Residential Electrical Contractor and Electrical Instructor serving Denver, Colorado. Call 303.819.8157

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“I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” – Thomas Edison on creating the light bulb

 

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Examples of questions to consider:
How old is your panel?  Is it an indoor or outdoor panel?  Does the manufacturer have a poor reputation, such as Federal Pacific?  Do you need new circuits and there is no more physical space to plug in a new circuit breaker?  Have you experienced multiple electrical problems throughout the home, such as flickering lights or electrical phantoms that are hard to explain?
These items might need some individual attention or an entire panel replacement and what is known as an electrical service change or upgrade.  Below are various general information items regarding my experience with electrical panels and associated circuit breakers.
Circuit breakers within the panel: 
Circuit breakers installed in your panel, also known as overcurrent protective devices, can appear to be working correctly under normal operating conditions.  Normal operating conditions meaning that there is no problem known as an overload, short circuit or ground fault existing within the energized circuit.  This normal operation can be deceiving when trying to determine if your breakers are working correctly.
It is only under an overload, short circuit or ground fault within the circuit, that the protective mechanisms of the circuit breaker are tested.  When a circuit breaker in a panel is functioning correctly, the circuit breaker is supposed to “trip” shortly after a fault emerges within the circuit it is protecting.  When a circuit breaker in a panel is not functioning correctly, the circuit breaker will not “trip” after an overload, short circuit or ground fault occurs.  This becomes a severe fire threat.
Through the years, I have been asked to replace a number of panels resulting from an inspection objection notice during the sale of a home.  Some homeowners have been surprised that their panel was required to be replaced after the inspection.  The comment has often surfaced, “I have never had a problem with the circuit breakers and panel over the last 40 years that I have owned this home, why would I need to replace them?”  This may be referring to what was mentioned above, that the circuit breaker only appeared to be working correctly, because there was no problem within the circuit and did not require the breaker to react by tripping.
Federal Pacific panels and breakers:
Some panels and circuit breaker manufacturers have been flagged more often than others by inspectors.  One of the most popular panels with a poor reputation is the Federal Pacific or FPE panel.  Some, not all Federal Pacific panels and associated circuit breakers have had some faulty issues over the years.  If you enter this topic on google, it will first appear that every Federal Pacific panel is dangerous and needs immediate replacement.  I have known and experienced some Federal Pacific breakers that did their job by tripping when a fault occurred.  I have also known and experienced some Federal Pacific circuit breakers that did not do their job when a fault occurred within the circuit.  As mentioned above, when a circuit breaker does not trip immediately under these conditions, the wire in the circuit quickly heats up and becomes a fire threat.
Age of the panel:
Many electrical panels in Colorado are installed outdoors next to the utility meter.  I have customers and friends that have been shocked, no pun intended, to find out that their panel was outside after they moved here from a state where most panels were installed in a garage or basement.  It is my experience that 30 years is a good life for an outdoor panel, while indoor panels may last 50 years with no apparent problems.
Flickering lights:
Flickering lights can be an annoyance and also a warning to call an electrician.  Flickering lights are usually caused by poor electrical connections.  These poor connections can be a wire, breaker, lug or terminal that does not have a solid connection.  This poor connection can be at the meter, in the panel, in an attic or basement junction box, in a wall receptacle, in a switch or within the light fixture itself.  If an isolated area of the home is experiencing this problem, it may be within that local branch circuit.  If multiple areas of the home have this problem, it may be in the panel and may need minor attention or an entire replacement.
I hope that this information was helpful with limited electrical language.