How to Choose a New Electrical Breaker Panel For Your Home

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But first, what is an electrical breaker panel?

The electrical breaker panel is a large metal box attached to the outside of your home near your electric utility meter.  It acts as the main component for the flow of electricity supplied to your home from the utility company, and every home with utility-supplied electricity has some form of one.

How it works:

As the electricity is fed to your house from the utility company, it passes through the meter, through the supply system, then through your breaker box. As the electric lines enter the box, they are then broken into subsidiary circuits that are connected to fuses. The fuses help to protect your home from overloads.

If you constantly have to flip breakers or replace fuses due to overload, first make sure to check that the breakers or fuses themselves haven’t failed (it does happen sometimes).  If it is a continual problem after repair and/or troubleshooting, your overall usage may be pulling too much load and you may have to upgrade your panel.

Choosing the right breaker panel:

Not all breaker panels are created equal. Depending on the size of your home, the amount of electricity you need per room, the number of large appliances you will be running, and any additions you may add on in the future, picking the right replacement is important.

Factors to consider:

Amperage – Determine the amperage capacity of your home. Consider this: A home with 200-amp (ampere) capacity can run multiple large appliances at the same time with no problem; whereas 100 amps or less would just barely enable you to run a hot water heater, a stove, and a hair dryer at once.  Most homes these days are built with a 125-amp minimum, depending on square footage and other factors.

Breakers – You will need to know how many circuit breakers you will require in your new panel. Base it simply on your needs. Keep in mind that a circuit breaker is designed to bear only 80% of its rated capacity (ex. A 20-amp breaker is rated to bear a 16-amp load before kicking); this is a standard safety feature to prevent potential overloads. Locate the loads for each device/appliance (usually somewhere on the device itself or in the manual), and if amps are not stated, use this math formula to help you determine what you need:

Amps = Watts ÷ Volts.

Brand – Older homes built between the 1950’s-70’s sometimes have Federal Pacific Electric, Zinsco, Bryant or Westinghouse brand panels; these brands have been discontinued and are no longer installed due to various reliability and safety issues.  If you have one of these brands and you need a replacement, it will be replaced with General Electric, Eaton, or Square-D brand.

Procedure – Replacing or upgrading a panel takes approximately a half-day, and must be coordinated with the utility company and the city.  This type of job requires an electrical building permit and must have an inspection.  The power to your home will be shut off early in the morning by your utility company, and we will do the installation.  Please prepare for about ½-day to a full day with no electrical power.  Once complete, the city inspector checks the installation to ensure it is to code and the utility company turns your power back on.

For Austin residents: Please note that due to changing ordinances with the City of Austin and Austin Energy, additional fees may be assessed by the utility company for reconnecting the power.  We will do our best to keep you informed of such changes as we receive them.

Need help determining which electrical breaker panel suits your home, and how to install it properly? Contact us by phone (512) 554-6789 or email to find out how we can help you.


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