These days, people have something plugged into almost every electrical outlet in the house. Toasters, tea kettles, computers, widescreen TVs, cell phone chargers – you name it and it’s probably plugged-in. People use more power than ever before and so houses built recently have electrical service that can handle all that load – but it didn’t use to be that way. Houses built today have 100-amp electrical service, but many older houses just had 60-amp service. That was good enough back then, but it’s might not be adequate now.
A caveat: this article pertains to houses and not conventional condominiums. Conventional condominiums are typically insured as a whole by the condo corporation. So if you live in an apartment condo or a townhouse, the service requirements may be different for building insurance.
If you live in a house that was built in Edmonton during the turn of the century – the last century that is, your house probably had only 30-amp service. That wouldn’t really even run a toaster and an electric cook-top at the same time these days. Using a blow-dryer and kettle at the same time would blow a fuse. That 30-amp electrical service was common until the early 1940s when builders changed over to 60-amp service and by now all 30-amp systems in Edmonton should have been replaced with at least 60-amp service.
60-amp service isn’t that bad if you have a gas stove and a gas dryer
60-amp service wasn’t that bad back in the 1950s if you have a gas stove and gas dryer and most people did have a gas stove – and they hung their laundry to dry or maybe had a gas dryer – which worked perfectly fine. This doesn’t often suffice today, however – nowadays you really should have 100-amp service for insurance and for future use. For example, what if you want to change your stove to electrical? What is your gas dryer breaks or you’re wanting to switch to an electric one? 100-amp service started to be used in homes by the late 1950s, so if your house was built before then, it may have been 60-amp service.
What’s The Big Deal?
So why is this all so important? Well I think pretty much no one has 30-amp service anymore, so you can forget about that being a problem, but since there was such a construction boom just after World War II, there are a lot of houses built in the 1940s in Edmonton and a lot of them have a lower amperage electrical service than is required today. And that in itself may not be such a big deal – your house might be fine – but what you have to consider is the insurance companies. Many insurance companies have decided that 60-amp service is not as safe as 100-amp service, and they often won’t insure a property with a 60-amp panel. They won’t just charge you more – they often won’t insure it at all! Some insurance companies might give you temporary insurance as long as you update the electrical in a reasonable amount of time, but it could depend. This is a big pain for a new homeowner because without insurance, you can’t have a mortgage and without a mortgage, you often can’t have a house! What are you supposed to do? Well unless you can get some leeway from the insurance company, you’re going to need to upgrade that panel quite soon after you move in or the sellers will have to upgrade if for you.
Insurance companies often won’t insure a property with a 60-amp electrical service.
So how do you know what a house has? Well an electrical panel can be located in a few different places – it’s usually at the back of the house in the basement or near the back door. If you have a newer detached garage, sometimes the panel is in there instead. This is not common with older houses, though, unless the upgrade has already been done. Make sure to locate this panel and check what the electrical service is. If there is only 60-amp service, the main breaker will say ’60’ on it. If it’s 100-amp, it’ll simply say ‘100’. Pretty easy. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t get a house inspector when you buy a home, I think you should, but you can check the breaker yourself in advance.
Here is what a 100-amp main breaker looks like:
And here’s what a 60-amp breaker looks like. Not easy to tell the difference, so look carefully!
If you’re a homeowner and haven’t already upgraded your electrical, it might be a sticking point for a buyer down the road.
Wouldn’t it be so cool if you could put a new box on the wall and hook up your power-line and get 100-amp service? That would be so nice! Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The problem is that you have a certain gauge wire running from the power pole out back to your home, and that line needs to be updated to carry the extra current to your house – the old one won’t cut it. And you might need to update all sorts of other items when you get this new service. It’s not a do-it-yourself project. You can’t go unhooking power-lines and digging up the yard to get your panel upgraded – you need a master electrician for that. All in all, upgrading your panel can costs in the thousands so it’s not cheap, but it will make the home more liveable and saleable. If you’re a homeowner and haven’t already upgraded your electrical service to 100-amp, you might want to budget for it as it might be a sticking point for a buyer down the road. If you’re a new buyer and the home hasn’t been changed to 100-amp already, it will almost certainly have to be done at some point -and likely soon – so call around to get the details, budget for it in your offer or perhaps you can negotiate to have the seller do it before you take possession.
Homeowners’ electricity needs have changed over the years, but it seems that 100-amps has been sufficient for some time now. New homes built today still have 100-amp service, so it’s a good bet that if you change your service over, you won’t have to worry about it as long as you live in your home. I know some people opt for 150-amp breakers thinking that they might need more power in the future, but with more efficient appliances and lighting, it doesn’t seem to be a problem in Alberta thus far.
If you live in a condo, you probably don’t have to worry about the electrical service in your place with regards to insurance. Because a condominium is insured as a whole, the service to each unit is not typically a concern. Any changes to the electrical load of the condo unit could cause problems however – like if an owner wants to add laundry to a unit that doesn’t have it. Otherwise, 60-amps or even 50-amps may be perfectly adequate.
Make sure to check with your home inspector about the electrical service when you get your inspection and if you or the inspector has any concerns, contact a qualified electrician to find out if anything needs repair or upgrading.
by +Alan F Macdonald REALTOR® | Copyright © – gimme-shelter.com