At the center of our home is a residential electrical panel – the brains of the electrical system.
Homes will have one or multiple of these boxes, and they’re often hidden in dark corners of basements and garages.
You may have had to investigate your electrical panel if the power suddenly stopped working in one section of your house due to a tripped breaker.
However, these devices play a vital role in providing your home with safe, stable electricity, and there’s some important information you should know about them.
This article will be your guide to residential electrical panels.
You’ll discover how these devices function, the purposes they serve, when panels need to be upgraded, and potential safety concerns.
So, let’s demystify your home’s electrical system and master that mysterious panel that stands between you and the lights turning on.
1. What is a Residential Electrical Panel?
A residential electrical panel (sometimes referred to as a breaker panel/box) acts as the central hub and distributes electricity throughout the house.
The box is the middleman between your home and the utility company that supplies power.
As it receives electricity, the panel monitors the electrical flow and divides the power into multiple electrical circuits that lead to specific areas within a home.
These circuits are protected from excess surges of energy by breakers.
If the panel detects an unusually high electrical current, it will trip the breaker to prevent electrical fires and damage to devices plugged into outlets.
The efficiency of a residential electrical panel is important.
Outdated systems could disrupt the smooth transmission of energy and result in breakers frequently tripping and potentially dangerous electrical issues.
If you suspect your panel needs to be upgraded, talk to a professional.
An electrician will be able to inform you about the type of panel your house needs and ensure upgrades or panel replacements are done correctly.
2. How Does a Residential Electrical Panel Work?
A residential electrical panel works as an electricity delegator and safeguard.
The panel first receives electricity sent by your local utility company.
That power is then divided into the panel’s various circuit breakers.
Each breaker supplies energy to a specific part of a house or appliance.
For example, one breaker may control the electricity for the upstairs lights, while another controls the downstairs lights.
An important feature of a residential electrical panel is load balancing.
Load balancing refers to distributing power equally to each circuit to ensure that one doesn’t bear a heavier load than others, which prevents overloading.
When a panel is installed, an electrician will calculate the electrical demands to ensure there are enough circuits for optimal load distribution.
Panels also work by monitoring circuit loads to protect against dangerous power surges.
Each circuit has a designated breaker, and if an unusually high surge tries to flow through the circuit, the circuit breaker switch will automatically flip and cut off the power supply.
Breakers are incredibly important to avoid electrical fires and to prevent damage done to devices plugged into outlets.
A residential electrical panel also uses a grounding system to provide electricity with a safe path in the case of short circuits and power surges.
These devices are crucial for the safety of your home.
Unless you are a trained electrician, you should always rely on a professional to inspect, upgrade, or install your panel.
3. What is the Average Cost?
The average cost of a residential electrical panel depends on the size of the device.
You also have to consider installation fees, which can vary based on the complexity of the project.
In total, expect to pay between $800 and $2,500 for a new residential panel and installation expenses.
To help keep costs down, get multiple quotes from qualified electricians.
Whoever you choose, be sure to verify the quality of their work.
Read online reviews or talk to colleagues who have used the electrician in the past.
Hiring an unqualified electrician that cuts corners puts you at risk of electrical fires and breaking codes.
So, don’t choose someone just because they are cheap.
Look for high-quality professionals that prioritize safety.
4. Are There Energy-Efficient Options?
Residential electrical panels don’t use electricity; instead, they distribute it to circuits in the breaker box.
So, there aren’t options that are more energy efficient than others.
However, newer panels will ensure electricity is being properly sent throughout your home, which will potentially result in your house using less power and running more efficiently.
Likewise, upgraded panels add more value to your home, allow you to add more appliances, and keep your devices safe.
If you are replacing a severely outdated or damaged panel, you may be able to lower the price of your home insurance.
Another option is to equip your panel with energy monitoring systems.
These systems allow you to track your electricity usage in real time, helping you to reduce energy waste.
A great way to cut back on electricity is to upgrade your appliances with energy-efficient options.
Appliances like dishwashers, refrigerators, and dryers use up a lot of energy, especially if they are old models.
5. How Often Should a Residential Electrical Panel Be Inspected?
Residential electrical panels require minimal maintenance.
Unless your device is causing electricity issues or recent renovations were made to your home, panels only need to be inspected every 3 to 5 years.
If you have an old panel, you may want to schedule more frequent inspections.
Bring in a professional electrician to do a full inspection of your electrical system.
During the inspection, they will examine the electrical panel, check for damaged wires, ensure circuits are grounded, and verify that the system meets all codes.
Here are some events that may prompt an electrical panel inspection:
If you are buying a home, it’s crucial that a thorough investigation of the electrical system is done to prevent you from buying a home with dangerous issues.
