How To Tell If You Need A Higher-Capacity Electrical Panel

A circuit breaker box or electrical panel is one of the most overarchingly important aspects of your home's electrical system. All your home's power goes through this panel, so if it's outdated or insufficient for your needs, it's important that you get that taken care of right away. Of course, if you open up your electrical panel and discover that it still uses fuses, you'll need to get it updated immediately. But if you have a more modern circuit breaker box and you're simply wondering whether it's capable of handling the extra power you need (for example, if you've just made an addition to the house or added a large system such as an AC system), it's worth doing the math to find out what's up. Here's how you can tell if your panel's up to the challenge.

Compare circuit amperages to total amperage of the panel

The electrical panel's specs should be printed somewhere nearby, perhaps on the box itself. You'll want to look for the total amperage, then compare it to the total of all the circuits. The "total amperage" doesn't have to actually be higher than the total of all the circuit ratings. This is because each circuit doesn't use all the electricity it's rated for all the time; after all, you don't run all the electrical appliances in your house at once 24/7. A good estimate is to make sure that the total ratings of all the circuits isn't more than twice the total rating of the panel. If it is, start looking for other problem signs. 

Look for electrical problem signs

If your house is plagued with flickering lights, frequently tripped circuits, or sparking wiring and melting-plastic smells, then you already have an electrical problem that might be related to electrical panel problems (or might not) and should call an electrician. Otherwise, start looking for signs such as:

  • Electrical panel is warm to the touch
  • Electrical panel (or surrounding areas) gives off an odor, smoke, or sparks
  • Electrical panel is only 60 amps (or only 100 amps, which is too small for a large home)
  • Double-tap circuits don't have enough neutral wires (one is needed for each half of a double circuit)

If you don't see any of these signs, you may not have an immediate problem. If you've recently made additions, though, you may wish to have an electrician come out and check that all the wiring is correct, wires are large enough for the rating of the circuits, and so on.

If you and your electrician decide that you do need an upgrade, you may wish to consider installing an additional panel (or sub-panel) rather than completely replacing the one you have now; this can require much less wiring and consequently be less expensive. To learn more, contact a company like Albarell Electric Inc.