February 13, 2024

The Energy-Efficient Home: Why and When to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel

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8 Min. Read

With technology playing an increasing role in our world and our lives, having a resilient energy infrastructure is crucial to the adoption of newer technologies and the seamless integration of electricity-fueled appliances, devices, and vehicles.

Your home’s electrical panel is a central hub that draws power from the grid and distributes it to different circuits. A performing and reliable panel is vital for optimizing your electrical infrastructure and preparing for tomorrow’s electrification projects.

In the following article, we’ll discuss how to upgrade your electrical panel at home and what to consider before investing in an energy-efficient upgrade.

The Vital Role of the Electrical Panel

Your electrical panel or breaker box connects your home to the power grid. Power comes in through service wires and enters your home through the panel. It is then distributed to the different circuits in your home while fuses or breakers prevent overloading.

Your panel impacts the performance of your home’s electrical system and its capacity determines how much power your home can draw. An old or malfunctioning panel can lead to higher energy bills or increase the risks of electrical fires.

As with any electrical device or appliance, panel maintenance is crucial for ensuring optimal performance and preventing avoidable malfunctions. During routine checks, a professional will ensure that your panel is still adapted to your needs. It must also meet the latest safety requirements outlined in the National Electrical Code (NEC).

Replacing your old panel with a newer model is an opportunity to increase the total amperage of your home’s electrical infrastructure. You can also invest in a smart electrical panel to introduce digital functionalities and greater control over your energy use.

The smart electrical panel market is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 6% over the next decade. This technology will introduce new functionalities in modern homes, such as collecting energy consumption data, controlling which circuits are receiving power, or integrating additional components like renewable energy sources or battery storage.

Signs Your Electrical Panel Needs an Upgrade

Before researching how to upgrade your electrical panel, you should ask yourself whether replacing your old electrical panel makes sense.

With more than 46,000 electrical fires reported each year, replacing an old or malfunctioning electrical panel should be a priority. An aging electrical panel can fail to shut circuits off when overloading occurs, resulting in arcing that can cause house fires.

Common signs of an aging electrical panel include higher energy bills and breakers tripping more often than they should. You might notice signs of corrosion on the panel or unusual sounds and smells coming from the panel. Lights might also dim or flicker when another circuit draws power. Having an electrician inspect your electrical panel can help prevent electrical fires, other property damages, and even injury or death.

Changing electrical needs is another reason to consider an electric panel upgrade. An electric panel with a 100-amp capacity can deliver a total load of 24,000 watts. Breakers limit the load to 80% of a circuit’s capacity for safety reasons. That means your electrical system will only draw a total load of 19,200 watts if you have a 100-amp panel. While this may be sufficient for smaller homes with only a few electrical appliances, it is unable to meet the energy demands of a more electrified home with heating and cooling, electric-powered appliances, or even electric vehicle charging.

Upgrading an old panel with a 200-amp amp will double this capacity and allow for more energy-intensive applications. For instance, a Level 2 EV charger can draw up to 80 amps, and an electric furnace typically requires 60 to 80 amps. As more households adopt these modern electrification solutions, a panel upgrade is a crucial step in future-proofing your home.

Benefits of Upgrading Your Electrical Panel

Replacing an old electrical panel typically costs a few thousand dollars, but can be more depending on your existing infrastructure, current and future panel size, and any other needs your home may have as you upgrade and enhance your electrical panel.

Although the cost to replace your electrical panel may seem significant, this investment has several benefits.

Safety

A new panel will improve the safety of your electrical infrastructure. Besides reducing the risk of electrical fires, it will protect wiring and appliances from overloading.

You’ll also have the peace of mind that your electrical system meets the latest requirements from the NEC.

Electrification Needs

Cleaner energy sources are increasingly replacing fossil fuels.

At the residential level, the electrification trend translates into adopting electric heat pumps, installing EV chargers, or investing in multifunction kitchen appliances and electric water heaters.

Many homes will need a panel upgrade to meet this growing need for electricity and replacing your electrical panel today will help to ensure your home is prepared for the next wave of energy transition technologies.

