When, How, and Why to Upgrade Your Home’s Electrical System

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Most of us don’t really think about our home’s electrical system until the power goes out.

It’s easy to take it for granted, living behind the walls, at your command with the flip of a switch. Imagine it in the same way your body has a circulatory system, carrying vital power to all of the fixtures, appliances, entertainment products, tools, and more, every day, just as arteries carry vital blood throughout the human body. At the heart of it all, your home’s electrical panel, which houses the circuit breakers for each major living space and appliance.

And like the human body, it ages over time. Circuits give out, wiring breaks down, and new safety regulations demand upgrades. The better “health” your electrical panel is in, the better your circulatory (electrical) system will work throughout your house.

What Is the First Step in Upgrading an Electrical System?

The first focus should be your electrical panel.

  1. By upgrading your panel, you will increase the amount of power you can bring in to the home from your utility provider.
  2. You’ll also want to upgrade (replace) your existing power meter to handle the new specs of your upgraded electrical panel.
  3. If you opt not to upgrade the entire electrical panel, replace any old circuit breakers inside your existing panel that are antiquated, damaged or unsafe.

These three steps should improve the performance of the electrical wiring (those vital arteries we mentioned) throughout your home due to better power distribution and control. You’ll also want to add dedicated circuits to large appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioning units, etc. You can create and control zones within your home to better distribute your power load throughout the house. You’re no doubt familiar with a circuit “tripping” or shutting off if it becomes overloaded. Circuit breakers do this to prevent power surges that can damage appliances, electronic devices, fixtures and outlets. Breakers also stop wires from overheating and mitigate the risk of a potentially deadly fire.

Quick Question…How Old Is Your Home?

If your home is more than 40 years old, safety is a big concern with your electrical system. Older homes were often designed to leverage 30, 50 or 60 amps across just a few circuits. The standard for household power used to be 60 amps, however, modern homes require as much as 200 amps to power all of the computers, high-definition televisions, entertainment systems, climate comfort systems and other “luxuries” we can’t live without. In fact, 40 years is high-end of a circuit breaker panel’s life span. The average is usually closer to 25-35 years. If your home is more than three or four decades old, we’re confident your electrical system could use a professional inspection and retrofit. At On Time Electrical, we provide in-home consultations every day on the best way to bring your home’s electrical system up-to-date safely and affordably.

Other warning signs your electrical system needs attention:

  • Your lights dim when you turn on powered items in your home, such as appliances or large electronics.
  • You use extension cords or adapters to increase the load you put on the few outlets you do have in the house. (This may also be because you don’t have enough three-pronged outlets). This is dangerous. Please don’t do it!
  • You see/feel a spark when plugging something into an outlet.
  • You smell smoke or “something burning” around an outlet (or it feels warm to the touch).
  • There is dark discoloration on an outlet.
  • An outlet feels loose when you plug/unplug a cord.

Upgrade Your PanelTypes of outlets to consider for your upgrade:

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)

These types of outlets are most common where there is a risk of water getting into the outlet, such as a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room. You will know if an outlet is a GFCI because it will have two buttons, red and black, for “test” and “reset”. GFCI outlets will immediately turn off the electrical circuit inside it when a shock hazard is present.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)

These outlets visually look a lot like the GFCI outlets because they, too, have “test” and “reset” buttons, however, AFCI outlets reduce the risk of sparking or fire by monitoring the current load and automatically shutting off if a spike occurs. Most outlets will have a label that indicates whether they are AFCI or GFCI. You can also get arc fault protection in circuit breakers, as well as in outlet form. Your On Time Electrical expert will be able to recommend the best configuration for your home, taking into account any local electrical ordinances and codes.

Tamper-resistant receptacles (TRR)

TRR outlets do exactly what their name states; they prevent non-plug objects from being inserted into the outlet (think of a paper clip, safety pin, bobby pin, small items that a curious child might stick into an outlet slot). TRR outlets require that pressure be applied equally to the top two slots of the receptacle in order for an appropriate plug to insert properly. National Electrical Code mandates TRR outlets in new home construction, however, older homes may not have them. This is certainly an upgrade you will want to make as soon as possible, if there are small children in the home.

Other types of outlets your On Time Electrical professional can provide:

  • Recessed outlets—these are set back so the outlet’s front is smooth with the wall, useful in tight spaces and behind furniture.
  • USB outlets—forget searching for “the cubes” that always go missing, this outlet comes with its own USB slot for charging electronics and phones.
  • LED night-light outlets—get the same nightlight convenience without losing a receptacle to a separate nightlight.

Now, Let’s Answer Your Real Question…How Much Will This All Cost?

Based on your home’s requirements from a code standpoint, a safety standpoint and a quality of life standpoint, you could be looking at just a few hundred dollars, or several thousand. We know that’s not an ideal answer if you’re trying to budget for an electrical upgrade, so at On Time Electrical we offer consultations and assessments to create a customized, cost-effective electrical upgrade for your home.

Just as renovating a bathroom or kitchen, replacing a roof, or installing a new HVAC system will give you a good return at resale, so too will updating your home’s electrical system. It’s critical that the work is done properly, professionally and within all city, county, state and federal code guidelines. Electrical work is not suited for DIY work.

Call On Time Electrical customer service 24/7 at (704) 675-7400. You can also visit us online anytime at www.itselectriccharlotte.com. Check out our weekly and monthly specials, plus we waive the service call fee on ANY repair! Locally owned and operated, we’re On Time Electrical. It’s electric!