They just don't make 'em like they used to—and that applies to panel boxes. Many older homes are known to have panel boxes that are now woefully inadequate for today's needs. Older homes used to come equipped with 60 or even 30 amp capability, whereas today's homes may have up to 200 amp service. Before you buy an older home, it's important to familiarize yourself with the issues surrounding older panel boxes, so you can make arrangements to upgrade if necessary, either before buying the house or directly after.
How much does a panel box upgrade cost?
The average cost for a breaker panel upgrade is between $924 and $1395. The cost will depend on the size of the panel box, the cost of the labor and the location where services are taking place. If the home needs wiring upgrades and meter upgrades, this could add to the cost as well.
What's the minimum amperage expected of a normal household today?
This really depends. Many modern homes will come with a minimum of at least 100 amps and will probably include several open circuits on the panel box. To find out the amperage for the home you're thinking about purchasing, speak with a qualified electrician. When you meet with the electrician, be sure to tell him about any major remodels you're planning to take on once you buy the house.
What are the consequences of not upgrading the panel box?
The worst-case scenario would be an electrical fire. Overloaded electrical circuits are designed to shut down before they combust, but if the entire panel box is overloaded, a fire could be the result. If you do decide not to get the panel box replaced, watch for signs of overload when you move into your new home. The panel box may make a crackling noise, or the lights in the house may dim periodically.
If I decide to get the work done, how long will it take?
Upgrading your panel box will likely take the better part of a day, but that will depend on the amount of work that needs to be done.
If you're buying an older home, have the panel box inspected before finalizing the purchase. Have an electrician make recommendations for upgrades, and if you plan to ask the current owner for a credit for repairs at the close of escrow, have the electrician write you a quote.