiates a panel "upgrade" from a panel replacement?
A: While the terms might sound similar, they address different needs. A panel replacement often implies removing an old or damaged panel and installing a new one. This is typically necessitated by:

  • Panel age, with most needing replacement every 24-40 years.
  • Damage from rodents, such as gnawing or droppings.
  • Exposure to water leading to damage.
  • Wire deterioration or damage.

On the other hand, a panel “upgrade” primarily focuses on expanding capacity. It's typically considered when a home requires additional circuits or a boost in amperage to cater to increased electrical demands, rather than addressing wear and tear or damage.

Q: I've seen my neighbor set up an electrical subpanel. What is its function, and should I think about having one?
A: An electrical subpanel acts as an auxiliary circuit breaker panel, separate from the main panel, catering to specific areas or needs within a home. Some of its notable benefits include:

  • Providing an avenue to add extra circuits when the main panel is nearing capacity.
  • Offering the flexibility to manage circuits from a potentially more accessible location than the primary electrical panel.
  • Tailoring to unique requirements, making it a suitable choice for places like garages, outbuildings, or homes with electric vehicles.

Q: Our house was constructed in 1988, and we haven't faced any electrical issues to date. Is an electrical panel replacement necessary?
A: Given the age of your home's electrical panel, it's advisable to consider a replacement soon. While it might be functioning adequately now, it's better to be proactive than reactive, especially when dealing with potential safety risks.

Moreover, please inspect the inside of your panel cover for the label “Federal Pacific.” Should you find this name, reach out to a professional immediately. Though these panels were never formally recalled, they are known to have a concerning failure rate, leading to potential fire hazards.

Q. What does it "updating electrical panel box" mean?

A. Updating the panel box typically refers to replacing or upgrading the electrical panel in a building.

Bill Root

About the author

During my tenure at Root Electric, I lead the transition of Root Electric from a primarily sub-contracting based business model to a prime-contracting based business model. Accomplishments have been made by developing a team based approach to researching and implementing a service-specific client management system.

My goals for the next five years are to fine tune Root Electric's brand strategy and to diversify its scope of services, while remaining true to the discipline of electrical work.