Your electrical service panel is the heart that powers your home, yet many people fail to understand when it’s time for an electrical service panel upgrade. You may have opened your panel when an appliance or light shuts off, but beyond that, you could be neglecting an old panel.
The truth is, your electrical service panel should be taken seriously. Why? Because its main job is to keep you and your family safe. A faulty panel could lead to electrical catastrophes and house fires. Therefore, it’s crucial to know when it’s time for an upgrade.
Our experienced electricians at Santa Fe Air understand how an old electrical service panel could damage a home. However, our expert advice has helped save many homeowners from future issues before it’s too late! To learn more, continue reading our guide on an electrical service panel upgrade in Kansas City.
What is an electrical service panel?
Understanding the basics of an electrical service panel is the best way to know if you need an upgrade to your own. One of the primary functions of your electrical panel is to distribute electricity from your utility company to the rest of your home. Circuit breakers inside the panel protect your electrical wires from drawing too much electricity by “tripping”, which protects your house from fires. Basically, your electrical service panel a crucial component to your home’s electrical system.
How your home’s electrical system works
All homes are set up differently, but for the most part, the electrical system is pretty much the same. Your electricity is provided by your utility company, which runs power to your home via overhead power lines or underground conduits. Those power lines or conduits connect to your home through the electric meter and main service panel. The two can either be together or separated depending on how your home was built.
Where to find your electrical service panel
For obvious safety reasons, an electrical service panel is usually away from areas with a lot of household activities. Because of this, you’ll usually find a panel in a:
- Pantry across from the kitchen
- Outside your home
You should always know where you panel is. Double check with a licensed electrician in Kansas City if you have trouble finding your electrical service panel.
Parts of an electrical service panel
At a glance, your electrical service panel looks like a metal box or cabinet. The main components include:
- An outer panel door that swings open
- Protective cover
- Thick lugs that connect to your utility company’s service drop*
- Wires that run from the circuit breakers to the rest of the house
*Note: The lugs are incredibly dangerous. A single shock can lead to serious injury or even death. Do not touch the wires coming from the lug. If you need help, always call an electrician instead of trying to do it yourself.
Main circuit breaker
Your main circuit breaker or main breaker is usually at the top of your panel, but it can also be found on the bottom or on the side of the panel. It controls the power to the smaller circuit breakers (we’ll discuss what these do a little later).
The main breaker controls the amount of electricity that comes in from the outside to protect others circuits. That means it has a switch that can turn off all the circuit breakers and turn them back on.
In addition, your main circuit breaker identifies your home’s amperage capacity. This is the maximum amount of electricity your breaker can provide to the rest of your home. Most modern homes will have 200 amp service, but it’s not uncommon to see 100 to 150 amps as well. Anything under 60 amps is now insufficient to power a modern home.
There are three types of bus bars you’ll find within your electrical service panel that work in different ways.
Hot bus bars
Hot bus bars receive power from two thick, black wires that bring power in from the electrical meter and carry them to the circuit breakers.
Neutral bus bars
A neutral bus bar connects to the panel’s neutral wire. The neutral wire is the point of contact for white wires that return electricity to the panel after it’s been distributed to the rest of the house. Depending on your home’s configuration, the neutral bar could be connected to the main grounding bar. In this case, it’s called a neutral/ground bar.
Grounding bus bars
Grounding bus bars connect all the grounding wires from the electrical service panel’s circuits to the ground bar.
Circuit breakers are stacked in the panel and have on and off switches. If a circuit pulls in too much electricity, the wiring gets too hot and can become a fire hazard. Fortunately, a well-functioning circuit breaker stops this from happening by shutting off a connection.
Types of circuit breakers include:
Single pole breakers usually have ratings of 15 or 20 amps and supply 120 volts. Most of your home’s circuits use these breakers.
Double-pole breakers have a wider range of ratings. Ratings can be between 15 and 50 amps and supply 240 volts. Double-pole breakers are usually reserved for circuits that serve larger appliances such as stoves and air conditioners.
Ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) breakers
A ground fault is when a faulty circuit seeks a path in the ground that’s outside the wire system. If you touch that circuit, you may become the easiest path to the ground, leading to electrical shock. GFCI breakers prevent any kind of shock hazards by protecting circuits from ground faults.
