Is Your Zinsco Panel Safe? What To Do If You Have One
July 12, 2021 | Cristina Dinulescu
Your home’s main electrical panel is most likely the first thing that needs to be inspected when it comes to electrical safety or if you experience any issues. With proper maintenance and care, these panels can last for decades, however there is an important difference between a panel seemingly functioning properly and actually protecting your home against overcurrent or electrical fault.
A Zinsco panel is a good example of such an electrical panel. In older homes, there are still some electrical panel brands that have been commonly known to fail at safety standards. Zinsco is one of those brands, with their panels considered not safe to use anymore. One of the most common faults of a Zinsco electrical panel is that the breakers don’t trip when there’s overcurrent or short circuits. Their breakers are made of a certain type of aluminum, which can melt and fuse to the bus bar. This means that the breaker won’t trip and can potentially cause an arc or even an electrical fire.
What Is A Zinsco Panel?
Zinsco was established in 1943 and their panels were very common between the 1960s and 1970s. They were mostly installed in residential properties across North America. While many people have been upgrading their electrical panels, you can still find a Zinsco panel in some of the older homes today.
About 20 years after its foundation, Zinsco began manufacturing a new type of breaker, a 240-volt twin circuit breaker that could connect to both bus cars. It was the only product of the kind, which made them extremely popular. Ten years later, Zinsco was sold to GTE Sylvania, which kept the production of the panels going until late 1970s. Even though manufacturing stopped, the panels that were already produced kept being installed in properties for a few more years.
Today, a Zinsco panel is considered updated and unsafe. Apart from them putting you and your household at risk, they’ve also become a nuisance, because most insurances won’t cover your house if you have one.
The risks associated with these panels are both electrical fires and shock, with statistics showing that they fail to function properly almost 25% of the time. These panels would definitely not receive today’s UL listing.
How Do I Know If I Have A Zinsco Panel?
It’s not very difficult to identify whether or not you have a Zinsco electrical panel. Open your main panel and look down the middle. If there is a vertical line of color-coded circuit breaker handles, then most likely you have one. Additionally, they typically have the logo at the top of the panel, although that could be hard to see if it’s really old.
Now that you know you have a Zinsco, you might wonder if your panel really isn’t functioning properly. The trouble with these panels is that there are certain issues that can’t be noticed with the naked eye. Even if you remove the cover and inspect the breakers, everything can seem to be working just fine.
However, a licensed, professional electrician should be able to explore the panel’s components and potentially find breakers that cannot be removed from the bus bar. This happens because, as mentioned before, they’ve welded together. In such a case, where the breaker has melted, it’s impossible for it to trip. This means that the breaker may allow an unsafe amount of electrical current into your home.
One should never try to remove breakers from their panel in order to check if they’re melted. If you suspect anything or want to have your panel checked, please call a licensed electrician, as you’d be at risk for electrical shock.
Is It Safe To Keep My Panel?
The short answer is no. Like mentioned above, it’s not easy to spot if there is a problem with your Zinsco panel, but even if it has been seemingly working properly, the chances of failure are high. Moreover, you risk your insurance refusing to cover your household anymore and you’ll have quite the difficulty finding a company that will.
Zinsco panels are considered dangerous not just by electricians but also by industry experts. In the beginning, the panels were manufactured with copper bus bars and the clips on the breakers were copper as well. Back then, only three materials were allowed to be used as electrical conductors: gold, silver and copper. However, during World War II and all the way up to the 1960s, there was a major copper shortage in the US, which led to the NEC making changes in their codes.
When aluminum was allowed, Zinsco switched to this material, but the quality of the alloy was not the best and it had different properties. It became prone to oxidation, where oxidized aluminum has insulating properties as opposed to conducting properties. This led to frequent burn-outs and electrical fires.
Apart from the breakers being manufactured with poor quality aluminum and the possibility of them melting, there are other issues with these panels that make them unsafe. For instance, the breakers may not connect properly to the bus bar. A loose connection can cause arcing, which produces high heat and can set fire to the entire panel. The bus bars tend to corrode easily as well.
The bottom line is that if you do have a Zinsco panel, the best step to take is to replace it. Whether you’re seeing signs of improper function or not, whether you’re being denied by your insurance company or not yet, these panels are not safe and should be replaced as soon as possible.
The right electrical upgrade can dramatically improve the value and appearance of any home or business. You’ll be amazed at what a difference the right electrical upgrade can make for your home or business. Make sure that when you select an electrical company to do the enhancement of your home and you have decided to take your enhancement to the level where you require an electrical upgrade that the technician at the company has a good working knowledge and the experience to properly guide you in this area.
When you decide to upgrade, our well-trained and certified electricians have all the experience and training needed to complete your electrical panel upgrade project from start to finish, with a minimum of fuss or disturbance. Please contact us right away at 310-800-2401