Updated: Aug 27
Answers to all of your burning questions.....
What is an electrical circuit breaker panel?
This panel is essentially where electricity enters your home (from the local electric company) to be distributed to all of its electrical circuits. Electricity from nearby power lines enters your home via its electric meter, which is usually located somewhere on the outside of your home, and then travels from this meter into the electrical panel. In most homes, the electrical panel is located on a wall inside the garage. The electrical panel contains various breakers that protect all electrical circuits throughout the home.
Potential problems with electrical panels
*Panel does not conform to UL (Underwriter Laboratories) standards:
Underwriter Laboratories is essentially a 3rd party certification company that puts its seal of approval on certain home appliances. It sets rigorous safety standards for some products, such as electrical circuit breaker panels, and thus offers consumers and homeowners peace of mind. In purchasing a UL-certified panel, you can be confident that the panel can safely handle the electric current as stated and that it is constructed properly and with safety in mind. Non-UL panels pose a safety risk for homeowners, and as we always say, "safety first!"
*Older homes often contain FPE circuit breakers:
If your home was built between 1950 and 1980, you likely have a FPE (Federal Pacific Electric Company) electric panel. FPE panels contain safety issues -- most notably, they do not comply with Underwriter Laboratories (UL) guidelines and present a potential fire hazard for homeowners. If you have an older home, it's best to err on the side of caution and contact an electrician. Additionally, it is wise to replace all electrical panels, FPE and otherwise, every 20 to 30 years in order to maintain a high level of safety within your home.
*Electrical panel is too small for the home:
A red flag indicating that your electrical panel cannot handle the energy usage in your home is that fuses blow or circuit breakers frequently trip. This is inefficient and also a safety concern which increases your risk of an electrical fire. Electrical panels
are available in four sizes -- 100 amps, 125 amps, 150 amps, and 200 amps -- and an electrician can help you to identify the best size for your home and energy needs.
*Electrical panel contains too few circuits:
Another common problem is that a panel doesn't contain any blank spots for the addition of new circuits in the future. This presents a problem if a homeowner wants to build an addition onto the home, add additional outlets for electrical needs, or add a dedicated circuit for a newly-purchased appliance.
*Panel shows signs of corrosion:
Signs of corrosion on your electrical panel, such as rust, discoloration, or dripping water, definitely warrant a call to your neighborhood electrician. Corrosion indicates current or past moisture penetration, which poses a safety risk for homeowners or anyone who comes in contact with the panel. As we all know, water and electricity do not mix!
What's the difference between a fuse and a breaker?
In the past (pre-1960), electrical panels contained fuses rather than the contemporary breakers commonly seen today. Fuses are similar to breakers, but their primary disadvantage is that they need to be replaced every time they blow -- in other words, every time the circuit is overloaded with too much electricity. Breakers are safer, more economical, and more convenient for homeowners, because they simply need to be reset in the event of an overloaded circuit.
Safety is key when it comes to the health of your electrical circuit breaker panel. As always, we recommend regular maintenance by a qualified home inspector and/or electrician in order to ensure that your panel serves you well for years to come!