As you add new household appliances and devices, you may discover that your home wiring is insufficient to handle the load. Individual branch circuits may be inadequate, or you may not have enough power available to begin with, especially in older homes.
You solve the first problem by adding additional circuits and the second by increasing the total power supply to your home. Either way, you may find that you need to upgrade your electrical panel, aka, the breaker box.
There’s a lethal amount of current coming into a panel, so replacing one is not a DIY project. The work should only be done by a licensed professional electrician. They may offer you some options, so here’s a look at the different types of panels and their applications to help you understand your choices.
Main Breaker Panels
A main panel has both the main breaker to shut off all power to your home as well as feeds for branch circuits and the breakers that protect them. The main breaker is a large double-pole circuit breaker that sits separately and is typically marked “Main” and has an amperage rating on it. This is how you can tell what your home’s overall load capacity is. This “all-in-one” design is typical in multi-unit buildings, but can be used in single-family dwellings, too. Many of these panels are installed indoors, protecting both you and the panel from inclement weather.
Main Lug Panels
Main lug panels don’t have a “Main” shutoff breaker. Instead, a separate shutoff switch is located elsewhere, usually near the electric meter. A benefit of this type of installation is that the shutoff can be outside and can be used in an emergency without needing to enter the building, while the branch circuit breakers can be indoors.
Sub-panels are secondary panels on a branch circuit from the main or lug panel. They typically serve a separate area like a workshop, guest house, or greenhouse, but can be used anywhere a branch circuit needs to have its own separate feeds. The branch circuit feeding a sub-panel needs to have an amp rating the same or lower than sub-panel’s total load. A sub-panel does not increase the load capacity of the main service, it merely re-routes it.
Transfer switches are a special type of sub-panel that feeds generator power to branch circuits in the event of a power failure. They can be automatic, transferring power from an auto-starting standby generator, or manual, requiring you to start the generator and manually switch to your backup system. Some generators have a built-in transfer switch that matches the rating of your home’s main panel.
If you have any questions or concerns about your home’s electric service, the pros at Allstar Electrical Services are ready to handle it for you. We offer homeowners, builders and businesses reliable, professional electrical work that is safe and up to code.