Most people don't give their electrical panel a second thought until a circuit trips and they need to go turn the power back on. While, for the most part, this is just fine, you still need to evaluate its condition every few years and determine if it is time for an upgrade.
How Old Is The Panel?
If your home was built before 1974 it is likely you will need the panel replaced, if it hasn't been already. These are easy to spot because they use fuses instead of breakers. While they do technically still do the job they were meant to do, the proper fuses are getting harder and harder to come by. In many cases, homeowners must choose between going without power and bypassing the fuse, causing a fire hazard. In addition, due to the age of the panel, corrosion can be a serious issue. Corroded panels can fail even without a power surge, or worse, they can start on fire.
There are a couple of newer models that no longer conform to modern standards, and also must be replaced. Your electrician will let you know if you have them in to evaluate the home, or you can take a picture of your panel and compare it to online guides.
How Much Power Can It Handle?
The number of electronic devices in the average home has skyrocketed in recent years. A few decades ago, this type of usage was simply unheard of. For this reason, an older panel might simply be unable to handle the load properly, even if it is in good condition. In fact, upgrading the panel is often a requirement before installing many modern appliances. Rather than waiting to find out at the last minute you need a new panel for your new furnace to run properly, take the plunge and get it upgraded now.
While you are having the work done, you should also seriously consider having a bypass put in. These must be installed by a professional contractor, so having them done at the same time will save you a visit from the electrician. These systems are used for backup electrical systems, from solar power, battery backups, or gas generators. The bypass prevents power from leaking back onto the grid during an outage, which could be extremely hazardous to workers trying to repair the problem. Without the bypass, any solar panels you add to your home can't run during a power outage, even if the sun is shining.
Have You Done Any Additions To The House?
A panel only has so many slots, and each one has a limit on how much power it can handle. You've probably had the experience of a home where you can't do certain things at the same time (maybe the breaker would trip if someone tried to microwave something while the washing machine was running, for example). The main reason this happens is because the panel is too small for the amount of usage. Each area of your home needs to have a separate circuit, and major appliances all need their own. A home with additions can easily push the limits of what a breaker box can handle. If you are starting to have issues with too many items on a single circuit, you need to upgrade to a bigger panel, and have the electrical reworked so that you have enough isolation between the various parts of your home.
A new electrical panel is not something you will need very often, but it does happen. If you are unsure, or you have just purchased an older home, it is worth having an electrician come by to make sure your panel is in good condition. If not, replacement is simple and inexpensive. The peace of mind is well worth the cost. Check out a website like http://aaaeinc.com/ for more information.