Your main panel is the “Brain” of your house, the nexus of its nervous system.
One of the most important and longest ignored elements of your home is the main electrical panel and SolarNinjas would like to help you get ready for the future with a full replacement. The main panel is one of the longest lasting pieces of equipment made for a home which makes people forget about them while they deteriorate beyond functionality and safe operation. Over the years (decades) they get modified, moved around and hacked into with expansions and small renovations or maintenance until they are a patchwork of multiple generations of products smushed into one (hopefully) robust set of guts. They tend to LOOK new on the outside and they don’t suffer obvious/leaky mechanical wear or make noise like a failing furnace or water tank, so naturally folks ignore them for too long.
(If you want the 5 sentence version of this article click here for the TL;DR summary)
One of the reasons they are built so tough is how dangerous it is when they fail.
Years of use, abuse, advancing technology and a complete change in how we view and utilize energy versus just 25 years ago has resulted in people exceeding the usefulness of their main panels by margins the original engineers could not have imagined. Failures can take a long time to develop then happen suddenly and the consequences include massive fires, small fires, death, insurance claims, electric shock, destroyed electronics, improperly operating or early failing appliances and much more. Problems range from moderately annoying to life critical and become more likely when other areas of the home are renovated or upgraded. “Every time you touch something, it gets worse.” All electrical problems tend to be expensive when not caught early, like plumbing you don’t save money by letting issues ride.
Today versus 1960-1990 (with ‘today’ generally meaning 1990 to 2020) houses are completely re-imagined electrically. We aim to be preparing all our customers for the 2020-2050 period. Seriously. We set you up so your house works properly at todays standards but is ready for when you can talk to it, THINK to it, operate it from on vacation, just about fly it to Mars…. but also so that it can tell you when something is wrong BEFORE it becomes critical or expensive.
When do people discover they might need a new main panel?
A “slow burn” problem goes undiagnosed. Lights or plugs acting funny for months or years.. we discover damage to the receptacles and wires and loose connections in the main panel that has caused damage. Often this results in an electrician thinking “wow, how did this not catch fire?”. Repairs are sometimes possible, but with 30+ year old equipment it’s often a conversation about replacement now or in the near future. Electronic equipment running poorly and failing early including major appliances & furnaces with modern control boards, LED lights misbehaving or burning out, and intermittent problems in weird places indicate someone needs to take a look. Sometimes you can replace the plugs, repair the wire ends, and tighten up the panel connections to buy time and make it safe for longer.
A “fast blow” problem occurs. Loose breaker terminations or faulty older circuit breakers result in a burnt, melted, or otherwise non-functional circuit and a service call. That plug that “sparks” when you plug in the toaster, suddenly doesn’t work anymore. There’s a smell (but often not all the time) around the main panel when you’re doing laundry that appears suddenly. Something that makes you go “Hmmmmm what’s going on here?”. These events trigger more immediate fixes.
When buying or selling a property. Requirements to bring up to modern code, necessary upgrades to get mortgage or house insurance, new owner doesn’t like the ugly location behind the door or illegally in a bathroom wall downstairs or wants to prepare to do upgrades to the home. Often these kinds of upgrades include pre-planning for the future and solving problems people don’t know about in advance. We try to make sure we help future projects go smoother.
Homeowner desires & “semi-professional” renovations:
- A hot tub or air conditioning being added that exceeds capacity or can cause a dangerous condition in older equipment.
- Solar power and an electric car charger is desired but there is no space or capacity.
- Doing nice walls, new lights, cabinets, stone counters, & that new fancy TV on the wall with no visible wires
- Adding function in the basement, a new/second kitchen, a wall removed to open up the living room and kitchen, bigger windows etc.
- Discovery of Aluminum wiring (see HERE for why that should result in a hard stop and a phone call)
All these things impact electrical in some way or another… and it’s an unpleasant surprise part way through a project to discover that your core infrastructure must be upgraded for you to proceed. SolarNinjas can help you plan the best way forward for now and the future of your home or business so you don’t pay for things two or three times as you live there.
Core infrastructure upgrades should be once a generation or longer. After that it’s just freedom and enjoyment, that’s where we want you to be!
Todays futureproofing includes:
- Upgrading incoming service conductors to be ready for ampacity increases, even if one is not being performed now. “Spend $250 today to avoid $2,500 later”. We no longer adhere to absolute minimums when considering the core components.
- Upsizing the main components for future growth and cooler operation. “Even 100Amp services deserve 225Amp guts”. Everything runs cooler, cleaner, and is ready to avoid the problems that we now find very expensive because of the attitudes of the 70s-90s. The materials cost difference is negligible and we are happy to share them with you.
