Main Service Panel Upgrade

January 17, 2023

Are you preparing to go solar or have an older home and thinking of replacing or upgrading your main electrical panel?

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Overhead Panel Upgrades are the simplest and most cost effective for a homeowner. In the bay area overhead fed service panel upgrades which include permitting, PG&E coordination, installation, and stucco repair can range in cost from: $4500.00 to $7000.00 depending on the site conditions.

Underground Services can cost more to upgrade because conduits that carry the utility service wires often need to be replaced. For budget purposes a homeowner that is replacing an underground fed main service panel like for like can expect similar cost as an upgraded overhead system $4000-$6000.

For homeowners wishing to replace their main service panel or for any major electrical work, they should always request a detailed estimate. The estimate should contain a written scope of work, any assumptions on what is included and not included or any site conditions that could affect the cost, schedule, and total estimated cost for the job.

If you are planning on upgrading your electrical service, please contact Site Electric Services at (707) 653-0376 to schedule a consultation and estimate.

The Details

In this blog post we are going to break down what goes into a panel upgrade, how it can be accomplished, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each of the methods that can be used.

For residential homes in the bay area, it was common for electric service to be brought into a meter enclosure from overhead wires which would feed main fuses or a breaker. Many of these services dating back to the 1930-1950 were 60 amps. Fast forward and with the invention of and broad adoption of HVAC, microwaves, televisions, dishwashers, electric cooktops, and electric water heaters, household electricity demand has increased substantially over the past 75 years.

For homeowners it is easy to overlook existing electrical systems if they are working. Overall, electrical systems are amazingly reliable and can be dependable for long periods of time without maintenance. All systems will eventually need to be replaced due to age, reliability, or capacity. Below will help breakdown some of the details and decisions that need to be made to choose a solution that is right for the application.


Is it Overhead or Underground?

Do you know where your PG&E meter is located at your home? For a typical home, the panel containing your electrical meter can often be referred to as your main service panel. It should contain a main breaker to disconnect PG&E Service from your home and often it also includes branch circuit breakers that feed individual appliances or a series of electrical outlets, or lights.

Does your main service panel get it’s utility power from overhead wires? If you see wires coming from a pole and going into a metal conduit that is attached to or protruding from your roof (called a service mast) then you would have an overhead service and if you don’t it is an underground service.

Overhead services allow easier upgrades to higher amp rated panels which allows homeowners to convert from gas to electric appliances, install solar, or add an electric vehicle charger.

For overhead services, utility conductors and sometimes the service mast conduits can be re-used to serve the new panel. This benefits the customer because it greatly reduces the overall cost to make the upgrade to a higher rated panel.


Is it Semi-Flush or Surface Mount?

Residential panels commonly come in two varieties: semi-flush and surface mount. Semi-flush means that the panel is recessed into the wall. The exterior wall siding or stucco is cutout for the panel to fit into the wall cavity between the framing members. Surface mounted panels sit on the surface of the wall and the panel is held to the wall using fasteners to framing members.

Semi-flush panels are typical for residential subdivisions built after the 1970s. They have a mounting flange used to secure the panel to the studs and create a physical barrier to prevent water from entering the wall cavity. Proper flashing and caulking of the semi-flush panel are important to prevent water intrusion into the wall cavity. They are in general more aesthetically pleasing but can cost more than a similar surface mounted panel. Usually, the contractor will schedule with the Utility (PG&E if you are in northern California) for a disconnect and reconnect and an inspection by the city or county all in the same day. The homeowner should be prepared to be without power for at least 8hours for the contractor to demolish the old panel, install the new panel, service mast, get inspection, and call for PG&E to reconnect the power.

Surface mounted Panels are the simpler choice for installation and cost but are not as aesthetically pleasing. The homes siding and moisture barrier is mostly left intact and undisturbed because the panel sits on the surface of the existing wall. Often a new service mast will be installed which is a conduit that brings the utility conductors into the meter enclosure by drilling a hole through the eaves of the roof.

Surface mounted panels can be installed next to existing panels which can reduce the down time and the requirement for precise coordination between the contractor, PG&E, and the city or county inspector. For installations that allow the contractor to install adjacent to existing. The city or county inspection can be done well in advance of the day PG&E move the service from the old panel to the new.

Depending on the site conditions overhead fed, underground fed, surface mount, or semi-flush mount, and whether an upgrade is necessary to a larger capacity and owners’ requirements for cost and aesthetics, Site Electric Services can provide you with a solution that meets your needs. Please call us with any questions or if you’d like an onsite consultation (707)653-0376 or email us at

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