Everything You Need to Know About a Main Panel Upgrade

So you think you need a main panel upgrade?

Clients ask us about main panel upgrades all the time. We often hear questions like:

  • What is a main panel?
  • Do I need a main panel upgrade one at my home in order to go solar?
  • My panel is really old but still has several slots left. Will that work?
  • Why do I need to upgrade my main panel?
  • How do I know if I’ll need a main panel upgrade at my home?
  • How much does a main panel upgrade cost?
  • What if we don’t need an upgraded main panel, but want one because of future upgrades. Can you still do that as part of our solar project?

After working with thousands of homeowners, we’re here to set the record straight. 

What IS a main panel anyway?

Your main panel, also called your main breaker, fuse box, or electrical breaker box, is the initial electrical connection for the home. Service lines from your electric provider run underground to your home, and into the main panel to provide electricity for your entire house. Then, all of the electrical components of a home are wired from this place of origination. 

So, if you’ve ever tripped a fuse by using your hairdryer; or by using your kitchen blender, toaster, and microwave at the same time, you’ve probably had to go find that box with all the switches somewhere around the house – usually in your garage, hallway, or tucked in a random closet somewhere. Then you had to toggle the right one back and forth so that the appliances in question will work again, right? Well, that box is what we’re talking about. 

Why do you have to upgrade the main panel to install solar panels?

Well, for a few reasons. 

First off, if your breakers are outdated they can actually be a significant fire hazard for your home, which we definitely don’t want. 

The second reason is that you might not have enough space left in your current electrical panel for us to tie your solar system in. Solar panels don’t just power themselves (a common misconception), they need electricity to run. So if you don’t have any slots open in your current main panel, we’ll need to give you a bigger one! It’s as simple as that. 

The third reason is that code has changed significantly over the years. Older homes were built before the era of LED lights, energy efficient appliances, and solar technology. These days, we’re working with some pretty high tech stuff and want to make sure that your electrical service is up to the task of all of the various technology advancements that have occurred over the past several years. In order to install solar panels on your home, we have to get permits approved by your local jurisdiction, electrical company, and HOA or Metro District if you have one. If your current electric panel isn’t up to code, we’ll need to replace it with one that is in order to get approval to install. 

How do I know if my home will need a main panel upgrade in order to install solar panels?

It’s important to note that not every home will need an MPU in order for a residential solar system to be installed. There are three key things to look out for that might indicate that you’ll need one:

  • If your breaker box is older than 20 years. 
  • If you don’t see any open slots in the panel.
  • If your main breaker is rated for less than 200 amps.

If any of those 3 things are true for your main breaker, there’s a very good chance that we’ll need to do a main panel upgrade at your home.

The first thing that we’ll do once you decide to make the switch to renewable energy is send our team over to take a look at your home. During that site survey, they’ll do a thorough inspection of the main panel. They will take those findings to our expert engineering team, and they’ll be the ones to decide whether or not a main panel upgrade is necessary for your project. If we find that one is required, our customer care team will reach out to you to discuss options. Learn more about our site surveys and solar install process here.

How much does it cost? And what does that do to my solar install timeline?

So you think you need a MPU? No big deal. Fortunately, we’re a vertically integrated solar installer, so we can take care of all of your MPU work for you! Our team of master electricians work with homeowners all the time to complete main panel upgrades in order to install solar. They have the potential to slow the overall project down a bit, but our dedicated customer success teams are here to take care of the extra leg work for you. 

The cost of a main panel upgrade is anywhere between $3,000-5,000. If you plan to finance your system, we’ll typically wrap that cost into the overall project funding so that you don’t have to come out of pocket for the work.

Once we get that squared away, our team will need to get that extra work permitted on your behalf. Then, we’ll coordinate with your electric provider to shut down the electricity to your home in order to do the work if necessary. Once the upgrade is complete, a city inspector and your utility company will come and give their stamp of approval. The extra legwork can slow the project down anywhere from 1 day to 4 months, but it’s well worth it in the long run. 

What if you don’t NEED one, but want one for future upgrades down the road?

We honestly think it’s a great idea if you are planning on doing any future upgrades to your home that might need additional electricity. We are more than happy to wrap a main panel upgrade into the solar project whether or not we determine it is necessary. Just let your solar expert know during your consultation and they’ll make sure to include it in your project.