As older home electrical specialists, we are often asked the following questions:
Q: How much does it cost to upgrade my electrical panel? What will it cost to rewire my home?
A: The price to upgrade an electrical panel is a question that cannot be answered precisely without an onsite visit by a qualified licensed electrician or electrical contractor. There are many variables that affect the cost of upgrading your homes electrical system. Some of the factors are the location of the panel, will Wisconsin Energy allow the replacement to be in the same location or will it need to be relocated? Is the panel recessed or surface mounted? Is the power in your neighborhood underground or overhead? How many Amps do you need for your new service? Do you need a 100 Amp upgrade? 125? 200? 400? How many circuits are already in your home and do you want to add more? If so, how many? What electric appliances do you currently have? Do you plan to add a spa, A/C or a pool? What are your walls made of? Is there attic or crawlspace access? How many plugs are already there? Do you need to add more? What is the condition of the existing wiring? Sometimes the wires are still in good condition and you can add more modern wiring for your appliances without needing to replace the older wires.
In Wisconsin, the cost of upgrading an electrical panel varies widely. We have seen prices range from $1800 all the way to over $5000. Most reputable and experienced licensed electrical contractors will be in the $2700- $4000 price range depending on the exact circumstances of your home and your electrical requirements. Many low budget operators take shortcuts such as installing a new panel next to or on top of (not legal) your existing panel. We have seen budget upgrades where the old panel was left in the wall and the wires passed through into the new box. We have seen new boxes installed that appear to be an upgrade but the wires were not relocated or the size of the wire was not upgraded. This is not considered a good practice and does not meet electrical code requirements. Most homeowners would not know the difference if someone did a subpar electrical panel upgrade. In many cases the homeowners have to have the work completely redone at a later date. That is why we always recommend that you check out any contractor you consider hiring thoroughly. Upgrading your electrical system is a major expense and improvement to your home and you want to be sure that it is done properly. Here is a link to a discussion on this topic.
Q: How do I know if my electrical system needs to be upgraded? What are the signs and symptoms?
A: There are a number of reasons why you may need to consider replacing or upgrading your electrical panel. Often homeowners upgrade because there is not enough electrical power (amps) coming into the home. If your circuit breaker box is completely full and you want to add new circuits for a pool, spa, air conditioner, tools or if you are tripping breakers and need more circuits then upgrading to add more amps is the only way. Other common reasons for replacing electrical panels are damage to the panel and to replace obsolete and dangerous brands of electrical panels such as Zinsco and Federal Pacific panels. If your panel has certain types of damage, the only safe option is replacement of the panel. In some cases panel replacement may not be required. Sometimes we can do a panel restoration where the internal parts of the panel are cleaned and all the breakers are replaced with new ones. For more information on older home electrical systems please visit: http://inspectapedia.com/electric/Zinsco.htm
Q: What is involved in upgrading my electrical system? How long will it take? How much does it cost?
A: Upgrading your electrical system is a time consuming process. However an experienced contractor should be able to complete most if not all of the process in a single day. That is just for the panel replacement. First the power is disconnected either by the electrician or FPL. Then the old panel is removed from the wall. The new panel is installed, all new circuit breakers are installed and the wires from the circuits in the home are reconnected to the new circuit breakers. A new ground rod should also be installed and if you have over -head service a new service riser is installed as well. Once those steps are complete the power can be reconnected by the electrical contractor or FPL. Many electricians do not patch holes so you will need to hire a stucco company to patch the hole. The process of removing the old panel and replacing it with a new one usually takes 1 or 2 electricians an entire day. If all goes smoothly you will have your power restored by mid to late afternoon the same day. Patching and additional electrical work if required take longer. Typical costs for a panel upgrade range from $2700- $4000 depending on a variety of factors.
Q: Do I need a new electrical panel?
A: Only a licensed electrician or electrical contractor can answer this for you. Electrical panels have useful a lifespan of about 25 years. We see panels that are 50 years old and older on a regular basis. If your panel is 20 years old or older, you should have a panel safety inspection to avoid a possible fire hazzard.
Q: What will it cost to rewire my entire house?