Energy-Efficiency

Modern electrical panels use a distribution switchboard to monitor energy usage precisely and control how much power a circuit can draw. This feature can help reduce energy usage by preventing appliances from drawing more power than needed.

Additionally, a smart electrical panel can help you determine any areas of your home you may need to update, monitor when a device is not operating at maximum efficiency and may need repairs or replacement, and even alternate between various power sources such as energy generated by solar panels or stored in a battery storage device or bidirectional-capable electric vehicle.

Property Value

A new panel will make your home more appealing and increase its value as more buyers desire future-proofing in anticipation of electrification projects and energy transition technologies.

How to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel

Have a professional electrician assess your home’s electrical infrastructure, perform a load calculation based on current and future energy needs, and discuss your options based on their analysis and recommendations.

Replacing an old panel may be necessary, but depending on your needs and reasons for replacing the electric panel there may be alternatives, such as upgrading an existing panel with a load management device or adding a sub-panel. These alternatives can help limit how much power some circuits draw while prioritizing other applications, essentially allowing you to determine how your energy is used to power more critical appliances or home energy needs.

If you opt for a new panel, a licensed contractor will pull the necessary permits before disconnecting the old panel. They can install and connect the new electrical panel, test it to ensure it is fully operational and efficient, and perform additional upgrades if needed, such as installing an emergency shut-off switch or replacing old wiring.

Hiring a licensed electrician is crucial. There are strict building and electrical requirements to follow, and investing in quality labor ensures you will get the most out of this upgrade.

DIY vs. Professional Upgrades

Even if you’re comfortable with DIY projects, attempting to upgrade an electrical panel on your own isn’t a good option or a safe decision. The transformer sending power to your home delivers 120V or 240V of service, which is enough to be deadly in case of electrical shock.

Your home’s electrical infrastructure is complex and requires careful calculations to choose the right wire gauge and breaker ratings. Failing to select the right materials or install them properly is a serious safety risk, and an electrical fire can happen if you make a mistake.

Following the NEC as well as any additional local electrical and building codes is best left to the professionals to avoid costly, and potentially deadly, mistakes. If you fail to meet these requirements, you will have to pay for additional upgrades and may even void your homeowner’s insurance policy, leaving you with the full cost of any damages or injuries.

Financing Options and Incentives

Upgrading your electrical panel comes with an upfront cost, but there are incentives and financing options to explore.

Thanks to the 25C Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit, you can claim up to 30% of the project’s cost with a limit of $600 as a nonrefundable tax credit. The Department of Energy is also distributing funds to support state programs that cover the cost of wiring upgrades and other projects. You might qualify for additional programs at the local or utility level.

If you’re looking for financing, you can apply for a Home Equity Line of Credit or a home renovation loan. Some lenders also offer specialized loans with lower rates for energy-efficient home upgrades.

Future-Proof Your Home With a New Electrical Panel

Your electrical panel is a central hub that manages the connection between your home and the power grid. Maintaining and updating your panel is important for safety reasons, but you might also want to consider a panel upgrade as your electrification needs change and you look towards energy transition technologies such as a Level 2 EV charger installation or even solar panel integration within your home.

The first step is to have a professional assess your home’s electrical structure. A licensed expert will be able to answer all your questions about how to upgrade your electrical panel and discuss your options based on the needs and preferences you have for your home.

Finding a qualified and trustworthy electrician can be challenging, but Qmerit can help. With over 86,7000 electrical panel upgrades completed, Qmerit’s nationwide network of licensed electricians and professional electrical contractors is proud to have earned the title of the most trusted installation network in North America.

We are helping thousands of households like yours prepare for the future of electrification and have earned our reputation for excellence by providing the highest level of quality, safety, and customer care through our professional energy transition services for homeowners, businesses, fleets, and communities across the U.S. and Canada.

Contact Qmerit today to be connected with one of our licensed, trained, and fully background-checked and vetted local electricians to review your electrification needs and discuss a potential panel upgrade.

Author: Greg Sowder

Greg Sowder

President, Qmerit Network