Electrical malfunction is the fourth-highest cause of home fires in the U.S. Electrical panels are built for safety, but ignoring problems can lead to a dangerous situation, including electrocution or fire. Your circuit box should run quietly. If it’s making new or unusual noises, call an electrician right away.

What Does an Electrical Panel Do?

The electrical panel, or breaker box as it is also called, is like the brain of a home’s electrical system. Power from an external source comes through the panel and is distributed to various areas of your house through circuits. The panel box contains several built-in safeguards to protect the circuits from overloading, but problems can occur from time to time. Circuit breakers will automatically switch off in the case of overload, immediately cutting off the power to that circuit to prevent fire.

In homes where fuse boxes are still used, the fuse will blow out, shutting down the power to the overloaded circuit.

If you are frequently experiencing tripped circuits or blown fuses, even without a humming sound, call an electrician to evaluate your electrical panel. It may be time to upgrade the breaker box. Modern families require more electricity than previous generations. An updated electrical panel will provide a stable flow of power into your home, but it will also help prevent fires and other electrical hazards.

When to Worry About the Buzz

Not every noise from your electrical panel indicates an emergency. However, for the safety of your home and family, call a professional electrician if you suspect there are any problems. In addition to buzzing sounds, other warning signs your breaker box needs to be replaced or updated include:

  • The panel is over 25-years old
  • You’re experiencing frequent power surges, tripped breakers, or blown fuses
  • A burning smell or scorch marks on the panel
  • You rely on extension cords because there aren’t enough outlets in the house
  • You have added or plan to add a large new appliance, such as a new washer/dryer or a hot tub
  • The electrical panel uses fuses
  • The panel feels warm or hot to the touch
  • There is rust or damage on the panel
  • Lights flicker

Keeping the electrical panel functional is essential to your safety and comfort. Ignoring the above signs could lead to an emergency loss of power.

Ignoring buzzing or humming noises can also be a fire risk. Noises coming from the circuit box could indicate a problem serious enough to cause a house fire. The kind of noise you hear helps to determine the correct course of action.

Soft Humming Noise

When you stand close to the electrical panel, it’s normal to hear a faint, gentle hum. That sound is the flow of electrical currents moving through the panel and is nothing to be alarmed about. However, if the sound seems to be getting louder with time, contact a qualified electrician to do an inspection. The hum of flowing currents should not decrease or increase if the system is working correctly.

Loud, Continuous Buzzing

A continuous loud hum or buzzing sound is a sign of trouble. It probably means one or more breakers have overloaded but did not trip (shut off) when it should have. An overloaded circuit is a fire hazard and requires immediate attention. Call an electrician right away, no matter what time of day or night you notice the problem. An overloaded circuit is a serious hazard. Do not try to flip the circuit switch yourself.

The most common reason for tripping circuit breakers is that the electrical panel is outdated. If you live in an older home or have added square footage to your home but did not update the electrical panel to meet the home’s new needs, it is probably time for an upgrade.

A Sizzling or Clicking Noise

More than 30,000 home fires annually are caused by a phenomenon known as arcing fault. Arcing faults can happen when the electrical current jumps from one damaged wire to another inside the circuit box. Call an electrician immediately if you hear a sizzling noise or see sparks coming from the breaker box.

Loose, damaged wires or faulty wires can cause an arcing fault. Over time, wires and other components of the electrical panel can become damaged with regular use.

It’s Time to Call an Electrician

When it’s working correctly, your home’s electrical system is something you shouldn’t even notice. The fact that it is getting your attention means a problem needs to be addressed.

For your safety, we recommend calling a professional electrician for any problem concerning your home’s electrical system. Any unusual noises, smells, or changes inside the home are warning signs of a problem.  You may need to replace the old breaker panel with a new one that will provide the appropriate amount of electricity for your home.