A: The cost to rewire an entire house can vary widely. The factors that will determine the cost include, the number of circuits to be run. The type of material your walls are made of. Are they sheet rock, lathe and plaster, drywall? What is the access in your house to run the new wires? Is there an attic? If so how large is it? Is if filled with insulation or stored items that will need to be moved?
Is there a craw space below your house? How large is the house? Is it one story or two? Is the existing wire in conduit? Do you want all of the wires fished through the walls with minimal damage to the walls or are you remodeling and the walls will be open already? There are too many factors for any electrician to be able to give an estimate without a thorough on site evaluation. If you are looking for ballpark figures; a typical whole house rewire can range in price from around $20,000 to $100,000. The good news is that most houses do not require an entire rewire. Most homes will benefit greatly from simply adding more circuits, upgrading the electrical panel and replacing the switches and plugs.
Q: How do I know if I should rewire my house? A: The only way to know for sure is to have your electrical system examined by a licensed electrical contractor. Often even in older homes the wires are in good condition and don’t need to be replaced. If they are encased in crumbling insulation that is often a sign that you may need to consider rewiring. This can often be accomplished in stages.
Q: Does rewiring my home mean making many holes in our walls?
A: Not necessarily! There are many tricks to fish wires through walls with only minimal damage such as small 1 inch diameter holes. An electrical contractor experience with older homes will have special tools and techniques to fish wires through the walls without making large holes or causing a lot of damage to your walls.
Q: I just upgraded my electrical panel, why are my breakers still tripping?
A: The short answer is that your breakers are tripping because they are doing their job! Upgrading your panel will not resolve the issue of breakers tripping. Only adding additional circuits or taking the load off of the existing circuits.
Q: How can I get more amps or more power to my house?
A: By upgrading your electrical system.
Q: Should I replace my electrical outlets and switches?
A: This is a common recommendation for older homes for a number of reasons. The electrical codes have changed and now many areas of your home require GFI protected circuits (GFCIs) These are the outlets with a reset button on them. They are required in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry areas, outdoors and anywhere water is present. Older outlets are not grounded and often only accept 2 prong plugs but even older 3 prong receptacles many need to be replaced. If your plugs fall out easily or are loose or if you experience power outages or the receptacle is warm to the touch you should have a licensed electrician take a look. The electrical receptacles in most home are wires using a method called “speed wiring”. During construction the receptacles are wired to each other in series by plugging the wire into a hole in the back of each device. Over time the wires often come loose causing an outage of all the other outlets downstream of the loose wire. It is only a matter of time until frequent outages become an annoyance and it is time to permanently resolve the problem by replacing the old outlets and renovating the wires so that a failure in out outlet does not affect any others.
Q: What about Aluminum wiring?
A: If you have aluminum wiring in your home there are several different ways to protect your home and your family from the risk of fire. The US Consumer Safety Product Commission has published a number of electrical safety pamphlets which are available for download here: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/elec_sfy.html One booklet is specific to some of the various remedys for Aluminum wiring in your home.
Q: What if my house has Knob and Tube wiring?
A: Knob and Tube wiring is one of the earliest types of residential electrical wiring. Surprisingly some older homes still have it in use. This was a very reliable and robust wiring method and if the wires have never been disturbed or tampered with in any way, it probably is still in reasonable working order. Unfortunately it is unlikely that a home that still has knob and tube wiring is fully intact and has never been tampered with or modified. Also, most insurance companies will not insure homes that contain knob and tube wiring that is still in use. It is common to replace knob and tube wiring with electrical wiring that meets todays codes and standards. http://inspectapedia.com/electric/Old_House_Wiring.html
In most cases use of the old knob and tube wiring should be discontinued. In some cases the knob and tube wiring is removed and other times it may be made safe and left in place. The cost of replacing old knob and tube wiring is dependant on many factors such as how difficult or easy it is to access the space between the walls. If there is clear access via either the attic or a crawl space that will make the electricians job much easier. If you have old knob and tube wiring in your home you should consider calling a licensed electrician to evaluate the condition of your homes wiring.
If your home is still has fuse boxes in place that are in use, evaluation by a qualified, licensed electrician is important. Many of the old fuse boxes are long obsolete and may be a considerable fire hazard.