Electrical Panel Upgrade: Should You Replace the Entire Box?
If you live in an older home or just need to upgrade your electrical panel, there are some things you may want to consider before you move forward with the project. Here are some things to think about.
- A panel upgrade generally requires replacement of the entire breaker box and installation of new circuit breakers. You could reuse some of the old breakers unless you are upgrading the amp capacity as well.
- You may even have to upgrade the wires coming into your home from the power company. This upgrade may or may not be at your expense depending on the power company and their policies.
- In order to add more amp capacity, you will need new wiring in some sections. Replacing the panel box alone will not do the trick.
- You will need to consult an electrician or utility company representative in order to determine your load requirements.
Explore and consider all possibilities, including the ones above, when proceeding with electrical panel upgrades. Replacing and installing circuit breakers and new wiring can be expensive. It would be wise to do essential upgrades together in order to make it worth your time and money.
You can explore electrical devices, equipment, such as circuit breakers, and other parts at any hardware store. Keep in mind that obsolete models are more difficult to find.
Basic Steps for Installing a Circuit Breaker
The main reason for installing a new circuit breaker in an existing home is to take some of the load off of another circuit breaker. If one circuit breaker connects to too many electrical devices then it’s best to simply install another circuit breaker to split the burden.
Here is a step-by-step on how to install a circuit breaker:
- Shut Off the Power at the Main Panel
- It is extremely important to make sure the circuit breaker panels or sub-panels do not have any live wires
- Open the breaker panel once the power is shut off
- The large black wires that feed the main breaker will still be live. Therefore, you need to test the incoming wires with an electrical tester to make sure there is no electrical current in the wires that you will be touching
- This will help you make sure it is safe to begin installation
- Install a New Cable Clamp
- Locate the knockout around the panel and use a screw driver to hammer one of the knockouts so that you can screw the cable clamp in
- Next, run the new wire to the circuit panel and cut the wire off the jack to the circuit clamp
- Connect the Ground Wire into the Ground Bar
- The ground wire is the wire without insulation. The tightening should be done carefully in order to prevent the wire from breaking
- Place the Neutral Wire into the Neutral Bus
- Cut off the insulation around the end of the wire and slide the bare wire into the neutral bus, tightening it gently
- Install the Actual Circuit Breaker Device
- Loosen the screw on the bottom of the breaker and place the last wire under the screw – this wire will be black
- When the black wire is in place, tighten the screw and hold the wire in place. Use the three prongs on the backside of the circuit breaker to hold it in position
- Align the breaker in the space and push the prongs in. Make sure the breaker is secure
- Remove the knockouts from the panel cover. Place it over the circuit panel in order to secure and protect all of the circuit breakers.
* Homeowners who don’t have experience with electricity should not attempt to work with electrical wiring. A professional specializing in electrical procedures is the one that typically installs circuit breakers.
Circuit Breaker Installation: Electrical Wiring and Electrical Codes
New electrical wires or circuit breakers and other electrical equipment in the home need to meet the National Electrical Code (NEC). This electrical code is a nationwide set of requirements. Electrical work has to be up-to-code in order to pass an inspection. Most electrical work, like upgrading a circuit breaker panel or running new electrical wire in the house, requires a permit and city inspection. If you attempt to do major electrical changes in your home and do not get a permit, you could be subject to fines and other repercussions.
The purpose of the NEC code is to protect consumer and homeowners from dishonest contractors and wiring mistakes that could result in fire risk, electrocution, or fatal accidents. The electrical code is updated periodically and any new work is required to meet the new code specifications.
Circuit Breaker Panel Rough-in
During new construction, all electrical systems are roughed-in, but stay disconnected until they pass inspection and the house is far enough along in the building process to handle electricity. The circuit breaker panel is a “rough-in” until it is connected to the electrical system. It is important to speak with your electrician before the rough-in so that he can run the right wire size to allow a large amp rating and installation of the proper number of volts in the breaker panel.
Electrical capacity and voltage should be discussed ahead of time so that the electrician can plan the wire design and purchase the correct supplies. An electrical rough-in is created in the walls and interior of the home ahead of time so that they can build around the wires. The electrical wires or circuits are tied in at the circuit breaker panel along with the installation of switches, electrical outlets, etc during the final phase of construction.