Arc-fault circuit-interrupter (AFCI) breakers
AFCI breakers protect a circuit from arc faults. An arc fault is caused by loose wires that connect and cause a spark or “arc.” Whenever you hear a light switch or outlet buzzing or hissing, it’s because arcing is happening. If you’re not careful, arcing can cause fires to erupt.
History of electrical service panels
Electrical service panels have changed a lot throughout the years, and some homes still have older versions. To figure out if you need an electrical service panel upgrade in Kansas City, it’s best that you’re aware of how they’ve transformed. There could be a modern version out there that’ll better serve you and your family.
The first electrical panel
In 1900, electrical panels were made up of fuses (made of cartridge or glass vials with metal filaments) instead of breakers. These fuses plugged into the service panel to provide electricity to a home or building. The metal filament would melt if it got too hot, cutting off the circuit’s power. The process was innovative for the time, but now…not so much.
Back then, fuses could only supply 30 to 60 amps, which would do nothing for our home’s today.
The rise of circuit breakers
By the 1960s, circuit breakers replaced fuse panels and became the norm that we use today. Whenever a fuse melted, it would have to be replaced. The advantage of a circuit breaker is that you just have to reset it when it shuts off, meaning you’ll spend less time and money to turn a circuit back on.
Early circuit breakers also expanded power to 100 amps or more to keep up with the growing, electrical world.
Outdated electrical service panels
Some electrical service panels are so outdated that they are a huge risk to you and your family. Specifically there are three types of panels that you should replace if you have one.
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels
FPE panels were extremely popular from 1950-1980 and were installed in millions of homes in the U.S. Unfortunately, the circuit breakers won’t trip when they’re supposed to, leading to overheating and house fires.
Zinsco panels, also known as GTE-Sylvania panels, were popular in the 1970s, so many homes still have them. Often times the circuit breakers melt into the main bus bar, which means they’ll never trip. Again, that leads to a huge fire hazard that you may not see coming.
The pushmatic name comes from the way you have to shut off a circuit. Instead of using a switch, the ITE-Pushmatic panel has rectangular buttons you have push in to activate or deactivate the circuit.
They aren’t necessarily a fire hazard, but the company did go out of business. That means finding parts will be expensive and you can never add new circuits to your electrical service panel.
Signs you need an electrical service panel upgrade
Just because you don’t have one of the three panels listed above, it doesn’t mean you don’t need an electrical service panel upgrade. Even newer panels require service and should be inspected regularly to ensure that they’re working properly.
Your panel uses fuses instead of circuits
Not to say that fuses don’t work, because they do. But fuses also cause a lot more hassle and time that you could avoid by upgrading to a circuit breaker panel. This is because every time a fuse goes out, it has to be replaced, making them only good for one-time use. Plus, they were designed when homes didn’t use as much electricity, and you could be over exerting your system without realizing.
Your panel has faulty wiring
Faulty wiring can lead to fires, and the older your home is, the higher the risk. If you haven’t gotten an inspection in a while, definitely contact an electrician to take a look at your wiring. Some signs to watch for include:
- Flickering lights
- Dimming lights
- A burning smell that doesn’t go away
- Sparking outlets
- Discolored outlets
- Feeling a slight shock when you touch appliances
You’re installing new appliances
This doesn’t mean you need an upgrade every time you get a new microwave or toaster. But for bigger appliances like air conditioners or anything that requires a lot of power, your panel may require more power. You don’t want to plug in something new, just to find that the circuit shuts off immediately.
You want a head start
You never know what’s going to happen in the future, so it’s never a bad time to get an electrical service panel upgrade in Kansas City. That way, you’ll be ready for any changes you want to make to your home later down the road. It’s also great to add value to your home.
Best company for an electrical service panel upgrade in Kansas City
If you’re in the Kansas City or Johnson County area, Santa Fe Air can take care of everything you need for an electrical panel upgrade. An upgrade should be done by a licensed electrician, which we will provide along with phenomenal customer service. We will always put your needs first instead of trying to upsell for our benefit.
Since 1987, we’ve been a company that Kansas City area residents can trust. It’s time to give your panel the upgrade you and your family deserves.