All You Need To Know About Recalled Electrical Panels

August 16, 2021 | Cristina Dinulescu

recalled electrical panels

The electrical panel is an essential component for every home’s structure and yet it is rarely an element the homeowners pay attention to. It is enough to know that there is one in the house and that it keeps all the electrical circuits running and the appliances working. Still, an important feature of one is safety, which means it should keep the entire system from overheating or from catching fire.

However, there are several well-known brands that recalled electrical panels because they were safety hazards, dangerous to the integrity of the electrical circuits, as well as to the wellbeing of the inhabitants. These are mostly the old panels, used before 1990.

All panels have clear specs that prevent overheating and even fires resulting from too much energy flowing to one area of the electrical circuit. But old panels, installed before 1990, could no longer meet the needs of modern life, and some also had design flaws so were thus recalled, as they had become a potential threat to the household.

People usually don’t even know what type of electrical panel they have in their homes, but it is advisable to always check these features, especially when moving to a new house. If a house was built before 1990 and it still has its original panel, it is most likely you’re dealing with an outdated one. So, in order to avoid any risks, you should take a look at the electrical panel and replace it if necessary.

3 Recalled Electrical Panels To Watch Out For

A few brands of electrical panels have been removed from the market because of reported accidents and even deaths. Any of the following brands should be replaced at once and only by a qualified electrician.

1. Zinsco Panels

One of the recalled electrical panels was sold by the archaic brand of Zinsco, which had a faulty design that led to fire hazards and electrical shocks. Official reports dating as early as 1994 showed that an electrician suffered from second and third degree burns because of an electrical flaw of a Zinsco panel he was working on.

Zinsco electrical panels aren’t difficult to identify, since they come with thinner, colorful breakers – yellow, pink, red, green and blue. Also, they usually have the logo inscripted, and you should look for either Zinsco or Sylvania / GTE-Sylvania, as a large number of Zinsco panels were rebranded. If you have any of these, you ought to replace them as soon as possible.

2. Federal Pacific Electric Panels

Perhaps one of the most dangerous recalled electrical panels, Federal Pacific was the go-to model for the panel boards installed between 1950 and 1990. However, inquiries opened after several electrical fires were reported in the 80s concluded that 25% of the Stab-Lok breakers used in Federal Pacific panels couldn’t trip. That means that 1 out of 4 breakers did not prevent overheating or other electrical errors. A publication from 2012 revealed that FP Stab-Lok electric breakers might be responsible for 2,800 fires and 13 deaths.

Federal Pacific electrical panels have certain identification marks, such as red strips across the breakers or FPE and Stab-Lok labels.

3. Challenger Electrical Panels

Challenger panels were mounted in households for a decade, between 1980s and 1990s, but they were recalled because they posed safety threats. When trying to identify a Challenger breaker, one should keep in mind that some might be labeled as GTE-Sylvania, just like the Zinsco panels.

Recalled Electrical Panels Issues

As stated before, electrical panels are built with a high regard to safety, in order to prevent overheating or even fires. The way they do that is by not allowing too much power in one area of the electrical circuit. Still, the recalled panels mentioned before had various issues that prevented them from working well.

  1. Breakers wouldn’t tripwith Zinsco panels, for example, the electrical breakers were melting to the bus bar, which stopped the circuit from tripping.  As a result, a shortage or an over-pressure of the current could easily burn and melt the wires. This causes electrical fires, a phenomenon frequently related to the Zinsco brand over the last 20  years.
  2. Breakers wouldn’t resetthis means that the breakers trip but don’t move to neutral position, they stay on. When this happens, the network is at risk for short circuits – a charged cable comes in contact with a neutral one. They can cause overheating, appliances to break down, and can even be the source of fires.
  3. Cheap materialsmost of these panels were manufactured with cheap metal that arcs when it gets hot. Electrical arcing is the process that occurs when current flows through the air between two conductors and it is extremely dangerous, as it can cause fires, release poisonous gas and even small blasts. In many of these panels, cheap materials were also used for busing, therefore its integrity was compromised.

Dangers of Having an Unsafe Electrical Panel

These recalled electrical panels pose several hazards, the most common being electrical fire. But you can also be at risk for electrocution or severe damage to your appliances and devices. Here are 3 main dangers of not replacing an outdated electrical panel immediately:

  1. Electrical fire:  for both Federal Pacific and Zinsco electrical panels, the greatest danger is fire. Their circuit breakers do not trip as they are supposed to, in case of short circuits or overloading, which has generated thousands of fires across the country.
  2. Electrocution: several records showed that Federal Pacific Electric circuits do not shut down when turned off, still sending power to the network. Working on a circuit that is supposed to be off, but it is not, can lead to electrocution.
  3. Loss of insurance:  most insurance companies deny policies on households with some types or models of electrical breakers, like Federal Pacific and Zinsco. They had high costs because of complaints involving these two brands, that they just no longer insure them.

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