Electrical Box Regulations – Is There a Fire Hazard in Your Walls?

By HomeAdvisor

Updated December 3, 2019

Electrical Boxes & Fire Hazards

Your electrical box is the spot where electricity from the grid connects to your home. From here your breaker box divides up the electrical source to different rooms and different areas of your home. This is just the basics of your home electricity. While many people know how to turn a breaker back on when one has flipped, not very many homeowners understand the importance of the age of the wiring in their homes, current regulations and scary potential of losing your home to fire because of an old fuse box.

If Your Home Is More Than 15 Years Old

Older homes are in more danger of fire hazards than new ones, simply because of the electrical. Insurance companies will not insure homes that have solid evidence as having the old porcelain knob circuitry and old fault wiring in general. This is basically gasoline and matches behind your walls, and it won’t take too much load to cause a fire.

The problem for insurance companies is that your local home inspector is not allowed to dig into your walls for any reason — termites, leaks or checking the viability of a certain material. As such, a home inspector cannot say for certain that a particular home has a particular grade of wiring. The existence of 2-pronged outlets rather than 3-pronged is a definitive sign the wiring is very old.

However, new regulations have made it so that a home electrical box has to be attached outside the home. This regulation was imposed in part by the fire department, so when fire fighters arrive at a home that is aflame, they can quickly shut off all the electricity to the house. This was imposed all over the country 15 years ago, and as a result of how long it takes new regulations to take effect, homes that are 12-15 years old and younger have exterior breakers.

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What This Means for You

The average age of home across the country is 44 years old. This means the majority of homes need an electrical upgrade to carry the average load in this technologically dependent time.

No matter if your electrical box is inside or outside, what you need to realize is that the wiring and electrical panel in older homes was designed for very low loads. If you go 20 years back, the typical home had a fridge, a TV, washer/dryer, water heater, HVAC unit, a microwave and dishwasher. If you go 35 years back, there were no microwaves. The amount of load that the typical home’s fuse box could carry was enough to manage, even with the addition of more televisions and a microwave.

Jump forward to today. If your home was built 50 years ago, it not only might be struggling to handle the addition of a TV and a microwave, but your home is also struggling to handle multiple TVs, CD players, DVD/VHS players, computers, and printers, not to mention coffee makers, coffee grinders, game systems, blenders, food processors, paper shredders, and the list goes on.

Upgrading Your Electrical

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for older homes to have their electrical boxes upgraded by a qualified electrician. If you have a fuse box, then this is a must. This is not the kind of home improvement that you will get to show off to your friends, but it’s well worth a call to your local electrician. Increasing the load to your electrical panel will allow you to show off your home for a long time, because if you don’t anticipate the need to update your breaker box, all it takes is a little bad luck to start a big fire.


  1. Joyce, September 5:

    Is it now illegal to have an old electrical fuse box in your home

  2. Don, November 3:

    This article has a lot of incorrect information in it. Maybe in isolated areas, but generally there is no requirement for breakers boxes to be on the exterior of the dwelling.

  3. Tammy Mazza, August 13:

    Is it legal for my landlord to have the breaker box in the wall with the kitchen cabinet over it?. When i blow a fuse i have to take the food out then the shelf to get to the breaker box

  4. jim, August 27:

    Is it illegal to block access to your electrical panel?

  5. Mike, April 18:

    Agree with Don, article has incorrect information that should be verified, before advising home owners. Give a local electrician a call, they will walk you thru what you need done. Firemen could always pull the meter pan to cut off electric to a house, unless it has a heavy duty lock, but I’m sure they could figure out how to get into it.

    TAMMY- absolutely not, have him fix the issue. Stuff inside the cabinets could catch fire. BUT I Have seen people put a cabinet door covering a recessed panel, just to not have an eye sore depending where it is. But The national electrical code calls for at least 3 foot of clearance in front of panel, and width of at least panel or 2.5 feet. So let’s say a hot water heater can’t be placed three feet in front of panel, so in case the panel needs to be serviced.

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