Electrical Panel Upgrade - Electric Panel Upgrade






An upgrade of an electrical service typically involves an older residence with service size of 100 amps or less and the homeowner is deciding whether to increase the amperage to 200.

Does my electrical service have fuses or circuit breakers?

It wasn't until the 1960's that circuit breakers became the standard for electrical service panels - before that all electrical panels contained screw and cartridge type fuses.

The way an electrical panel is made is the same regardless whether the panel uses fuses or circuit breakers. Fuses have taken a bad rap only because of the ease in which a fuse of one size can be replaced with a larger fuse. For example if a 15 amp fuse blows frequently a 20 amp fuse can be used to eliminate the nuisance of having to change the fuse so often. When a 20 amp fuse is inserted where a 15 amp was the current carrying capacity of the circuit is increased by 33% without any regard to the wire size. Remember that the fuse is rated according to the wire size - that is worth repeating a little louder - THE FUSE IS RATED ACCORDING TO THE WIRE SIZE. Because is it so easy to insert a 20 or even 30 amp fuse in to a 15 amp circuit, fuse panels have become an electrical hazard.

When a house is inspected for resale many insurance companies require a fuse panel to be replaced by a circuit breaker panel before the sale is complete. If the current service contains fuses it is probably worth the investment to upgrade the service from fuses to circuit breakers.

Upgrading the service to circuit breakers does not mean the amperage has to be increased. It is OK to change out a 100 amp fuse panel with a 100 amp circuit breaker panel. Just because the service is changing to circuit breakers does not mean the amperage coming in to the house must be increased to 200 amps.

This leads to the next question.
What size amperage is the existing service?

An electrical service is measured in amps with the standards being 100, 150 and 200 for a typical home. Amperage is like the size of the water pipe that feeds a residence - the bigger the pipe the more water that can be delivered. Don't confuse service voltage with service amperage - service voltage comes in one variety 220/240, more on that later. If the home has a 100 amp service and there are no plans to add more electrical stuff (an addition, hot water heater, air conditioning, electrical heater and etc.) then why increase the size of the service. Unless you just want to keep up with Tim the tool man that lives next door who had his service increased to 200 amps - the present 100 amps that supplies the family with all the electrical comforts they need may be enough.

However, if an addition is going on or all the appliances are going electric, or electric heat or AC is being added, then the service increase may be needed. A calculation on the service demands for the household will have to be done to determine whether more amperage is needed - a master electrician can help with the calculation. For the skeptic that wants to calculate the service amps a good book about residential services or the NEC Handbook, a calculator and some patience will be needed.

If a circuit breaker keeps tripping will an increase in service stop that?

No. An increase in service amperage will not stop an existing breaker or fuse from tripping. The increase in an electrical service will have no impact on existing circuitry. Any circuit breaker or fuse that trips does so because the circuit amperage exceeds the circuit breaker or fuse size.

So there are two reasons to upgrade a service:

" Changing from fuses to a circuit breaker panel.
" Increasing the electrical load.

Changing from fuses to circuit breakers will increase the value of the home and eliminate the hazard of installing oversize fuses.

Increasing the electrical load required by adding on or installing higher amperage appliances MAY require a service upgrade - but do the calculations first.

Often called a fuse box or circuit breaker panel, increasingly you find this called simply a service panel.

The service panel is the point that connects the service wire or service drop, which is the main wire coming from the outside into the house, to the exit wires that split off and service different parts of the house. These exit wires are called branch circuits or branch wire circuits.

A service panel is the central distribution point for all branch circuits of the House. Branch circuits are connected to the service panel via circuit breakers. The circuit breakers have no purpose other than safety: they immediately cut off electricity to branch circuits in the event of overload.

Service wire lugs are a major component of the service panel.

Service wire lugs connect the service drop to the service panel, and are highly dangerous points that should never be touched. The reason for this is that it is impossible to turn off the power to the service wire lugs. Main service is continually on, except in the event of an overall power failure or if you make a special request with the power company to shut off power from the street.

Not only that, but service wire lugs relay intense, concentrated power. Unlike branch wire circuits, which are just a portion of the entire electrical service to the house, the service wire lugs represent every single ampere of electricity coming into the house.

A breaker panel, also known as a load center, service panel, breaker box or electrical panel, is a steel box that holds multiple circuit breakers wired to circuits that distribute power throughout your home. Circuit breakers turn the power to your home on and off to protect wiring from damage by “tripping” when an electrical short or overcurrent occurs. You may consider replacing your electrical panel or adding a sub-panel if a need for additional circuit breakers exceeds the capacity of your current breaker panel or if you want to upgrade from fuses to circuit breakers. It’s important to note that a new breaker panel will not provide more power to your home. If your home needs more power overall, use the services of a professional electrician to upgrade the power, a process that will include a new breaker panel as well as other accessories, such as new cables and a new electrical meter. This buying guide will help you understand what to look for when selecting a breaker panel, so you can feel confident you’re choosing the right breaker panel for your needs.

