When was the last time your home had an electrical safety inspection? If it’s been several years, or you can’t remember when, then a checkup is overdue.
An electrical inspection should be a priority before starting any remodeling project; after purchasing a home; if a home is older than forty years; and when adding any new household appliances.
A licensed electrician’s safety checklist will include your home’s entire electrical system — all wiring, appliances and related components. The review will outline ways to improve home safety and identify faulty installation and/or worn out and potentially hazardous materials.
Older Homes: Safety First!
Age-related electrical issues are common with older homes, those hovering around 40 years or more. Things wear out. And some materials and practices once thought to be safe and effective have proven to be otherwise. To maintain your home’s integrity take action after you witness dimming lights, see the aftermath of burned wires, or experience the regular tripping of circuit breakers.
Some fixes may be low cost and quick to remedy by a handy do-it-yourselfer. Hopefully, your checklist will only entail small adjustments that bring quick-and-ready solutions. But this is not always the case; electrical problems are often hidden behind walls and take a bit of investigation to figure out; some have more costly solutions. For larger, more complex projects such as rewiring or a panel-box upgrade, hire a licensed electrician.
The electronic-gadget age has indeed crept up on us rather suddenly. Ever find yourself using several appliances all at once, and charging a laptop, tablet and/or smart phone simultaneously? Did you notice the lights dim? A breaker shut off? There is often a simple solution, like an appliance needing a dedicated circuit. But it may signal a larger issue and it might be time to rewire your home.
Older homes were typically built with 60-amp electrical systems and may lack the electrical capacity to handle a bevy of high-tech devices. Newer homes generally have 100, 150 or even 200-amp systems, which allow for a greater flow of electricity.
Here are three important reasons to replace an electrical panel box:
1. Your Home Has a Fuse Box
Many homes built prior to the 1950s are equipped with fuses rather than circuit breakers. Fuses remain safe, except when they are replaced with the wrong size. If your home has a fuse box, replace it with a circuit-breaker panel. Some insurance companies may even require the upgrade.
2. You Have a Faulty Electrical Panel
There is no mystery here — or shouldn’t be. Old circuit panels will often present warning signs of impending failure. If any of these indicators are present, you may need to replace your home’s electrical circuit panel:
- Circuit breakers that fail to trip
- Flicker or dimming lights
- The inability to use multiple appliances at once
- Charred or melted wire
- If your home uses a 60-amp electrical service
3. You’ve got a Federal Pacific Electric Panel
If your home is equipped with a Federal Pacific Electric panel box replace it. Federal Pacific’s Stab-Lok model was installed in millions of homes nationwide through the 1970s and has a dubious history. FPE breakers can work for years without issue, then fail to trip, overheat and become a fire hazard.
New Wiring: Capacity, Convenience and Safety
What about safety? . . . Residences before 1950 used knob-and-tube wiring. Even today, this type of wiring works well, and is generally safe, though arcing (sparking) can occur and short a system or cause a fire. Faulty wiring is a leading cause residential fires in the United States.
And there are other safety risks. A home built in the 1960s and 1970s may be wired with aluminum, a cheaper—and potential dangerous substitute— for copper. Aluminum wire corrodes when coming in contact with copper and may unravel, causing arcing and fire. (Note: There are effective solutions to prevent this, other than replacing all the aluminum wire.)
Whatever electrical issues you suspect, before taking action, get sound advice from a seasoned pro. Rewiring a home can be disruptive process (most wiring is hidden behind walls) and a costly endeavor as compared to a panel upgrade or other simpler electrical repairs. A complete service upgrade, which includes a panel upgrade and rewiring, is best undertaken as part of major room remodel (e.g., kitchen or new addition) or complete home renovation.