Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do You Have Enough Electrical Capacity to Handle an Appliance Upgrade? Know When It's Time to Upgrade Your Home Electrical Panel

The newest large-screen television …  an espresso machine … the wine refrigerator you always wanted.

Upgrading your appliances can make your life easier and provide new lifestyle options.  In addition, today's technology offers energy-saving devices that can significantly reduce your electric bill.  However, before upgrading it is important to consider the capacity of your home's electrical system to handle these new devices.

The first place to begin is your home's electrical panel.  This is the heart of an electrical system; it distributes electricity to each room, appliance and device.  Panels can experience problems at any age; however, the likelihood increases with time.  The life expectancy of an electrical panel is 30 to 40 years.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least 50 percent of homes  potentially have an obsolete electrical panel.  The signs of an aging or outdated panel can be difficult  to detect.  Perhaps a light  continually flickers or dims momentarily.  Maybe an outlet works intermittently, or perhaps you have circuit breakers which trip often.  One or more of these symptoms are indicative of a panel that may need  immediate attention.

“ Obsolete electrical panels can short out your refrigerator or that new television," Tim Emsley, owner of Bel-Red Electric, said.  "But a faulty electrical panel can lead to even bigger troubles.  They're one of the leading causes of home fires.  That's something no one wants to face."

While there are a variety of obsolete panels, many experts agree that there are two specific residential  panel types that should be inspected regularly:

1.       Federal Pacific (FPE) – There are more than 5 million of these panels in the U.S., and they are known to burn connection points, which can create overheating and increase fire risk. The (FPE) Company lost a class action lawsuit after the company violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards. Experts agree that Federal Pacific Electric panels fail to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.

2.       Zinsco ( Magnetrip, Sylvania) – this is a first generation circuit breaker panel installed from 1950 through the 1970s.  The manufacturer of these products was forced to stop production many years ago by the UL listing authorities because the panels do not operate properly.  In some cases, the breakers inside these old, obsolete panels will take a minute or more to turn off the power or may not trip at all. The panels are easily identified by the multi-color handles on the breaker switches.

Many Federal Pacific Electric and Zinsco panels, as well as other panel types installed in older homes, have been known to operate properly for years. But if and when they do malfunction, a disaster could occur.  That’s why experts recommend that homeowners have their homes evaluated by a licensed electrician at least once a year.  Home electrical systems, including panels, can change dramatically over the course of 12 months, and in so doing, potential safety hazards can develop.

If you have an older home – and especially if you plan to upgrade your electrical appliances – you should consider upgrading your electric panel, as well as the electrical wiring and other system components.  Older electrical systems were not designed to handle today's modern appliances.  Current technology can improve the safety and reliability of a home's electrical system and increase efficiency when using the latest appliances. 

In addition to problems with old or obsolete electrical panels, there are other things to consider before upgrading your appliances.  For example, older electrical systems were often designed for 60-amp (four fuses) or even 30-amp (two fuses) service.  Electrical upgrades can bring your home up to 100 or even 200-amp service. This extra capacity will be more than enough to handle modern electronics and appliances.

Additionally, older wiring can present safety hazards that can be corrected only by a wiring upgrade. Homes built before 1960 typically feature wiring wrapped in rubberized fabric that provides little insulation when the material becomes brittle and frayed. Substandard insulation can be a problem in crawlspaces and attics.  Homes built in the 1960s and 1970s frequently were built using aluminum wiring.  Aluminum wiring can loosen over time, causing electrical shorts and overheating that can lead to fires. 

Upgrading your electrical system will provide the infrastructure for a more satisfying lifestyle and insure a safe environment.  It is therefore critical to consult an expert before upgrading your appliances and other electrical devices.   Emsley pointed out that the technicians at Bel-Red Electric have the professional training, expertise and experience to evaluate a home's electrical panel and wiring as a critical step before upgrading electrical appliances.