What Does Your Home’s Electrical Panel Do, and When Do You Need an Electrical Panel Upgrade?


Your home is equipped with an electrical service panel that controls the various electrical circuits in the system. If your panel is more than 20 years old, or if you’ve been experiencing insufficient power throughout your home, it may be time for a service upgrade.

You know that your home has an electrical panel. You may have even flipped the breaker switches once or twice in an effort to fix an electrical issue. But do you really know what this panel does? Learning the basics about your home’s electrical circuitry can save you time and money when you’re faced with a loss of power to a single appliance or across the board. Having some electrical knowledge will also tell you when to put the job in the hands of a professional electrician.

Electrical Panel 101

In a nutshell, the panel is what distributes power to the various circuits in your home. That’s why flipping a single breaker switch might turn off power to the guest bedroom or kitchen only, without affecting other rooms. When you open the door to your Electrical Panel, you’ll see an array of On/Off switches; each should be labeled either next to the switch or inside the door, showing which circuit it controls. Note that a fuse box will have screw-in fuses rather than breaker switches, but the function is the same.

Blowing a Fuse/Tripping a Circuit Breaker

You’re blow-drying your hair, and all of a sudden, the lights go out. Or you turn on the coffee maker only to lose power in the entire kitchen. What happened? You’ve probably either blown a fuse or tripped a breaker, depending upon which type of electrical panel you have. The circuits are designed to shut down safely when they experience a power overload or short circuit. If you plug too many appliances into one outlet, you may be drawing more power than the circuit can take. The circuit will shut down in order to prevent overheating, which can lead to sparks and electrical fires. Most of the time, you can solve the problem by changing your plug configuration to more evenly distribute the electricity, and then going to flip the circuit breaker switch or replace the fuse. However, if overloading the circuit wasn’t the problem, contact an electrician in your area to investigate whether you have a short circuit or other more serious electrical issue.

Do I Need a Panel Upgrade?

The electrical panels in many older homes are simply not designed to handle modern electricity needs. The electricians of 20 years ago could never have imagined a single family using a television, cable box, DVR, video game console, toaster, microwave, blender, radio, hair dryer, lamp, and more all at the same time! Even electrical appliances that aren’t turned on but remain plugged in can siphon electricity from the grid. If you’re experiencing blown fuses or tripped breakers on a regular basis, you might be due for an electrical panel upgrade. Similarly, if your lights are flickering or just aren’t fully bright, you might need a panel upgrade. In general, if your home is more than 20 years old, or if the service panel has less than 200 amps of electricity available, it’s time for a new electrical service panel.


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