Why homeowners should get an electrical panel or service change
Most electrical panel and/or service changes are done for two reasons:
- The existing panel is too small either in Amps (main breaker size) or there is not enough physical room in the panel to add new circuits (load) needed for a remodel, upgrade, or expansion. If you do not have enough Amps in your panel, you will need to get a service change. If you have enough Amps but not enough physical room in your panel, you will need to get a panel change.
- If the panel is one of two brands—Federal Pacific or Zinsco. These panels have lost their UL listing because they are known for the potential to cause fires. In 80% of the cases tested, the breakers won’t trip when needed, which is an obvious problem. If you have one of these panels, you should very seriously consider replacing it. Depending on the size of the Amps in the panel, you might also need to have a service change done.
What you get as part of an electrical panel or service change
When you have a panel change done on your house, you will get a new electrical panel, new main electrical grounding will be replaced, and the water and gas bonds will be checked and upgraded, if applicable and necessary.
When you have a service change done on your house, we will not only be replacing the panel, but we will also change the wire that feeds the panel from the electrical meter in order to increase the new panel main breaker size. For example, if you only have 150 Amps at your existing panel, we will need to install a new meter and wire from the meter to the panel that is rated for 200 Amps to give you the extra load room in your panel. At this time, the meter the electric company reads will be replaced to meet current code. In total there are three pieces being updated: the meter, the wire between the meter and the panel, and the panel itself. Similar to a panel change, with a service change, new main electrical grounding will be replaced, and the water and gas bonds will be checked and upgraded, if applicable and necessary.
What homeowners should consider when getting an estimate for an electrical panel or service change
Be careful when obtaining an estimate for these services. Here are some points to consider when you are getting an estimate for a panel or service change.
- Is an electrical permit included in the estimate? Some companies send estimates that do not reflect a permit in an attempt to appear having a lower price than a competitor. You must have a permit for a panel or service change so make sure that is included in the estimate.
- How big (physically) is the panel that the company is going to install? Again, some companies will replace a panel with a new one that is not much bigger than the one currently in the house. This is to appear to have a lower price than a competitor. The truth is that the price difference between a “standard” panel and a nice bigger panel is quite small. If you are having your panel changed, always get the largest panel you can. With today’s technology and ever-updating codes relating specifically to breakers alone, the larger panel is the only way to go. It allows for future expansion. Also, the larger panel cools better and will be more manageable to work on due to the extra spacing.
- Does the estimate include new grounding and new water and gas bonds, if applicable? These should be included in all estimates for panel and service change.
Here is an example of how panels can be the same size in Amps but very different in physical size. Both those panels are rated for 200 Amps, but the one on the left is very small and can only hold so many breakers. The one on the right is a new one I was installing and you can see what a big difference there is between the two.
This picture shows you the three elements that get replace as part of a service change—a new meter was installed outside, plus the wire from the meter to the panel, and the panel inside the house. The meter in this picture is made of stainless steel and it was used because this house is at the beach. The stainless steel won’t rust like a standard meter would when exposed to the salty air.
As the owner of Classic Electric, I have done a lot of service changes and several hundred panel changes and upgrades. For me, the fun is replacing the panel with no drywall damage. It takes a lot of patience and very special tooling with many years of training to pull this off. I like the challenge! It is very much like taking apart a complicated jigsaw puzzle and reinstalling it in the same location. When you’re done, it looks like an updated version of what you started with. Yes, I can say this is when work can start to be fun!
Are you considering a residential remodel project, an electrical panel change or upgrade, or a garage or shop electrical project? Thomas Adams is an Oregon Master Electrician, with an Inspector Certification, who has over 25 years of experience in the industry and he would be happy to talk to you about your Sherwood electrician needs.