Common reasons for a panel upgrade are due to obsolescence and outdated technology. Split-buss panels, cheap builder-grade electric panels, electrical panels contaminated by water, paint and corrosive environments are often candidates for a panel upgrade. Electric panels long ago manufactured by Zinsco and FPE have many issues and are considered a hazard by many in the industry. Zinsco electrical equipment is considered obsolete, due to a design flaw in which the circuit breaker's connection to the bus bar becomes loose, causing arcing and subsequent overheating. Long term exposure to this heat can cause the breaker to fuse to the bus bar, making it impossible to remove. Even worse, it can cause the breaker's contacts to fuse together, thus preventing the breaker from tripping even in an overcurrent situation, thereby causing a potential fire hazard. Many electricians and inspectors advocate replacement of the Zinsco electrical panel in any case, due to its historically poor reliability. Click the tabs above to learn more.

Several years ago the average new home was equipped with a 100 amp electrical panel and some of them used the latest in technology, circuit breakers. Now the average home is equipped with a 200 amp electrical meter-main panel sometimes with a distribution sub-panel serving the electrical needs of the home.

Old style electric panels with screw-in fuses are generally considered fire hazards. The contact between the base of the fuse and the buss bar tends to oxidizes or burn from poor contact. In order for the current to continue to flow heat is generated. In many areas, insurance companies will not renew homeowner insurance if the home is equipped with an electrical panel that has screw-in fuses.

A distribution board or load center

Also known as panelboard or breaker panel) is a component of an electricity supply system which divides an electrical power feed into subsidiary circuits, while providing a protective fuse or circuit breaker for each circuit in a common enclosure. Normally, a main switch, and in recent boards, one or more residual-current devices (RCD) or residual current breakers with over-current protection (RCBO), are also incorporated. In a North American distribution board, the circuit breakers are generally placed in two columns. Circuit breaker panelboards are always dead front, that is, the operator of the circuit breakers cannot contact live electrical parts. During servicing of the distribution board itself, though, when the cover has been removed and the cables are visible, North American breaker panelboards commonly have some live parts exposed.

Breaker arrangement

Breakers are usually arranged in two columns. In a US-style board, breaker positions are numbered left-to-right, along each row from top to bottom. This numbering system is universal across various competing manufacturers of breaker panels. Each row is fed from a different phase (A, B, and C below), to allow 2- or 3-pole common-trip breakers to have one pole on each phase. In North America, it is common to wire large permanently installed equipment line-to-line. This takes two slots in the panel (two-pole) and gives a voltage of 240V if the supply system is split phase and 208V if the supply system is three phase. The three power wires - two hot and one neutral - typically come in at the top. The neutral wire is connected to the neutral busbar to the left with all the white wires, and the other two are the hot wires attached to the main breaker. Below it are the two rows of circuit breakers with the circuits' red and black hot wires leading off. Three wires (hot black, neutral white, and bare ground) can be seen directly exiting the box and running to a NEMA 5-15 electrical receptacle with a power cord plugged into it. The incoming bare stranded ground wire can be seen near the bottom of the neutral bus bar. Fuse boxes A common design of fuse box that was used from 1940's through 1965 was the 60-amp fuse box which featured four plug fuses (i.e. Edison base) for branch circuits and one or more fuse blocks containing cartridge fuses for purposes such as major appliance circuits. Later on, the more substantial 100-amp panel with three-wire (230v) service became common; a fuse box could have fuse blocks for the main shutoff and an electric range circuit plus a number of plug fuses (Edison base or Type S) for individual circuits.

Location and designation

For reasons of aesthetics and security, circuit breaker panels are often placed in out-of-the-way closets, attics, garages, or basements, but sometimes they are also featured as part of the aesthetic elements of a building (as an art installation, for example) or where they can be easily accessed. However, current US building codes prohibit installing a panel in a bathroom (or similar room), in closets intended for clothing, or where there is insufficient space for a worker to access it. Specific situations, such as an installation outdoors, in a hazardous environment, or in other out-of-the-ordinary locations may require specialized equipment and more stringent installation practices. Large buildings or facilities with higher electric power demand may have multiple circuit breaker panels. Outlets may be labeled with the panel number and circuit number to allow quick identification of the source for maintenance. Distribution boards may be designated for three-phase or single-phase and normal power or emergency power, or designated by use such as distribution panels for supplying other panels, lighting panels for lights, power panels for equipment and receptacles and special uses. Panels are located throughout the building in electric closets serving a section of the building. Distribution boards may be surface-mounted on a wall or may be sunk into the wall. The former arrangement allows for easier alteration or addition to wiring at a later date, but the latter arrangement may look neater, particularly in a residential situation. The other problem with recessing a distribution board into a wall is that if the wall is solid a lot of brick or block may need to be removed - for this reason recessed boards are generally only fitted on new-build projects when the required space can be built into the wall.

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