Electrical Panel Upgrade as Step 1 on Your ADU Journey

Panel upgrades

Electrical service upgrade as step one on your ADU journey

Or any other big home improvement project

7min read
by Olesia Chikunova, ADU Specialist.

ADUs ( also know as accessory dwelling units or backyard cottages) are fast becoming a way to house a family member or get some passive income to be able to age in place. With a garage conversion, you can get an extra house in the Silicon Valley for $150,000. If you spend some more, you may get a new house for $350,000 in Menlo Park. Unheard of.

However, the costs are high and can easily get out of hand if you had not done your homework. The budget can quickly get out of control with just one detail that gets overlooked in the very beginning of the project. One of the points that can quickly trip up your hopes of a fast move in is an electric panel upgrade. Even an addition of a tiny house to your backyard may trigger a panel upgrade. The electrical panel upgrade process can go fast and take a month, or require a change of a transformer by PG&E and take years.


Do you need a electrical panel upgrade?


Looking forward to adding new HVAC, EV charger, addition or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to your property? The first smart move is to check if your electrical panel can take it.

After dealing with panels and PG&E reps multiple times, we know what they are looking for and can help you and your electrician quickly access if your panel needs upgrading.

Specifically developed for those adding accessory dwelling units to the property, but useful for anyone whose panel has been installed in the previous century.

We have seen some backyard home projects getting delayed by months because homeowners had not realized they need to prepare for extra power demand in advance. New ADUs are required to be all electrical in California. Yet 320A or 400A panels are rare, even 200-amp panels are not the norm. So if you panel is under 200A, it makes sense to get busy with electrical panel upgrade it as early as possible.

Not sure how many of you include checking out the service  panel in your routine.

I have been driven crazy by PG&E reps and/or electricians asking for additional pictures and measurements – obviously after I left the premises.


As a result of this frustrating experience, we have created a tiny app that will measure the space around the panel and guide me/homeowner/whoever in what type of photos need to be taken. I have started testing it on my projects, made some adjustments in the testing phase, and so far it works. It is available in Appstore now – for iPhone users only at this time.


Take some pictures, add your contact information and send it off to your electrician for an estimate. Available for download as a pdf.

I got burnt on a project when PG&E delayed the ADU final inspection by months. Since then I always start my ADU feasibility site visits with the panel. PG&E and electricians are hard people to please, so feel free to use this tool I now use to send to your reps and subs – this assures you get better estimates and less back and forth. The tool is free, and the company does not collect any personal data. Whoever is using it decides who to send it to. Comments always welcome, and will be incorporated in the next version.

Electric Panel Upgrade & What You Need to Know

Are you in need of an electric panel upgrade? If so, you’ll want to read and learn all about it. Let us talk about an electric panel upgrade in detail, what you need to know before getting one, and its benefits.


What Is A Home’s Electrical Panel And What Does An Electrical Panel Do?

An electric panel, also known as a breaker box, is an important component of your home’s power system. It helps control the flow of electricity throughout the home by distributing it safely and efficiently. The electric panel is responsible for powering all your electrical appliances, lights, and other devices. Without an electric panel, your home’s electrical system wouldn’t be able to function as it should. Homes today have high electrical demands. An air conditioner, an electric dryer, electric vehicle are not. good company to old fuse boxes. Updating HVAC systems alone could be a reason for a licensed electrician to recommend getting a new electrical panel.

Signs you need an Electric Panel Replacement

How do you know that you need an electrical service upgrade?

  1. It’s Original to Your Home:

If your home is older than 25 years and your electric panel hasn’t been updated, it likely needs an upgrade.

Modern homes are full of electronic devices. The standards for electrical panels have changed over the years, and updating to a new panel can ensure that your home meets the necessary safety requirements. An old electrical panel, especially the one that uses an old fuse box, opens up up to the risk of an electrical fire. Insurance companies love the homeowners who heed the warning signs and are proactive in addressing issues that may cause electrical fires.


