Updating the electrical in a house

Q: Recently you advised a correspondent on upgrading the electrical system in an older house.

You recommended that he upgrade to a 200-amp main electrical panel. Is 200 amps the new baseline standard for residential electrical service?

The total amperage of the branch circuit breakers serving the house should not exceed the amperage of the panel.

The load needed to serve the electrical demands of the devices in the house dictates panel size.

The bulb's intense heat can scorch or melt the socket and insulation on the fixture's wires, which increases the risk of arcing — sparks that jump through the air from one wire to another — a chief cause of electrical fires.

For older, unmarked fixtures, use only 60-watt bulbs or smaller. Danger level: Minimal, as long as wires aren't within reach. Aside from the annoyance, the frayed wiring can arc and start a fire.

What it means: Because a junction box houses the splices where wires are connected to one another, a person could inadvertently damage the wires or get a shock. Solution: Spend a few cents to buy a new cover and install it with the screws provided. Solution: Contact the electric utility, which may replace the weatherhead at no charge. (Today's codes require receptacles within 4 feet of a doorway and every 12 feet thereafter.) Danger level: Minimal, as long as you use heavy-duty extension cords, 14-gauge or thicker.