- Allowing access for sensors and technology. We spend the 45 minutes and $60 in parts now, to avoid 8 hours and $500 in parts years from now when you need energy monitoring, controllable power equipment, remote access technology. In the future it will be a code requirement, and technology to allow high demand devices like car chargers, hot tubs, steam showers etc can not operate without it on standard ampacity home electrical services. “Never set up a customer to pay an electrician to re-do your work because you failed to think ahead”. It can be as simple as installing a box above the panel where we can access the main wires in the future.
- Eliminate old obsolete equipment that represents a fire risk. Eliminate old sub panels where possible or replace with new. Panels like federal pioneer, commander, and others are so far past obsolete that they are no longer manufactured even as parts. The technology has advanced dramatically since then, and some including the very common STAB LOK variety are well known to cause thousands of fires PER YEAR. They simply do not work properly. “We apologize for the bad decisions of our forebears and commit to helping you as best we can prepare for the future.”
- Extra space is never a waste. The minimum code has always been to leave 2 breaker spaces for “future”, a holdover from a time when people used only toasters and vacuum cleaners.. and never expected to renovate their home. They might need extra power for a garage or basement plugs and lights so it was left open. We imagine a future where you or someone else buying your home may want to add modern amenities like solar, heat, welders, outdoor plugs, garden & yard lighting, a powered gazebo, an entertainment room, a swim spa, a second kitchen, more kitchen circuits for appliances, or an addition and we spend the extra $60-$100 (yes really, that’s all it ends up being) to ensure you have the space to feel assured about your homes future. “Never under-estimate a builders willingness to save $10 even if it costs you $10,000 down the road.”
- Moving from a 100 Amp to a 200 Amp service is extremely simple and very low cost if you are already doing the service panel change anyways. The first person to get the upgrade on a transformer does not have to pay for it, if there is extra capacity they give it to you at no cost. This makes it a property value add-on. “More Amps are better, even if you don’t need them.” This is as simple as a phone call for us when the wires are overhead. When the wires are underground is another story, but we still cover you by upgrading all the equipment so it’s ready for the future when they upgrade entire neighbourhood infrastructure and will run cooler in the meantime.
- Wherever possible in upgrade situations we try to shorten overheads to bring the main panel to the garage and put the main house as a sub panel. This is a bit of an extra process but opens up a world of future opportunities and efficiencies. It makes future changes easier and cheaper for the owner and more flexible for future electricians. “Where it goes is as important as WHAT it is.” We keep the main equipment off the house allowing for better aesthetics and cleaner exteriors allowing for home upgrades right up to full demolition without impacting the main service.
- Protection devices that WORK. Today we have technology like whole home surge protection, breakers that switch off when your plugs wear out to the point of sparking (something people commonly live with for months or years despite it being an immediate fire risk inside the wall) and breakers that can detect when your fridge or freezer are failing BEFORE it happens. Smart breakers that will notify you if your furnace is off when it’s cold outside or turn on a small electric emergency heater if the pipes begin to freeze. The protection device can even indicate what caused the problem, making electrician visits cheaper and easier. We can even make your appliances, furnaces and electronics last longer, run cooler, and cost you less. Ask us how with basic power quality management & energy monitoring protection devices.
For comparison (cost wise): A hot water tank is generally good for 10 to 15 years these days. A furnace will do 20 years properly serviced. Major appliances now expect 7 to 12 years of healthy operation. Your electric main panel may have been in place for 50+ years already, many we come across in the 25+ years range are reaching end of life. A few even at 10-15 years are just reaching capacity due to poor planning and cost cutting or were poor quality. It’s likely time to think about and plan for replacement… Whether its urgent or sometime a year down the road SolarNinjas is happy to help, design, estimate and prepare with you. In context, electrical panel upgrades are among the highest value and lowest cost per year over their life that you can do!
We will help you build the right level of world class infrastructure for whatever future you envision.
- Your main electrical panel is the brains and nervous system of your home and part of your most critical infrastructure, so should be addressed first before the skin and makeup.
- Failures and dangerous conditions are not as obvious with electrical equipment as with water or structure, but can be more deadly.
- To add what you want today and may want in the future, it pays to start at the beginning to avoid costly re-work and surprises down the line.
- The future is amazing! It’s possible to prepare for almost anything now, SolarNinjas can help you prioritize and determine the best way with forward thinking future-proofing.
- Just like a new furnace or water tank makes your house work better and improves your enjoyment of it, a modern electrical main panel helps your house run smoothly and safely so you can enjoy it problem free for generations to come
Thank you and please reach out using the contact forms or our social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) for questions, estimates, and feedback!