There will always come a time when it’s necessary to upgrade your electrical system. While some electrical upgrades, like rewiring or installing a new electrical panel, can be somewhat expensive, they are definitely worth the cost and will make your home much safer. Knowing when your electrical system should be upgraded or needs to be repaired can sometimes be tricky, but here are some of the signs you should look for.

Your Home Has a Fuse Box or Only a 60-Amp Breaker Panel

One obvious sign that your electrical system is extremely outdated is if your home has a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker panel. Circuit breakers have been the standard since the 1960s and are an essential safety mechanism designed to prevent fires and major electrical damage that can result when a circuit is overloaded. Fuses serve the same purpose, but they aren’t always as effective. If a circuit ever gets overloaded, you will also have to replace the fuse. With a breaker panel, all you’ll need to do is just reset the breaker.

If your home does still have a fuse box, most electricians will likely recommend that you have your home completely rewired when upgrading to a breaker panel. This is because most, if not all, of the wiring in your home is also likely more than 60 years old and not in great condition. As wires age, the insulation that surrounds them starts to degrade. This can lead to dangerous short circuits and arc faults that can easily start a fire or electrocute you. This is why you should have all of the old wires replaced.

The National Electric Code requires that all new homes have at least a 100-amp electrical panel, but many older homes only have 60-amp service. A 60-amp panel generally isn’t sufficient to meet all of a modern home’s electricity demands and will lead to lots of issues simply because the panel doesn’t supply enough electricity at once. If your home only has 60-amp service, we’d definitely recommend upgrading to a 100- or 200-amp panel.

Many Outlets in the Home Are Only Two-Prong

Another definite sign that your electrical system is outdated and should be upgraded is if your home has two-prong outlets in some rooms. Almost all modern electronic devices and appliances have a three-prong cord, which means you can’t plug them into a two-prong outlet without an adapter. Two-prong outlets aren’t grounded and can easily catch fire or cause serious electrical damage if they short circuit. If you use an adapter to plug anything into a two-prong outlet, the device will also most likely get fried if the outlet short circuits.

Three-prong outlets have a live wire, neutral wire, and ground wire. The live wire carries electricity from the electrical panel to the outlet, and the neutral wire carries any unused current back to the panel. Both the live wire and neutral wire can only safely carry a certain amount of voltage. The purpose of the ground wire is to safely channel excess voltage away from the outlet if the voltage ever spikes due to a power surge, short circuit, or arc fault. If the outlet isn’t grounded and the voltage spikes, the excess current will flow into whatever is plugged into the outlet and likely ruin it. If you touch the outlet, the current can also flow through your body and electrocute you.

These issues are why it is essential that all of the outlets in your home are grounded. If you have two-prong outlets and your electrical panel is old, it likely also means that the panel itself isn’t grounded and should be replaced as soon as possible.

No GFCI Outlets in the Kitchen, Bathroom, Etc.

The National Electric Code also requires that all outlets that could be exposed to water have GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection. This includes all outdoor outlets as well as any outlets in your garage, basement, kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, and utility room. If you don’t have GFCI outlets in all of these areas, it’s also a sign that you need to have your electrical system updated as installing GFCI will make your electrical system much safer.

Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. If an outlet is exposed to water, the electricity will flow through the water unrestricted. This causes the current flowing through the circuit to drastically increase, which will lead to the breaker tripping. The problem is that the increased current can instantly make the wiring in the circuit so hot that it can catch fire. In the split second it takes before the breaker trips, the excess current will also flow into anything plugged into or wired to the circuit and possibly destroy it. If you were to touch the outlet or anything plugged into it, the water could also conduct the current into your body and electrocute you.

GFCI outlets are designed to prevent these issues and essentially act like a circuit breaker for the outlet. If the outlet gets wet or a ground fault occurs for any other reason, the GFCI will activate or trip and shut off the power to the outlet in under a tenth of a second. This helps to protect anything plugged into the outlet from damage and also prevents the risk of a fire or electrocution.

Light Bulbs Keep Burning Out

Light bulbs that keep burning out after a short time can also indicate you need to have your electrical system inspected and repaired or updated. If the bulbs in one fixture keep burning out, it often indicates that there is a damaged wire or loose connection in either the fixture or switch. These issues can lead to minor short circuits where the voltage doesn’t spike enough to trip the breaker but is enough to drastically shorten the lifespan of the light bulbs. This can cause them to burn out much sooner.

If you have LED or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs in a fixture that’s controlled by a dimmer switch that keeps burning out, it’s usually a sign that you need to replace the switch. Old dimmer switches were designed to work with incandescent bulbs and will often supply more voltage than an LED or CFL bulb can handle, resulting in them burning out more quickly.

If you have lights in different parts of the home that keep burning out quickly, you’ll want to have an electrician test the voltage of your electrical system. All of the main circuits in your home are only 120 volts. If your electrical system is supplying more than 120 volts for any reason, it will often lead to your lights being much brighter and burning out much quicker.

Lights Often Dim or Flicker

Another common issue in older homes is that the lights will dim or flicker whenever the HVAC system turns on or when you’re using another 240-volt appliance like a clothes dryer. This issue almost always indicates that you need to upgrade your electrical service and install a higher-amp panel. If your home is more than 1,500 square feet or you have numerous 240-volt appliances, a 100-amp panel generally won’t be sufficient. Larger AC units sometimes require a 60-amp circuit, which means that the AC would use more than half of the available power if you only have 100-amp service. This results in less power flowing through the other circuits, which is what causes the lights to dim or flicker.

Absolute Electric is ready to help if your home needs any electrical upgrades. We specialize in electrical panel upgrades and rewiring as well as the full range of electrical installation and repair services. For more information on the benefits of upgrading your electrical system or to schedule an inspection or any other electrical service in the Sterling area, give us a call today.

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