1. How do I know if I need to have a panel upgrade?
Generally, most older homes have an electric panel with a capacity of 100 amps or less. Homes today generally use more electricity than older homes because of changes in our energy use. Electric panels have evolved over time, and many designs that were common in the mid-20th century no longer meet contemporary electrical needs. Older panels may have safety concerns or even fuses. Safety issues can be resolved by upgrading to a modern panel. You can contact the Home Efficiency Genie for a Home Electrification Readiness Assessment as a preliminary step for determining whether your electric panel is sufficient to meet your current and future electricity needs. Contact the Genie at (650) 713-3411 or visit efficiencygenie.com to make an appointment. You can also contact a licensed electrician to obtain a panel evaluation and estimate for upgrading your electric panel.
2. How much is an electric panel upgrade going to cost?
Most older homes have a 100 amp panel and upgrading to 200 amps can cost between $1,500 and $3,000 or more. The price of these projects can vary greatly based on a number of factors, including meeting the requirements of current electrical codes, which are in place to promote safety, reliability and ease of use.
3. I only need 250 amps. Do I have to go up to 400 amps?
Standard electric-service panels are generally offered in the following sizes: 100, 200 and 400 amps. Review your near-term and long-term plans with an electrician, taking into consideration whether you are thinking about adding electric-powered equipment such as a heat pump water heater, an electric vehicle charging station, a heat pump space heater or air conditioner, or a heat pump dryer. You may not need to upgrade to a 400 A panel because not all electrical appliances will be running simultaneously. Electricians are familiar with these considerations and can help you size your electric panel accordingly.
4. I have a sub-panel connected to my main panel. Can I still upgrade the main panel?
5. Is the cost of an electric panel upgrade eligible for a federal tax credit?
When combined with an efficiency or solar project, the cost of an electric panel upgrade may be eligible for a federal tax credit. Consult with your tax advisor.
6. What additional fees may apply?
Consider working with an electrician who has experience with the City of Palo Alto. Whether your electric service is above ground or underground, circumstances may occur in which an electric panel upgrade results in additional services such as modifying above-ground connections or underground electrical conduit and wiring. This work requires Utilities Engineering site visits and fees. Be sure to consider these fees prior to paying other fees in case costs become prohibitive and your plans to proceed with electrical upgrade projects change. A summary of Utilities Engineering fees can be found in the Electric Service Connection Rate Schedule E-15.
7. If I’m installing solar, do I need a panel upgrade?
You are not required to upgrade your electric panel when installing rooftop solar. However, it may be that your existing electric panel does not have enough available breakers required by a solar installation, and adding solar may be a good opportunity to upgrade your electric-service panel to accommodate future electricity needs. Again, consider electric loads, such as an electric vehicle charging station, that you may add in the future. Some solar installers include the cost of an electric panel upgrade in the solar project cost, and panel upgrades that are part of a solar installation may be eligible for federal tax credits.
8. What goes into the cost of City permit fees?
The goal of City staff is to help customers build safe, sustainable buildings that comply with applicable codes and regulations. Your permit and inspection fees cover the costs of City staff reviewing plans and performing site visits to make sure that you and your contractor have completed projects correctly, safely and to code.
9. Why does the City have rules about electric panel upgrades?
City of Palo Alto Utilities complies with code requirements to supply uniform and safe service to customers in the City of Palo Alto. Regularly tripped circuit breakers and overloaded circuits typically require a completely new electric panel.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Between 2010 and 2014, U.S. municipal fire departments responded to an average of 45,210 home structure fires involving electrical failure or malfunction. These fires caused annual averages of 420 civilian deaths, 1,370 civilian injuries and $1.4 billion in direct property damage.”
10. What is the basis for the codes and standards for electric panel placement?
When an electric panel is upgraded, it must meet all City codes and standards related to electric panels. The City of Palo Alto uses the National Electrical Code (NEC) as the basis for all city electrical codes. The NEC is part of the National Fire Codes series published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a private trade association. These codes are typically adopted by states and municipalities in an effort to standardize the enforcement of safe electrical practices.