Why the Age of Your Electrical Panel Matters

There are several reasons the age of electrical panels matters, including the ability to safely perform for the building and its occupants. 

Understanding the age and shape of the electrical panel is essential to protecting the structural integrity of your home and minimizing fire risk. Just because all the lights and outlets work doesn’t mean things are okay.

Many of the homes Streamline Services works on were built in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. And while their electrical systems seem to work just fine, a closer inspection of the electrical panel and internal wiring tells a different story.

Replace & Inspect Electrical Panels Every 25 Years

If your electrical panel and system were designed and installed to code, it might function just fine for 10, 20, and even 40+ years afterward. However, after the 25-year point, the odds are you need a new panel.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Electrical systems 25 years old or more aren’t designed to handle current energy demands
  • Panels are built with better safety features to handle heavier loads and high-power appliances
  • We use different panels and wiring products, all of which are safer and more fire- and moisture-resistant
  • Older panels are not designed to accommodate the number of appliances and electrical devices used in the contemporary home

Once panels reach their 25th “birthday,” odds are they need replacement, especially if it was made by a lower-quality manufacturer or the manufacturer is out of business.

Signs Your Panel Needs to Be Replaced

1. You must use multi-outlets to meet power needs

Electricians install an electrical panel based on multiple factors, including the size of the home, building code specifics, and the average electricity needs at the time. So, a house built today has far more electrical outlets in every room and has proactive features to accommodate future needs (like EV charging stations, audio/video options in each bedroom, etc.).

However, older homes have fewer outlets and more electrical appliances and gadgets. The solution? Every outlet needs a multi-outlet extension or power strips to meet electrical needs. This overloads the circuits and is a recipe for electrical issues soon.

2. Flickering lights

Do your lights flicker every time multiple appliances are on simultaneously? Or maybe when the air conditioner or other “heavy load” appliance kicks on? Sometimes, you might notice them flicker for no reason or immediately after turning them on. Flickering lights are a sign of an overloaded panel or faulty wiring.

3. Circuits keep tripping

Are you often running to the panel to reset specific breakers that trip on a regular basis? This is most common in kitchens, where a coffee maker, stovetop, hood, and microwave may all be plugged into outlets on the same circuit.  You will often hear a click before the power goes out.  Then you need to reset the breaker to restore power.  

4. You don’t have GFCI outlets 

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) cut power to an outlet in the presence of water, protecting you from shock, electrocution, or potential fire risk. While you can replace regular outlets with GFCI counterparts, the lack of GFCIs couple probably means the panel was installed more than 25 years ago.

5. Electrical outlets feel warm to the touch

Areas surrounding electrical outlets and the panels should always feel cool to the touch. Turn off the main breaker and contact an electrician ASAP if you notice any of the following around electrical outlets or the panel:

  • Warmth
  • Heat
  • Smoke
  • A brown/black/grey discoloration indicating smoldering.
  • A burning smell (this might have a plastic or chemical smell due to burning wires, cloth wire covers, or other materials inside the walls).

All of these are a sign of danger and pose a significant fire threat. Faulty electrical panels and wiring are a leading cause of house fires in the U.S., so any of these signs require immediate attention.

6. Sparks or you get shocked

A brief spark may be visible when plugging/unplugging electrical cords – especially in a dark room. However, you should never see a shower of sparks or feel small shocks when using plugs or light switches. In most cases, this is a sign of faulty wiring – rather than a bad panel. But faulty wiring usually indicates an outdated panel, so sparking or shocks means it’s time to inspect the electrical system.

What Next?  

Are you worried your electrical panel is outdated or unable to keep up with the home’s electrical needs safely?  Homes with outdated electrical panels typically have issues in other major home systems, all of which are uncovered in the standard home inspection. It may be time to have Streamline Services come inspect your system.  Our electricians can help you determine which outdated home systems are ready for replacement.

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