Electrical Service Panel Upgrades: Everything You Need to Know

electrical service panel upgrade

Upgrading a service panel is a common procedure when homes are being renovated or older buildings are experiencing an increase in electrical demand.

When you add new electrical loads to an existing system such as bigger appliances, new technologies, and luxury items, they all require more power than older 60 or 100 amp panels can provide. It also becomes a safety issue: faulty, outdated, or overloaded electrical circuits are the leading cause of house fires in North America.

In this post, we’ll briefly review each of these topics and FAQs below:

electrical fuse box

A Fuse Box in a Vancouver Apartment Building (Now Replaced)

Types of Service Panels: Fuse Box vs. Circuit Breakers

Sometimes people use the terms “fuse box” and “circuit breakers” interchangeably for electric panels, but they are two different things.

Placed in older homes (roughly pre-1960), fuses are found in a metal box with a metal strip in which an electrical current is sent through. If the current exceeds the limitations of the metal strip, the strip melts and stops the power—AKA “blowing a fuse.” The core problem with a fuse box is not only having to immediately replace blown fuses, but safety issues such as outdated wiring or lack of proper maintenance.

Updated fuse box to breakers Vancouver

Updated Fuse Box to Breakers in Vancouver

Newer electric service panels utilize circuit breakers, which operate the same way as fuses (i.e. they shut off power when they detect a current overage). However they don’t need to be replaced—circuit breakers are mechanical switches that can just be reset.

When Do You Need a Panel Upgrade?

Even if you’re not remodeling, there might be signs that your electrical panel is overloaded and/or needs updating. For example:

  • The home still relies on a fuse box

  • You have a 60 amp panel

  • Circuit breakers trip frequently when several appliances are in use at the same time

  • There’s no room to add circuits

  • You’re planning to add a hot tub, heat pump, EV charger, or bigger appliances

  • You’re building a secondary suite which requires a second meter

  • Your panel has been recalled or is unsafe (e.g. frayed wiring)

If you have a 100 amp panel in your home, there’s a good chance this will need to be updated in the next year or two to accommodate any new appliance purchases.

new electrical panel Vancouver

What Does an Electrical Panel Upgrade Involve?

When upgrading a service panel, our electricians replace the old panel (usually 100 amps) with a brand-new one that can handle 200 amps – on average for residential homes – or more for buildings and commercial establishments. Modifications or improvements to your service connection must go through BC Hydro. We manage this process as part of our electrical panel upgrade service.

BC Hydro meter base

JZ Electric Upgrading the Meter Base

Parts of an Electrical Panel Upgrade:

  1. Electrical service panel – placed inside the home or building, easily accessed by residents

  2. Meter base with BC Hydro meter on the exterior – usually on the exterior of the building

  3. Customer service conductors (cables)

  4. Connection point(s) to BC Hydro

BC Hydro overhead service diagram

BC Hydro Overhead Service Components

Overhead or Underground Connection?

In BC, there are two types of electrical connections to BC Hydro: overhead and underground.

The type of connection depends on your location and/or municipality. For example, the City of Vancouver provides overhead electrical service (see above) while other cities may provide underground (see below). Sometimes the connection will require additional labour on behalf of the electrician, such as erecting a new service mast mounted on the side of the house.

BC Hydro Underground Service Diagram
BC Hydro Underground Service Components

Steps to an Electrical Panel Upgrade

These are the steps that JZ Electric follows with a service panel upgrade:

  1. Electrical inspection – site visit by the electrician

  2. Apply for permit with City to do the upgrade

  3. Once City issues permit, apply for upgrade with BC Hydro

  4. BC Hydro schedules the disconnect/reconnect date (usually within 10 business days)

  5. Request electrical permit inspection on same day

  6. Disconnection and installation of new service

  7. Inspection by city – obtain ‘pass’ certificate

  8. Reconnection of service

electrical panel placement

Placement of Electrical Panels: Can You Move Yours?

Clients often ask our electricians to move the new panel to a less visible spot in the home.

There are two main rules for panel location:

  1. Cabling is only allowed to run 1.5m inside the home to the connection outside—if any longer, it needs to be encased in concrete. The alternative is to run it in a crawlspace that’s 1.8m high, non-combustible and not with any storage.

  2. Cabling on the outside of the house needs to meet the meter placement requirements (see below).

There’s also a list in the codebook as to where it can’t be placed, such as the furnace room.

BC Hydro meter placement on side of house

BC Hydro Meter Placement in East Vancouver with Overhead Connection

Placement of BC Hydro Meters & Panels

Similarly, clients will ask to move the BC Hydro meter so that it’s less unsightly on the home exterior. Moving a meter requires a permit and needs to meet strict BC Hydro guidelines. For example, the meter base must be within 1 meter from the corner of your home on the side that faces the BC Hydro Pole.

Grounding and Bonding the Service Panel

Every home electrical system must be bonded and grounded according to code standards. When we install a panel upgrade, we ensure that:

  1. The water and gas pipes are ‘bonded’ (connected electrically) to create a continuous low resistance path to the main electrical panel.

  2. The main electrical panel must be ‘grounded’ by a ground wire running to a grounding electrode outside like a metal ground plate buried underground near your home’s foundation.

Bonding is a preventative measure. If there’s a break in the system, any stray electricity will be directed to the ground instead of potentially electrocuting someone when they touch part of the system (such as a faucet).

service panel upgrade to 200 amps

Cost to Upgrade a Service Panel

Upgrades start at $4000 in Vancouver, BC. A site visit is required before estimating the cost of the upgrade. Each location differs in needs, structure, and electrical connection, which affects the cost of the project.

Included in the cost is:

  1. Equipment/materials – panel and circuit breakers

  2. Labour

  3. Permits from the City and BC Hydro – obtain an idea of BC Hydro connection costs here

Hopefully this blog post has covered all of your questions about electrical service panels.

Contact us with any other questions or to book a site visit with a licensed electrician at no cost.