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Whether it's a farm home in the country or a large commercial complex in the city, electrical systems are the life and blood of modern properties, and panels are where that electricity is controlled. When a panel upgrade is required for additional power usage or modernization, many different factors can determine the costs. Before a home or business owner decides to commit to an upgrade, he or she should carefully consider all the factors involved.
Reasons to Get an Upgrade
Upgrades to an electrical panel can be made for both functional and financial reasons. Modern homes use a variety of devices, including high-definition televisions and computers, which have power needs beyond the design specifications of homes and businesses older than a few decades. As technology continues to enter every facet of life, power requirements will continue to increase. Prospective homeowners may look at old panels as a sign of an obsolete electrical system in disrepair, so upgrading a panel can make a big difference during the sale of a property.
Some panel upgrades need to be made immediately due to safety hazards and urgent signs of failure. Conditions that would indicate an immediate need to upgrade include flickering lights, buzzing, crackling sounds and blown fuses. In certain scenarios, heat can build up within walls and cause a fire. Any irregular electrical behavior should be looked at by an electrician as soon as possible. While repair may be adequate, electricians will often recommend an upgrade in order to improve the overall quality of the electrical system.
When upgrading a panel, labor will likely be the most significant portion of costs. Electrical contractors are highly trained professionals that earn a good hourly rate for their services. An average panel upgrade takes about 8 to 10 hours to complete. At anywhere from $50 to $80 an hour, a client can expect to pay between $500 and $800 for their project labor. Typically, wage guidelines are established by an official body like the National Electrical Contractors Association.
These labor costs can fluctuate depending on the existing conditions of the electrical system. An electrician may need to perform extra work when existing wiring and conduits, copper grounding, existing split circuits, new sub panels or access to the exterior source require work.
The retail cost of the panel itself is $300 to $500. Total material costs will depend on the type of panel purchased and any additional features that the property owner wants from their new setup. In some cases, the local utility company will need to install a new power supply and meter to adequately fulfill the property's new electrical needs. Small materials like fittings, connectors and fasteners usually total less than $100.
Electrical panel upgrades are not always independent projects. An old panel in need of an upgrade may be accompanied by old wiring, worn outlets, outdated fixtures and damaged circuits. Electricians who notice extensive electrical wear and tear may recommend upgrades to a bunch of additional components. These upgrades can significantly increase the costs of a given project, but they are necessary for maintaining a safe and functional power system.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Whether a property owner is looking to increase the use of power or make the property adaptable to future technological advancement, upgrading a panel has a lot of advantages. While many older homes only used enough electricity to require 100 amps, the use of modern equipment often requires as much as 200. By upgrading services to meet these new demands, homeowners can install new devices and appliances without the fear of running out of juice or breaking their existing system.
The main disadvantages to panel upgrades are the upfront costs and the disruption construction can bring with it. Both of these disadvantages can be mitigated by starting the project during an existing renovation. When walls are already being torn down for other purposes, such as a kitchen renovation or home addition, an electrician can jump in and make the necessary upgrades. The savings earned by coordinating projects can be significant.
Time to Upgrade
When a property owner has decided that upgrading is the right decision, he or she should find a licensed and insured electrician with plenty of references in the area. Electrical systems should only be trusted with trained professionals who know exactly how to handle upgrades. In order to keep costs as low as possible, homeowners should request quotes from at least three different contractors. A combination of trust, cost, experience and reputation should be used to make a final decision.