Circuit Breaker Panel Upgrade: How Much Does it Cost?
Circuit panel upgrades can cost anywhere from $1500 to $2500 depending on the cost of labor in your area. Material costs are pretty standard no matter where you live but labor cost will vary. Installing a whole new circuit breaker box to replace a fuse box requires extensive new wiring procedures and circuit breaker installation. If you are paying for the project then you might as well make it worth your time and money by installing circuit breakers to handle a larger capacity.
Replacing a fuse box with new circuit breakers is not a DIY project – an electrician should definitely do this task. The project could take a professional anywhere from 6 to 10 hours to complete depending on the complexity of the rewire and the upgrade capacity. The expense may sting at the time of payment but the upgraded electrical system will be worth the money.
How Should You Test a Receptacle GFCI?
You can test your receptacle GFCI with the assistance of a small night light and a few simple procedures. It’s a must to test often to ensure optimum protection from this electrical device. Here are some ways to perform a test on your receptacle GFCI, which acts like a specialized electrical circuit breaker.
- Prepare the unit for testing by resetting it
- Test the electrical current by plugging in the light and turning it on. If the light works, the current is flowing
- Push the test button on the GFCI and the light should go off
- Touch the reset button again and the light will turn back on
Once you know the GFCI works, you can rest easy from possible danger. If the GFCI does not pass the test, you may want to seek the assistance of a qualified electrical professional.
How to Test Your Circuit Breaker GFCI
A circuit breaker GFCI is located in the circuit breaker box, which is typically in the basement or utility room of a home. Testing the GFCI breaker is important. Here are some steps to follow when testing your GFCI circuit breaker.
- Locate all of these types of breakers on your circuit breaker panel
- Make sure the breaker toggle is on. Then, press the test button on the circuit. This should cause the toggle switch to trip immediately
- Now reset and return the toggle to the on position to restore power
If your test is successful, your GFCI circuit breakers are working well. But if the test fails then you should consider pinpointing the problem and determine whether or not you need to install new circuit breakers in the circuit breaker panel.
Installing Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
The GFCIs are important circuit breakers to have in your home. They are required by code to be installed in certain areas of the house like the bathroom and kitchen where water may come into contact with electricity. These specialty circuit breakers protect against electrocution and other dangers. It is imperative to have reliable GFCIs in your house.
There are three ways to test the reliability of a GFCI:
- Use only certified GFCIs that have been tested by a nationally recognized company
- Hire an electrician to install the GCFI circuit breakers in your home
- Test your GFCIs after severe weather or once a month to make sure they are working correctly. Most GFCI outlets (like the ones in the bathroom) have “test” buttons
GFCI circuit breakers are essential. These devices can protect family members from electrocution. Test your GFCIs often and keep them in work order at all times. If you suspect malfunction or trouble with the GFCIs in your home, consult the advice of a professional so they could repair the problem immediately.
Tips for Upgrading the Circuit Panel
Circuit breaker installation in an older home is often necessary. If your home has a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker panel, you may want to upgrade. Switching to circuit breakers instead of fuses is not essential but sometimes the fuse panel can’t to handle the ampere load of everyday appliances and the high amp usage of new electrical equipment.
If you need to upgrade the capacity of your electrical system, you might as well install circuit breakers in the new electrical panel while you are changing the panel. Upgrading the amp capacity requires adding more wire to handle the larger amount of electrical current. Major changes and improvements should be done by a certified electrician who is familiar with new wiring procedures and electrical codes.
What are the Three Types of GFCI’s?
There are three types of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. The first most common type is a ‘receptacle type’ GFCI which is similar to a wall outlet. The second type is a circuit breaker GFCI that often replaces regular circuit breakers because of the GFCI protection it offers. The third kind is a temporary or “plug-in” GFCI. These are good for construction jobs and outside for equipment like lawn mowers, trimmer and other devices.
Each type of GFCI is useful and provides protection against electrical dangers. When installing circuit breakers in your home you should consider the GFCI circuit breakers for specific rooms and location in the home in order to ensure the safety of you and your family.