Is Your Electrical Panel Safe?

If your electrical panel has fuses rather than circuit breakers, safety can be an issue. Even some electrical panels equipped with circuit breakers can pose safety hazards and need to be upgraded.

Another reason to upgrade your electric panel is if it’s too small. To say it’s “too small” means it doesn’t supply enough power. One sign of insufficient power is that fuses are frequently blowing or circuit breakers are flipping off. Or possibly, a contractor has told you that your home or business needs more power for a new air conditioner or other installation.

What is an electrical panel?

The power from the electric utility company flows through large wires to your home and into the panel, a large metal box with fuses or circuit breakers inside. The panel controls the flow of electricity throughout the house, cutting the flow with fuses or circuit breakers if power levels rise too high.

If you think of your home electrical system as having branches and twigs like a tree, your electrical panel is the tree trunk. From the panel, the current flows into major electrical branches which dwindle into smaller and smaller branches and twigs, serving every part of your home.

An electrical panel may also be called a:

  • Breaker box
  • Circuit breaker panel or box
  • Power breaker
  • Fuse box or board
  • Electrical box or service
  • Panel board
  • Residential service
  • Service panel
  • Main panel
  • Distribution board

These all mean the same thing.

How do fuses and circuit breakers work?

If too much power were to flow into the wires in your home, they could melt and a fire could start. If you were to accidentally touch a damaged overloaded wire, you could receive an electrical shock.

To prevent more electrical flow than the wires are designed for, your electrical service panel is supposed to detect the problem and stop the flow immediately. In older electrical panels, a fuse blows. In newer ones, a circuit breaker flips off. Both fuses and circuit breakers are designed to break the circuit and cut the power to wires. Properly functioning circuit breakers (or fuses) are vital for your family’s safety and the safety of your home. Click here for more information about how to get the power back on if a circuit breaker has flipped off.

How do I know if my electrical panel is too small and should be upgraded?

If circuit breakers are flipping or fuses are blowing often, it likely means that your electrical system needs enlargement, including possibly a panel upgrade. Here are common situations which call for enlarging an electrical system:

  • A move to a house with an old undersized service
  • Adding central air conditioning
  • Adding an oven, hot tub, spa, power equipment in your garage, etc.
  • A room addition
  • A kitchen renovation

Fuse Boxes

Older electrical panels have fuses rather than circuit breakers. In the days when fuse boxes were installed, homes needed considerably less power. Many fuse boxes were designed to handle 30-60 amps of power whereas the appliances and electronics in today’s homes often require 100-200 amps of power or more.

Fuse boxes may become overloaded, blowing fuses and shutting down your appliances. This is an inconvenience, and there’s a temptation to buy larger fuses so that they won’t blow so often. But, oversized fuses can allow overloading and overheating of wires. Occasionally, someone will have put a penny in the opening to replace a blown fuse. This can really create a fire hazard because a penny can’t break the circuit.

A little known danger of fuse boxes is that homeowners can accidentally stick their fingers into the fuse opening, possibly while changing the fuse, and be electrocuted. The safe solution is to upgrade with modern circuit breakers.

Circuit Breaker Brands

Specific brands of circuit breakers, especially those installed in earlier decades, have been found to deteriorate with age and pose a safety hazard. You can go to the free website Inspectopedia  and search on the brand of your circuit breaker to check its safety.

If you want to learn more about electrical panels, including some unsafe brands, click here. You can also ask us to check out your electrical panel. Call us 8-5 at (800) 990-9490. The Electric Connection provides free over-the-phone estimates and free home inspections, including checking the safety and sizing of your panel, with every electrical job. We look forward to talking with you.

Kim Hopkins

CEO, The Electric Connection