  1. You’re Adding Appliances:

If you’re working on a home upgrade and are adding new appliances to your home, such as a hot tub, it might be necessary to upgrade your electric panel. Newer appliances draw more energy than older ones, which can strain an outdated system. Updating your electric panel to one that can handle the energy draw of your new appliances will help prevent any issues.


  1. You’re Experiencing Power Outages:

If you’ve noticed an increase in power outages in your home, it could signify that you need to upgrade your electric panel. More common in older homes.


Frequent power outages can cause significant damage to the wiring in a home and can be dangerous. Upgrading your electric panel can help prevent any electrical accidents due to power outages.


  1. You See Signs of Damage:

If you’ve noticed any signs of damage to your electric panels, such as burns or cracks, it’s important to upgrade your panel immediately. A damaged electric panel can be a fire hazard and should be replaced immediately.


  1. Your Breakers Keep Tripping:

If you’re having trouble with your breakers tripping or not resetting, it could signal that you need an electric panel upgrade. An outdated electric panel may not be able to handle the energy draw of your current appliances and can lead to persistent breaker tripping. Upgrading your electric panel is a good idea to ensure that you have enough power for your home’s needs.


  1. You’ve Got Fuses:

If your electric panel still uses fuses, it’s time for an upgrade. Fuse systems are outdated and can be dangerous when they show signs of wear or are overloaded. Upgrading to a modern circuit breaker system can help ensure your home is safe from fires and other electrical accidents.


  1. Not Enough Outlets:

If your home lacks enough outlets for all your electrical needs, it might be time for an electric panel upgrade. By replacing your electric panel with one with additional circuits, you can ensure that all your appliances are running safely and efficiently.


  1. Smells Like Something Is Burning:

If you notice a burning smell near your electric panel, it’s important to act quickly. This can be a sign of an overloaded circuit or electrical fire and should be addressed immediately by an electrician. Upgrading your electric panel can help prevent any issues caused by overloaded circuits.


  1. You See Sparks When Plugging Things In:

If you see sparks when plugging in electrical appliances, it could be a sign of old wiring, or more serious electrical issues. Sparks can indicate an overloaded circuit, and upgrading your electric panel can help prevent any potential problems.


  1. No GFCI Outlets:

You should consider upgrading your electric panel if your home does not have Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets. GFCI outlets are designed to help prevent electrical shocks and should be installed in all areas where water is present.


Upgrading your electric panel can help ensure that your home is up to date with the necessary safety requirements and will keep you, your family, and your appliances safe. If these signs sound familiar, consider inviting a licensed electrical contractor to evaluate the situation and give you an estimate for an electric panel upgrade costs.


Do You Need a Permit for the Service Panel Upgrade?

The answer is yes. Upgrading your electrical panel requires a permit from your local government agency, as it is considered part of the building’s infrastructure and a safety issue. Depending on where you live, this could involve submitting plans and diagrams, meeting with inspectors, paying associated fees and always working with a professional electrician.


To ensure you’re following all the necessary regulations, contact your local government building authority to find out exactly what is required to get a permit for electrical panel upgrades in your area. This way, you can be sure that all of your work meets the code, and you won’t have to worry about any problems down the line.


Additionally, it is important to remember that electrical work can be very dangerous and should not be attempted by someone who isn’t trained in this field. If you are considering an electrical panel upgrade, it is recommended that you hire a qualified electrician to do the job properly.


An experienced electrician will be familiar with the local regulations, have the right tools and equipment to complete the job and can help ensure that your electrical panel is safe to use. By taking all these steps, you can rest assured that your electrical panel upgrade is done safely and properly.

Benefits of Upgrading to a New Electrical Panel

Peace of mind, anyone?

One of the most important investments you can make in your home is upgrading to a new electrical panel.


