Do I Need To Upgrade My Electrical Panel For Solar?
4 - Minute Read
Aug 24, 2022
Many homeowners are seriously considering installing solar panels to dramatically reduce their electric bills. When considering the cost of installing solar, most people think about the solar panels, equipment and labor. However, some homes also need an electric panel upgrade for solar.
Upgrading the electrical service panel is often part of the cost of installing a rooftop solar system. Therefore, it might be necessary if you have an older home or your breaker panel is undersized.
What Is An Electrical Panel, And What Does It Do?
An electrical service panel or breaker panel is a metal box in your home with a door, and they are usually painted gray. Typically, they are located in an out-of-the-way spot, like a basement, garage or utility closet, and contain your home’s breakers.
Your electrical panel distributes power from the panel to various loads in your home. There is a main breaker that controls power to your entire home, and individual breakers are responsible for specific loads or sections of your house.
Power-hungry appliances, such as an air conditioner, electric range or water heater, might have their own dedicated breaker. Hopefully, each breaker is labeled, so you know what it controls. In addition, some homes have an electric subpanel that distributes power to other areas of the home or property from the main panel.
Some older homes have fuses instead of breakers. You can tell because they are screw-in fuses and not switches. Fuses need to be replaced when they blow, while breakers merely need to be switched back into place.
Benefits Of Upgrading To A Solar-Ready Electrical Panel
Most homes need a 200-amp electric panel as a minimum. A new solar-ready panel will have enough circuits to accommodate your new solar panel system. It will also have space for clearly marked ratings and locations of all the components that the solar technicians installed. If your panel needs to be updated, there are some benefits aside from being solar-ready.
If you upgrade your panel simultaneously with the solar installation, the upgrade might qualify for the federal solar tax credit. If so, this solar incentive can significantly reduce the cost of your electric panel upgrade.
If you have an older panel, you may be inconvenienced by it. For example, you might trip breakers by overloading circuits and need to reset them frequently. Or, you might not be able to run the toaster, microwave and oven simultaneously. Upgrading your service panel will eliminate such issues, and it might even improve the performance of newer appliances.
Your electric service panel is critical for home safety because it controls the voltage flowing through your home. An old electric panel can be a fire hazard in severe cases if it can’t handle the voltage.
Age, damage, corrosion or faulty installation can cause safety issues with your breaker box as well. If it ever smells like something is burning near your panel, this is a concerning sign. If so, we recommend taking action right away to resolve the issue.
Scenarios That May Call For A Main Panel Upgrade
There are various reasons why you may need to upgrade your main electrical panel when installing your solar energy system.
- The current panel doesn’t have enough amperage. Most homes today need at least a 200-amp service, but some older homes may have less.
- The main service panel doesn’t have enough circuits, so there is no space for a solar circuit.
- You want to plan for a future increase in household electrical needs, such as using an electric vehicle (EV) charger, switching from gas to electric appliances, installing a hot tub, etc. If you have an older electric panel, it might not be sufficient for these additional electrical needs.
- The existing panel uses fuses rather than circuit breakers, which typically means it is an old electric panel. Although fuses aren’t inherently unsafe, circuit breakers offer more safety features. Also, fuses must be replaced when they blow, making them inconvenient.
- Having an outdated service panel is not an appealing feature when you eventually sell your home. Upgrading it can help boost the resale value of your house.
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How Much Does A New Electrical Panel Cost?
Upgrading an electrical panel typically costs between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on the amperage and number of circuits. A 100-amp panel would be on the lower end but isn’t sufficient for most homes. A 200-amp service panel runs between about $1,800 and $2,500, while a 400-amp panel costs between $2,000 and $4,000.
This price includes the electrical equipment and hiring a licensed electrician to install it. However, if you complete a service panel upgrade while installing a solar panel system, it might qualify for the solar tax credit.
How Long Does It Take To Install A Solar-Ready Panel?
If the project is relatively straightforward, it usually takes between 4 and 8 hours to replace the main distribution panel. However, if the panel needs to be moved or additional wiring work is needed, it will add more time to the job.
Upgrading the electrical panel usually requires permits and an inspection because it must comply with the National Electrical Code and local codes. This can add to the time it takes to complete the project and have your solar power system up and running.
Some handy homeowners may replace the electrical service panel as a DIY job, but it isn’t legal in all states for a homeowner to do electrical work in their homes unless they are a licensed electrician. So before making a decision, research the laws in your state.
Remember, replacing your electrical panel can be dangerous without adequate knowledge and could create code violations in your home. Yet, it is possible to do it yourself if you have electrical experience, the right tools, you take safety precautions and it’s legal in your state. Otherwise, it's best to hire a licensed electrician.
The Bottom Line: Ensure That Your Electrical Panel Can Accommodate Solar – If Not, Upgrade
Although most newer homes do not need to upgrade their electric panels when installing solar, it is relatively common in older homes. Electrical service upgrades can also provide numerous benefits in addition to accommodating your solar panel system.
It is a hassle to reset tripped breakers, and sometimes homeowners need to be mindful of not overloading circuits. In extreme cases, an old breaker or fuse box can make your home unsafe. Talk to a solar advisor to understand whether you need to upgrade your electrical box to install solar panels.
Ready to take the power back? Let’s plan your project, from solar panels to electrical panels!
Rocket Solar does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.