If your electrical panel is too small or unsafe, it’s time to upgrade. Specifically, you might need to upgrade if:
- You are renovating or adding on, which often means the current panel cannot handle additional electrical lines for outlets, switches and fixtures.
- You’re remodeling the kitchen.
- You’re adding appliances that require a lot of power, including central air conditioners, hot tubs and double ovens.
- You’re constantly dealing with tripped breakers or blown fuses.
- You have old aluminum wiring or you notice safety problems such as melted fuses or bus bars.
Upgrading your electrical panel can mean anything from installing additional circuit breakers in the existing box to adding a sub-panel for expansion to replacing the panel entirely. In some cases, you’ll also need to upgrade your electric service with a new meter socket, service head, riser, etc. An electrician will be able to evaluate your needs and recommend the appropriate upgrades.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) sets the minimum amp requirements for electrical panels in new homes and remodels. Today’s minimum is 100 amps (although some local building codes require more). Panels with 150 amps are more common, and many experts are recommending 200 these days to accommodate the increasing number of appliances in the average home and allow room for future upgrades. A 400-amp size is also available, but rarely necessary.
The cost to upgrade your electric panel depends heavily on the panel’s current configuration and what kind of additional upgrades are needed to your electric service. The price also depends on the experience of the electrician and geographic location.
On average, the total cost to replace an electric panel usually ranges from $3,000 to $5,000. But in high-cost areas or for extremely complicated jobs, the price can reach $10,000. Adding breakers to an existing panel or installing a sub-panel usually cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
Any type of electrical work is dangerous, and it requires strict adherence to local building codes. Because of that, the task of upgrading an electric panel is best left to a professional. Here are some tips for finding a good one:
- Make sure the electrician is licensed. Ask to see a copy of his or her current license, or ask for the licensing number and check with your state’s labor department or licensing board to make sure the license is active.
- Do some background research on any electrician you’re considering. Ask for references and check them all. Check the electrical company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau.
- Make sure the electrician obtains the necessary permits. Unlicensed electricians can’t secure permits, so consider the lack of permits a major red flag.
- Make sure the electrician carries at least $1 million worth of liability insurance to protect your home (and bank account) in the event of an accident.
- Always get a quote upfront so that you’re not surprised when the bill comes. And it’s always a good idea to seek multiple quotes to compare prices.
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