When to upgrade your home’s electrical system: a guide

You might be wondering if or when you should upgrade your home’s electrical system. Here is what to look out for and how much an upgrade costs.

Catherine Collins
November 5, 2023

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Old houses are full of charm, but sometimes, behind those original walls are aging electrical systems. If you purchase an older home, you might wonder if or when you should upgrade your home’s electrical system. Here is some information on the different types of wiring commonly found in homes and the risks of not doing home electrical upgrades.

Understand the age and wiring of your home

There are several different types of wiring found in homes today. If you get a home electrical inspection, you should find out which type is in your house.

  • Knob and tube Wiring: This is older wiring usually found in homes built before the 1940s. This type of wiring can’t handle the electric needs of today’s families. There are also insulation issues, energy efficiency issues, and sometimes the wiring isn’t grounded.
  • Aluminum wiring: If your home was built in the 1960s or the 1970s, it might have aluminum wiring. This type of wiring can easily corrode, which can cause fires.
  • Copper wiring: This is the type of wiring typically used in homes today. It’s more durable than knob and tube wiring and aluminum wiring and can last 100 years or more.

Safety hazards from old wiring

If you’re debating whether or not to update old wiring, here are some safety hazards you should know about if you choose to defer the repairs.

  • Electrical fires: By far, the biggest safety issue when you have old wiring is the potential for a fire. If your electric system gets overloaded or corroded, it’s possible there could be an electrical fire.
  • Electrical shock: Older knob and tube wiring typically isn’t grounded. This means it’s possible you could get an electrical shock, which can be deadly.
  • Energy inefficient: Modern electrical systems are set up to handle modern life, from running multiple appliances simultaneously to charging many different devices. Homes that aren’t energy efficient can lead to overloaded circuits.

Signs your home's electrical system needs attention

If you’re not sure whether or not your home’s electrical system needs attention, look for the following signs. 

  • Flickering lights: Flickering lights could mean your home has wiring problems.
  • Tripping circuit breakers: If you constantly trip your circuit breaker, this could be a sign that your system is overloaded and cannot handle your current electricity use.
  • Outdated or insufficient outlets: Older homes don’t have as many outlets as newer homes. If you have to use extension cords in many rooms, consider having an electrician evaluate your system.
  • Buzzing or crackling sounds from switches or outlets: This is an alarming sound that could mean your wires are damaged and need repair.
  • Dimming lights when using appliances: If your lights dim when you use your appliances, this could signal wiring issues.
  • Signs of electrical sparks or burning smells: This is a problem that requires immediate attention, as it could signal a fire hazard.

Types of electrical upgrades and their costs

Here are a few electrical upgrades you can do that vary in scale and cost. 

Service panel upgrade

The size of the service panel you need depends on the size of your home. Electrical panels come in different amp sizes. For example, a 100 amp panel would not be adequate for a home with an HVAC system and multiple appliances. Newer homes built after 2015 require a 200 amp electrical panel, especially if they are over 1,800 square feet. If you have a very large, luxury home, you can purchase a 400 amp or more electrical panel. 

Cost: The average cost to upgrade an electric service panel is $1,800, according to Forbes.

Full house rewiring

If you notice your lights flicker or you frequently trip your circuit breaker, it might be time to rewire your house. Your house could have old, outdated wiring, which is a fire hazard. Keep in mind that rewiring your house will likely include taking down walls so an electrician can run new wires, which means costs can add up fast.

Cost: The average cost to rewire a house is between $0.15 and $3.50 per linear foot. On average, the total cost is $7,000, according to Forbes.

GFCI and AFCI installation

GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. These are essential in areas with water, like bathrooms and kitchens, because they help prevent you from getting electrocuted. AFCI outlets detect unusual currents and shut down your power so you don’t have a fire.

Cost: The cost for GFCI outlets is between $7-$25 for the outlet and $125-$250 for the installation. Each AFCI outlet is around $25. 

Whole house surge protection

You’re probably familiar with buying basic surge protectors. Many of you likely plug your computers into a surge protector before plugging it into the wall — but did you know you can purchase a surge protector for your entire house? This can help protect your home and all your appliances and electronics from a power surge.

Cost: The cost for whole house surge protection is $300 on average.

If you need help paying for home repairs, you could use the equity in your home to finance them.

DIY vs. professional upgrades

There are a few electrical tasks most people can DIY with a little bit of practice and know-how. For example, installing light fixtures and replacing outlets and switches are straightforward tasks. Make sure you are safety-conscious and turn off your electricity before making those upgrades.

Tasks like replacing circuit breakers or the electrical rewiring of your house should be left to the professionals to ensure they’re done correctly. 


Final thoughts

Upgrading your home’s electric system is less about convenience and more about safety. There are approximately 51,000 home electrical fires each year, resulting in around 500 deaths, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation. So, even if some electrical upgrades come with upfront costs, it’s worth it to get them to ensure your home is safe for your family.

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