The amount of electrical power that your home needs to function is measured in amps. If your electrical panel doesn't provide enough power to your home to run your many electrical devices, you may experience a variety of problems including tripping circuits, dimming lights and circuit overloads.
If your home's electrical panel isn't working properly, an overloaded breaker box could even cause a fire. In this article, we'll talk about how many amps your home's breaker box needs, how to recognize the signs that your breaker box needs to be replaced, and more.
How many amps does a modern household need?
The minimum panel amperage required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) is 100 amps. Any new electrical panel installed in your home must be at least 100 amps, unless your local code requires a higher amperage. When you're working with a qualified electrician, your electrician can tell you whether your local codes require a higher amperage for your home.
It's very important to match your home's electrical service to your needs, and to keep in mind that many households have an increasing need for power. Have a discussion with your electrician to determine how much power your home needs. The size of your home, number of people who live in your home and number of appliances in your house are the things that your electrician will take into consideration when they recommend a panel size for your home.
Are older electrical panels safe?
Just because an electrical panel is older doesn't mean it's unsafe. Often, older panels don't supply the right amperage to keep a modern household running. In addition, there are other factors to take into consideration when you're trying to determine whether your older electrical panel needs to be replaced.
Many years ago, homes required far less power than they do today. It's not uncommon for an older electrical box to have a maximum electrical service of 75 or even 50 amps.
This is not enough electrical power for a modern household. Using your modern devices, you may overload your electrical system, which could potentially cause a fire.
If you've recently bought an older home with an older electrical box, have it evaluated by a professional. Your electrician can tell you whether your home's electrical panel provides enough power for your needs.
Some appliances draw so much power that they require their own circuit. Some examples of appliances that should have a dedicated circuit include:
- Washing machine
- Electric range
- Air conditioner
- Garbage disposal
- Sump pump
- Furnace or heat pump
Some older electrical panels do not have enough dedicated circuits for the number of appliances in the house. Plugging your appliance into a circuit that does not supply enough power to the appliance and other electrical devices could cause regular overloads. Most likely, this will cause the circuit to trip regularly. If there is something wrong with the electrical panel, it may even cause a fire.
Some old electrical panels are unsafe, even if they supply enough amperage to the house. Two examples of electrical panels to watch for include:
- Federal Pacific Electric panels. These panels were installed in homes from the 1950's through the 1980's. At the time, Federal Pacific Electric panels were a trusted and popular brand name. Today, we know that FPE panels may fail to trip when a circuit is overloaded, and may even send power to the circuit when it is in the off position. You'll be able to tell if your home has an FPE panel because it should say "Federal Pacific Electrical" on the panel.
- Zinsco panels. Zinsco was a brand of electrical panel commonly installed in homes in the 1970's. Some models of Zinsco panels are dangerous. Specifically, the wires in the panel may melt during a power surge, which can cause a fire. Your electrician can tell you whether your panel needs to be replaced.
Like circuit breakers, fuse boxes function as the electrical hub of the home, distributing power to the various circuits around the house. Fuse boxes can deliver the same amperage to the house as circuit breakers, but the differences between fuse boxes and circuit breakers have to do with the way they stop circuits from overloading.
Fuse boxes. Every circuit on a fuse box has its own fuse. When too much power is drawn on a circuit, the metal ribbon inside the fuse melts through the wire, cutting the circuit and stopping the flow of power through all wires on that circuit. To restore the circuit, the fuse must be replaced.
Circuit breakers. When too much power is drawn through a single circuit in a circuit breaker system, the circuit breaker flips into the off position to cut the power to the circuit. Unlike a fuse, circuit breakers allow some excess of power to be drawn through the circuit for a period before the circuit is cut. Also unlike a fuse, the circuit breaker doesn't need to be replaced when the circuit is blown. Instead, the circuit breaker simply needs to be switched back to the "on" position.
Are fuse boxes safe?
Fuse boxes can be safe, if they are functioning properly and they supply enough amperage to keep your household devices functioning. However, it's important to ensure that your fuse box is in proper working condition. It should be free of corrosion and signs of damage.
Additionally, it's important to ensure that your fuse box has the right fuses in place. It's easy to replace a 10 amp fuse with a 20 amp fuse, thus allowing the circuit to draw more power than it should. If the wrong fuse has ever been placed in one of your circuits, your fuse box may be allowing your circuits to draw too much power. This can be a fire hazard.
In other words, if your home has a fuse box, have your box evaluated by a professional electrician.
How can you tell if your home needs a new electrical box?
If you've just moved into a new home, have your electrical panel inspected for signs of trouble. You can also watch for signs that your electrical panel is struggling to meet the electrical needs of your home. For example:
Your lights dim when appliances turn on. Dimming lights is a sign that your circuits aren't drawing enough power to meet all your needs. Most likely, your home isn't getting enough electrical service from your electrical panel. You may need an upgrade.
Your box appears to be damaged. Corrosion, rust and soot around your breaker box is an indication that your panel needs repair or replacement.
Buzzing sounds. A buzzing sound from your electrical panel is a sign of electrical arcing, a problem that occurs when electricity flows through the air from one point to another. Arcing can cause a fire.
I need more electrical service in my home. Can I DIY an electrical panel installation?
You should not DIY breaker box installation unless you are a trained, qualified electrician. This kind of upgrade is so complicated and important that you could be putting your home and household at risk if you install a new breaker box on your own.
Furthermore, many communities require electrical box installation to be permitted. This means installation is surveyed by an inspector who will notice if you install the electrical panel incorrectly. If your handiwork is rejected by the local inspector, then you may need to pay more money to have the work fixed, thus negating the benefits of installing it yourself.
Not sure if your home's electrical box is safe? Call us.
At Add-All Electric, we can help homeowners in the Dallas area evaluate the functionality and efficacy of their electrical panel. With 50 years in the business, we're one of the most reputable electricians in the region. Call today to make an appointment.