Time to Replace your Electrical Panel? (How to Tell)

Health, Life Style, Tech Jun 1, 2022

Most people believe that the kitchen is the heart of the home, but we’d beg to differ. Your electrical panel keeps everything in your life running like clockwork. From running your electronics to charging your tech and keeping the lights on, your electrical panel is more important than you give it credit for.

The problem in many American households is that the only time these precious pieces of hardware get any attention is when you need to check or flip a circuit breaker. But a circuit breaker isn’t something that is one-and-done. An electrical panel will need to be changed out at some point on your home-ownership journey.

The question isn’t “if,” but “when?”

What’s that Burning Smell?

Needless to say, if you’ve got a strange burning smell emanating from your electrical panel, it’s time to call in an electrician. Electrical fires are silent and deadly, most often stemming from an electrical panel fault or complete panel failure.

The wood paneling inside your walls as well as the plastic coating that covers the actual wiring harness will produce a pungent smell and, if you’re lucky to catch it early, you should be able to avoid a life-threatening house fire.

The Breakers Keep Tripping

When a circuit draws too much power and is at risk of overloading your panel, a breaker will trip to short circuit the electrical feed. If you live in an older home and your electrical panel was installed long before you were even born, then the chances are that your electrical panel isn’t suitable for the type, and number, of electronics that you run in your home.

The best option, in this case, is to have a professional come in and replace your panel altogether before you end up with power surges that circumnavigate your obsolete breakers and damage your electronics.

My Electrical Panel is Older than Me

And, here you go. Something that we just touched on. If your electrical panel is 25+ years old, you need to have it replaced. In some cases, an electrical panel can take you through 40 years of consistent current, but this will depend on the type and number of electronics that you’re running.

If, after 25 years of consistent use, your panel still seems good to go, then have an electrician check it out once a year to make sure that everything is still working as it should.

I’ve Overhauled my Appliances

We’ve mentioned that the number and type of appliances that you have in your home will dictate whether or not you need to replace your panel and we’ll tell you why. Newer model air-conditioning units, as well as certain kitchen and laundry appliances, tend to draw more power than older models. This can lead to your panel running over capacity.

Be sure to check if your electrical outlets and electrical panel are sufficient enough to run any large appliances that you plan on purchasing. If you’ve already purchased large appliances without having your panel checked, now might be a good time to call an electrician.

But I Don’t Have that Many Outlets!

Yes, this brings us to our next point. If your house doesn’t have enough outlets and you find yourself using power strips or outlet extensions, you’re in for a world of hurt. Trying to increase the number of outlets in your home without actually overhauling the panel and running the necessary wiring for additional outlets is a sign that:

  1. Your panel is outdated;
  2. You’re on the verge of a panel meltdown.

If your panel can accommodate more circuits then you might not need to replace it, but if it doesn’t, you know what to do.

Flickering Lights is Not a Poltergeist

Picture the scene. You’ve got a hot pocket that you’ve just popped into the toaster and, as you push the lever down, the lights begin to flicker. You look around the room and wonder if there is another presence with you. If you’ve been watching too many Lifetime dramas and have started to wonder whether your house is haunted, wonder no more… It isn’t.

If your lights flicker every time you hit ‘start’ on your microwave or plug in a device, your electrical panel is trying to tell you that it is under strain. Flickering lights are always a cause for concern so be sure to get in touch with a professional to assess your panel.

So That’s Not Blood Oozing from My Panel?

No, your panel isn’t turning to something out of Night of the Living Dead. However, it might turn your home into a horror scene if you don’t attend to it. That orange and red staining that you’re seeing on and around your electrical panel is most likely rust.

For this one, you’ll need a plumber as well as an electrician because the rust was probably caused by water exposure. You’ll need to find where the water is coming from to stop any future leaks from damaging the new panel you’ll have to install. And yes, as soon as you see rust, it is time for a new panel.

What About that Strange Sound?

Again, there are no ghosts or ghouls in your house. If you hear strange noises coming from your panel – such as hissing and buzzing – there is something seriously wrong with how your house is wired. A panel that is in good working order will be completely silent so any knocking, buzzing, hissing, or ringing that you’re hearing needs to be addressed – as in yesterday!

My Panel is Also Hot

You might be fooled into thinking that panels should radiate a bit of warmth since they’re the proverbial motherboard of all the electricity in your house. However, electrical panels in good condition will have no heat emanating from them. If your panel feels hot to the touch, get it replaced. Panels are designed to trip when there is an increase in temperature. This is to avoid lethal electrical fires. If it’s hot, it’s not doing its job correctly.

Remember, as a rule of thumb, if your panel is 25+ years old, have it inspected every year. If you’ve run into any of the problems above, have your panel replaced by a professional immediately.