Should I Upgrade My Electrical Panel?
Families today tend to need much more electrical power than previous generations. As technology grows, so does the load on domestic electrical systems, which results in the need for an electrical panel upgrade in many older properties.
Your home’s electrical current is measured in amps, and your electrical panel or fuse box is a power distribution hub based on amperage, with different circuits connected to it.
Amperage is the electrical equivalent of the water flow rate in a plumbing system. Increasing amperage results in more power. Your electricity enters your home from utility company lines via your meter into the electrical panel.
How Electrical Panels Have Changed with the Times
Electrical service panels have changed significantly with time. Before 1950, a 30-amp fuse box was the norm. In the 50s and early 60s, 60-amp electrical panels were preferred. Then along came circuit breaker panels – still the standard today.
Many of these breaker panels still have a 100-amp service – the minimum recommended, with a 24-circuit distribution panel – and a 60-amp system may be sufficient for smaller apartments and older homes, although most insurance companies will require an upgrade to at least a 100-amp service.
Insurance providers say a 60-amp service poses the risk of overuse and overheating, potentially increasing the risk of an electrical fire. If they don’t insist on an upgrade, they may require installation of a switching device that allows operation of only one major appliance at a time.
You may also need an electrical panel upgrade if you want to add ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) or arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) to your home as an extra safety precaution. Arc fault protection is required in homes by the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC).
Apart from insurance and safety concerns, you might want to upgrade your electrical panel for financial reasons. If you put your home on the market, potential buyers may see old electrical panels as a sign of archaic electrics in disrepair.
Problems with Old 60-Amp Fuse Boxes
If you live in an older property, it may have a 60-amp box with fuses instead of breakers. These fuse boxes are safe if they’ve been properly maintained by a professional electrician, but they rarely have space for new circuits.
A typical 60-amp fuse box may have a single 240-volt circuit for one large appliance, plus four more fuses for the rest of the wiring. Compared with the minimum number of circuits required today, this is totally inadequate.
If you’re having problems with an old-style fuse box, or want to add more circuits, it’s worth considering upgrading to a 100-amp or 200-amp panel.
Signs your fuse box may need an upgrade include:
Fuses keep blowing.
Buzzing or crackling sounds.
These could be symptoms of a potential fire risk as heat builds up in your walls, so it’s advisable to contact an electrician immediately. They can determine whether a repair will be sufficient or you need an upgrade to a higher amperage to improve the overall quality of your electrical system and prevent future hazards.
Do I Need a 200-Amp Service?
Even with a 100-amp service, many homes will run close to maximum capacity. An upgrade to a 200-amp system will ensure your existing and future power needs are met, so you can install new appliances and hi-tech devices without worrying about running out of juice or overloading the system.
Other points to bear in mind when considering 100 amps vs 200 amps include:
Many circuit breaker panels may still have a 100-amp service, but the standard for new homes – and old properties with updated wiring – is 200 amps.
A 200-amp panel allows more circuits to be connected, and the cost difference between a 100-amp and 200-amp service is negligible.
If you’re planning a home remodel involving significant electrical work, a 200-amp service is usually the best option.
A home larger than 2,000 square feet with electric heating or central air-conditioning would probably benefit from a 200-amp breaker panel.
Advantages of Modern Electrical Panels
100-amp and 200-amp electrical panels hold many advantages over old fuse boxes, such as:
Ease of resetting.
Ease of repair.
Avoiding the need for fuse replacements.
Higher efficiency for modern electrical loads.
Compatibility with GFCI circuits.
How Do I Know I Need an Electrical Panel Upgrade?
Under the Canadian Electrical Code, the minimum electrical service size of your home is based on kilowatt demand.
This takes into account factors such as:
Vehicle charging units.
A qualified electrician will be able to tell you whether your electrical service size is adequate for your existing and future needs, or whether you need to upgrade your electrical panel to 200 amps or 100 amps.
New electrical panels in Vancouver homes must be installed by a qualified electrician to meet the standards of Electrical Safety Codes and BC Hydro.