Frequent trips could suggest there is an issue with your panel.
If you are installing things like solar panels, you first have to verify the panel can handle the extra load.
Additionally, your local municipality may require an inspection to show the upgrades are up to code.
After severe storms, especially floods, have an electrician look for any issues.
If your panel is older, be extra cautious when issues arise.
6. What Is the Lifespan of a Typical Residential Electrical Panel?
There are many factors that determine the lifespan of a residential electrical panel.
But, as a rule of thumb, the devices should last between 25 to 40 years.
Depending on how often you move and the state of the panel inside the home, you may never have to worry about replacing one.
To get the full lifespan of your residential electrical panel, it’s important to keep it well-maintained.
Keep the panel and surrounding area clean and free of dust and debris.
Schedule frequent inspections and promptly replace outdated parts.
Here are some circumstances that could shorten the lifespan of a residential electrical panel:
If you live in an area that experiences high humidity or extreme heat and cold, do your best to protect the panel.
For example, you could place a dehumidifier near the device to prevent moisture build-up.
Be mindful of how often the panel is overloaded or experiencing power surges.
If you feel like your panel is overworked, have an electrician look at it to see what can be done.
Adding additional circuits could exceed the maximum capacity and overload the panel.
An overloaded panel leads to frequent breaker trips, fire hazards, and voltage drops.
Investing a bit more in a high-quality panel could save you thousands of dollars in the future.
Ask an electrician about the best model for your home’s needs.
7. Can You Upgrade Your Residential Electrical Panel Yourself?
A residential electrical panel should only be replaced by a trained professional.
Working with electrical systems is dangerous and could result in serious harm to you or damage to your home.
You also have to be aware of local codes.
Electrical panels have to be set up in a certain way, placed in certain areas, and contain certain components–information you are unlikely to be aware of or have easy access to.
Another reason to hire an electrician to upgrade your residential electrical panel is permit requirements.
The electrician will ensure all documents are in order and that the project is prepared for inspection by the local government.
Knowing that your panel was installed correctly will reduce the risk of fire hazards and give you peace of mind.
Proper installation is one of the top ways to get the maximum lifespan out of your device, preventing you from an expensive replacement in the near future.
8. What Are the Signs of an Overloaded Residential Electrical Panel?
An overloaded residential electrical panel can lead to all sorts of problems, from damaged electrical wiring to fires to frequent outages.
It’s important to know the signs of an overloaded panel, especially if your device is old.
Here are the signs of an overloaded residential electrical panel:
Flickering and dimming lights, especially if it happens when you turn on another appliance, is a telltale sign that you have an electrical problem.
One of the causes may be an overloaded panel.
If this is the case, the panel is unable to apply sufficient amounts of energy to the various circuits in the house.
If certain areas in your home or the entire house experience frequent outages due to breaker trips, it could be caused by an overloaded residential electrical panel.
Your panel is designed to flip the breakers of circuits that are receiving more energy than they can handle.
Buzzing sounds and sparks are a strong sign that your panel is being overworked.
If you notice either strange sounds or sparks, contact an electrician as soon as possible.
An overloaded panel can result in an electrical fire.
An overloaded panel may result in certain components radiating heat, such as the breakers, panels, wires, and even outlets.
Overheating is a serious fire hazard and should be dealt with swiftly.
If you notice certain outlets are hot, consider flipping the breaker to stop electricity from running through the circuit.
Wires that are damaged, cracked, or frayed are likely caused by an overloaded panel.
If the problem is relatively new, you may be able to save the wires, but you must act quickly.
Over time, the wires will be damaged beyond repair, requiring a more expensive fix.
9. Are There Safety Concerns with Electrical Panels in Older Homes?
Older residential electrical panels do come with safety concerns.
However, as long as the device is well maintained and is functioning properly, an old panel can provide your home with its electricity needs.
Here are some safety concerns with older panels to be aware of:
Older models may have outdated grounding components that would fail in a real-world scenario.
Codes and standards are put in place to keep households safe.
If your device doesn’t meet those standards, it is at risk of hazardous issues.
These parts can be replaced, but until then, your panel is more likely to overload or overheat.
At some point, they may be unable to meet your demands if your electrical needs increase.
Understanding your residential electrical panel is important as a homeowner or renter.
These devices keep your household safe from electrical fires and ensure electricity is evenly distributed throughout the home.
Whenever something needs to be done to the panel, contact a professional electrician.
Working with electricity is dangerous, especially if you’re not sure what you are doing.
The good news is that these panels require minimal upkeep.
As long as you schedule an electrical inspection every three to five years and upgrade parts at the appropriate time, your panel should give you minimal issues.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.