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Main Service Panel

The Main Service Panel resides just behind the electrical utility meter and is the place where the electrical utility service connects to the house. It hosts a series of circuit breakers or fuses that connect to various parts of the house. The whole panel has a maximum current rating like 100 Amperes or 200 Amperes and this is the maximum amount of current that it can safely provide the whole house. Due to increased electrification in the house the main service panel can get overloaded and might need to be upgraded.

MSP

Cost Range

$3,000 to $5,000

About the technology

How it works: The main service panel has a main service breaker that specifies the maximum amount of current that the whole house can draw at a time. This is based on the main service panel capacity rating and is typically 100-200 amperes. The breakers and fuses are safety devices that can be used to energize and de-energize parts of the house or a particular appliance.

Types of Main Service Panels: Traditional panels are just electrical busbars with multiple slots for the breakers. However, some new “smart” service panels are available in the market now which let homeowners better understand and control their electricity usage on a circuit-by-circuit basis. Each panel just has a maximum current capacity rating.
 
Special Requirements: Sometimes only upgrading the Main Service Panel may not be enough. The electrical service line that is coming into the house from the electric utility may not be able to handle the increased load of the house and may need to be upgraded. These types of upgrades are more costly and will require an appointment and service call with the electrical utility.
 
Economics: The panel upgrade needs to be done by a licensed electrician and will require a city inspection and permit. The total cost can vary a lot based on the complexity of the work and the local labor rates of the area, but usually it is between $3000-$5000.
 
Maintenance: Usually Main Service Panels are guaranteed for life and do not require any maintenance. Sometimes the individual breakers can fail, at which point they have to be replaced. However, they are not expensive.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the purpose of the Main Service Panel? 

The Main Service Panel is where the electrical utility service connects to the house and hosts a series of circuit breakers or fuses that connect to various parts of the house. The breakers and fuses are safety devices that can be used to energize and de-energize parts of the house or a particular appliance. The whole panel has a maximum current rating like 100 Amperes or 200 Amperes  and this is the maximum amount of current that it can safely provide the whole house. 

2. Why is it sometimes necessary to upgrade the Main Service Panel?
Usually in houses that were built before 1990 the Main Service Panel is rated to handle a maximum of 100 Amperes of current. As consumers start to electrify high power appliances in the house like the cooktop, dryer, water heater, etc., that did not run on electricity before, the amount of current drawn by the whole house increases and has the potential to exceed this 100 Ampere limit. This can lead to the panel getting overloaded which might trip the main service breaker or worse still result in an electrical fire. To mitigate this, steps need to be taken to either upgrade the Main Service Panel to one that can handle 200 Amperes or introduce power-sharing devices that can sometimes produce the same result at a lower cost.

3. What is the difference between a Main Service Panel upgrade and a utility service upgrade?
Sometimes only upgrading the Main Service Panel may not be enough. The electrical service line that is coming into the house from the electric utility may not be able to handle the increased load of the house and may need to be upgraded. These types of upgrades are more costly and will require an appointment and service call with the electrical utility.

1. How much does a Main Service Panel upgrade cost? 

Usually the panel upgrade needs to be done by a licensed electrician and will require a city inspection and permit. The total cost can vary a lot based on the complexity of the work and the local labor rates of the area, but usually it is between $3000-$5000. 

2. How much does a utility service upgrade cost?

If the electrical line that is coming into the house from the electrical utility can handle the increased demand of the upgraded panel, then a service upgrade is unnecessary.  However, if it is not the case, that line has to be replaced. Depending on whether the line is overhead or underground the costs can vary a lot and can be $10,000 or more.

1. What maintenance is needed for the upgraded panel? 

Usually Main Service Panels are guaranteed for life and do not require any maintenance. Sometimes the individual breakers can fail, at which point they have to be replaced. However, they are not expensive.

1. How long does it take to upgrade the panel?

Usually the process requires a city permit and a licensed electrician doing the upgrade. The whole process can take 2-3 days. After the upgrade is done, the process is signed off with a city inspection.  If a service upgrade is required, then an appointment has to be made with the electrical utility and it is a more complicated process that can take months. 

2. What types of Main Service Panels are available?
Traditional panels are just electrical busbars with multiple slots for the breakers. However, some new service panels are available in the market now which let homeowners better understand and control their electricity usage on a circuit-by-circuit basis.  One can even keep track of usage in real-time and control how they use energy from a smartphone or tablet.  These new devices can also help you move toward an all-electric home, facilitating the integration of solar, battery storage, and other electrification upgrades (such as induction stoves, heat pumps, EV chargers, etc.).

3. Can a Main Service Panel upgrade be avoided somehow? 

Under some circumstances, a service panel upgrade can be avoided or postponed by going on a “Watt Diet”, essentially keeping your power usage below the level that can be handled by your existing panel. The Watt Diet employs options such as power-sharing devices that allow the same electrical circuit to be shared among two high-powered appliances provided only one of them is being used at a particular time. For example, since an electric dryer is used infrequently, if it is situated close to the garage, the 240V electrical outlet of the dryer can be shared between the dryer and a Level 2 EV charger which will charge the car at times when the dryer is idle. There are products in the market like the Dryer Buddy or a Smart Splitter that will help you do this. Since the appliances are not on simultaneously, the main panel is not overloaded. Usually this can be done in the initial phases of the electrification. For a whole-house upgrade, a Main Service Panel upgrade may be required eventually.

1. What types of incentives are available?

Utilities, states, counties, Community Choice Aggregators, etc. sometimes offer rebates on Main Service Panel Upgrade costs. In addition, a 30% federal tax credit is planned for service panel upgrades beginning in 2023.