Circuit breaker panels and fuse boxes serve a similar purpose—to protect an overloaded electrical circuit by interrupting the flow of electricity—but they work differently. A fuse is made of a piece of metal that melts when overheated, interrupting the electrical flow. A circuit breaker has an internal switch that is tripped by an unsafe surge of electricity. Fuses interrupt the flow of power faster but must be replaced after they melt. Circuit breakers can simply be reset. A circuit breaker panel is essentially a big switch made up of smaller switches that correspond to certain electrical zones in a building. Should one of the switches fail, an electrician can replace it for approximately $120–$200, depending on the region. Ray Marrow of NY Lite Design in New York City charges $120 to replace a circuit breaker switch: $100 for about two hours of labor, plus $20 to cover the cost of the switch.
If any additional wiring repairs or rewiring are needed, it will cost extra. Most electricians charge by the hour for wiring work, with rates starting around $40–$50 and going up to $90 in some areas. Materials costs will be on top of the hourly rate and include the wires as well as any other materials needed to replace drywall or other interior finishes.
Replacing the panel
In some older homes, it’s not uncommon for circuit breakers to frequently trip—which can indicate that it’s time to update the entire panel. An updated panel increases the power available to all the appliances and devices in the home. The minimum amps required in modern homes is 100, but a typical 2,000-square-foot home should have a 200-amp panel. Most electricians charge $1,250–$3,000 to upgrade an existing panel to 200 amps, depending on how much work is involved (rewiring, relocating the panel, etc.). If the circuit breaker panel needs to be relocated, it can cost an additional $500–$1,000 to cover the cost of moving wiring and installing the panel in its new location.
Other electrical upgrades
Older homes can require any number of electrical upgrades to safely supply enough power to modern appliances and electronic devices. Some updates, such as installing new ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) power outlets, are straightforward and typically cost $100–$200 each. These outlets are self-grounding and are now required in all new kitchens, bathrooms, crawl spaces, unfinished basements and most outdoor receptacles.
Other updates are more expensive and time-consuming. Updating knob-and-tube wiring, for example, could cost $8,000–$15,000 in a large home, says Marrow of NY Lite Design. Knob-and-tube wiring is not always hazardous, but the materials used—in particular, the rubber wire coverings—can become brittle over time, which can make electrical connections unreliable or, in some cases, can increase the chance of an electrical short or fire. Knob-and-tube wiring does not, by design, include a ground wire, which provides a safe way to discharge excess electricity. For these two reasons, some insurance companies do not insure homes with knob-and-tube wiring.