Not only will this help keep your home safe and energy efficient, but it can save you money over the long run. An upgraded electrical panel will provide numerous benefits, including:


  1. Increased Electrical Capacity: Upgrading to a new panel can increase your home’s total electrical capacity, allowing you to run more appliances and devices simultaneously without any electrical problems.


  1. Improved Safety: Newer panels are designed with safety features that can help protect against power surges and other electrical problems.


  1. Lower Energy Costs: With a more efficient panel, your home’s energy bills will likely be lower since you’ll use less electricity.


  1. Better Resale Value: An upgraded electrical panel is a great selling point for potential buyers and can help you get a higher price for your home.


Electrical panel upgrade costs

Bay Area pricing. If you are in a different location, your costs will be different.

Electrical panel upgrade cost when the main service panel is connected to the utility pole with an overhead wire are generally around $5,000.


This is definitely not the case when the existing panel is connected to the PG&E transformer via underground wiring.


If you go forward with a regular panel upgrade, it might quickly turn into a very expensive exercise.


The project will require three distinct phases:

  1. Engineering – PG&E will ask for an initial deposit that can vary from$1500 to $5000 to check feasibility and design the new line. It may easily take up to 6 months, and the final sum won’t be known until they are done with the engineering.
  2. Trenching – a contractor with an A license will do the trenching, price will depend on whether the PG&E box is on your side of the street or not. (I have recently done trenching for a sewer line on a public road and after extensive bidding we had to pay $17,000 just for the road work.) If the box is deemed unsufficient, add two more month to the project. This part to update 100A to 200A can cost $10,000-20,000
  3. Panel installation – permit, panel itself and installation will cost ~$5,200. 


If you want a licensed electrician to help with the process, you will have to add $3,000 to phase One.

Thus, just the first phase of the project can easily cost $8,000. This phase results in the project drawings and calculations from PG&E that confirm the final budget estimate.

You can see, Actual Costs for Underground Panel Upgrades might run up to ~$20,000 and take 8+ months.

There is another option – like-for-like replacement, 100А service, SPAN panel installation. SPAN panel allows monitoring energy consumption through the app. It gets installed in the location of the current sub-panel. There are also options to make it ready for the EV charger.


The estimate for this option is ~$10,000 and includes all labor, material and permits.

When Upgrading Electric Panel Is Not Possible, Consider SPAN Smart Panels

Sometimes the costs for an electrical service panel is prohibitive because of the utility company constraints. Newer electrical panels often need updating transformers or wiring. These additional costs may be too high. Plus, it may require long lead times for engineering.


SPAN Smart Panels can provide the perfect solution if you’re looking for a way to upgrade your home’s electric panel but can’t do so due to restrictions or difficulty. With SPAN, you’ll get circuit-level control from anywhere with the SPAN Home app and have access to a smarter, more flexible, and longer-lasting home battery backup.


And with Amazon Alexa enabled, you can manage every circuit in your home from a smartphone or tablet, even when you’re not there. So don’t let restrictions keep you from having the electric panel of your dreams – take your home to the next level with SPAN Smart Panels!


Plus, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your electric panel is running smoothly and efficiently. Enjoy greater energy efficiency, safety, and convenience with SPAN – the perfect upgrade for your home!


Other hazards – gas meter and water pipes

Often the situation is complicated by the fact that a gas meter is located too close to the main panel. To pass the PG&E inspection the electrician will need to move the main panel ~3 feet away from the gas meter.

You will also need to keep water spigots away from the panel. Three feet is the magic number. We had to relocate water pipes to satisfy this PG&E’s requirement.


Bottom Line

Overall, upgrading to a new electrical panel is an investment that will pay off in the long run. It is a safer and more efficient way to manage your home’s power, and it can also help you save money on energy costs and even increase your home’s resale value.


So, if you’re looking to improve your home, an electrical panel upgrade is worth considering. With the right electrician, you’ll be able to have your new panel installed quickly and safely. Do your research beforehand and choose the right electrician for the job!

electrical panel upgrade in process

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