Electrical Panels: Unsafe and Outdated Types to Avoid Using in Your Home
April 8, 2020 | Irene Osalla
The electrical panel is like the heart of your home’s electrical system. Here is why unsafe and outdated panels have no place in your home:
The electrical system in your home operates just like a human body. Like veins and arteries carry blood to organs and limbs, circuits and wires carry electricity throughout the home. Blood keeps our bodies alive; electricity keeps our homes running. The heart must be healthy in order for blood to travel around the body; the electrical panel of our home must operate properly for electricity to flow safely throughout the home. To enjoy the comforts of television, computers and refrigerators (to name a few), we must maintain a properly functioning electrical panel.
Unsafe Electrical Panels
Let’s take a look at some unsafe panels that can be found in older homes in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Whether recalled or outdated, these panels require immediate attention:
- Zinsco (GTE-Sylvania)
- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
- Challenger (Eaton/Cutler Hammer)
- Fuse box
Zinsco was a popular brand of electrical panel installed in many homes throughout the 1970s. Around 1973, Zinsco was purchased by GTE-Sylvania. Although Zinsco no longer exists, their panels were part of a class-action lawsuit in 2002, and thousands of homes across the country may still have these malfunctioning panels installed.
Zinsco panels are unsafe because many of their circuit breakers melted to the main bus bar (a relatively large metal strip inside the panel designed to conduct substantial amounts of electrical current from the electric meter to the panel). The melted circuit breakers failed to trip in the event of a short or overloaded circuit. The unchecked surge of power melted wires and started fires in homes.
If you see the name Zinsco anywhere on your electrical panel, it should be replaced immediately. Many GTE-Sylvania or Sylvania panels are merely rebranded Zinsco panels or may contain the problematic Zinsco design. These panels need to be inspected by an electrician and, if found with the problematic design, replaced immediately.
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
Between the 1950s and 1980s, Federal Pacific Electric was one of the most popular manufacturers of electric panels in the United States. Millions of these panels were sold and installed in homes up to the 1980s. FPE was also part of the 2002 class-action lawsuit due to defects that led to extremely unsafe situations in the home.
FPE’s circuit breakers fail to trip when there is a short circuit or overload. Electricity surges through the circuits without a functioning breaker, leading to overheating and fires. There have also been reports of circuits being in the “off” position yet still sending power to the circuit, causing electrocution when working on a circuit that is presumed to be off.
Look for “Federal Pacific” or “Federal Pacific Electric” on the inside panel cover if your home was built between 1950-1980. Another indication of these faulty panels is the name “Stab-Lok” (brand name of the circuit breakers) printed on the circuits themselves. Have an electrician inspect and replace the panel right away.
Challenger (Eaton/Cutler Hammer)
Challenger panels were popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and installed in hundreds of thousands of homes. The problem with these panels lies in particular 15- and 20- ampere circuit breakers manufactured between February and April of 1988. These circuit breakers were sold to electrical product distributors, retail hardware and lumber stores. About 9,000 of these devices have not been located, most likely have been installed in residences.
Quality control testing has determined that a mechanical part of these breakers may become detached and and prevent the breaker from functioning. These malfunctioning breakers would overheat under normal conditions, at the connection to the bus bar. Expansion and contraction from overheating leads to arcing, damaging both the breaker and bus bar. Over time, both of these components would melt completely, leading to fire and shock hazards.
If you have a Challenger panel, a licensed electrician should be contacted to perform replacement work. Although the company no longer manufacturers products, Challenger products were sold to many other brands, and even may be labeled as GTE-Sylvania or Zinsco. After Challenger went out of business, the remaining product lines were purchased by Eaton/Cutler Hammer. In 2014, Eaton Corporation recalled over 1,000 residential breakers because the panel components could be easily accessed, posing an electrical shock hazard. If you see any of these names in your home’s electrical panel, give us a call right away.
Between 1950 and 1980, Pushmatic panels were widely used and installed in homes. What makes this brand of panel unique from other circuit breaker panels is that, rather than having switches that flip left and right, the panel uses rectangular buttons to be pushed in order to activate and deactivate circuits.
While the Pushmatic panel itself is not as great a fire hazard as the panels mentioned above, it is obsolete since the company went out of business. Finding parts is nearly impossible and, if they can be found, are extremely expensive. Any panel that is old and outdated is naturally prone to having worn out, hence unreliable, components and parts.
Even without recalls or reports of fire hazards, old and outdated electrical equipment should, at the very least, be inspected–and ultimately replaced. Panels that are old and difficult to maintain should be upgraded and easily maintained in order to ensure the safety of your home.
The Importance of Replacing Problematic Panels
Just as any heart problem in your body would require immediate attention by a medical doctor, any electrical panel issues in the home should be addressed right away by a licensed electrician. When choosing a doctor to address health concerns for you or your loved ones, trust and experience is highly important. Trust our experienced electricians at Penna Electric to keep your home running smoothly and safely.
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Is Your Challenger Brand Electric Panel Safe? | Brubaker Inc.
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Shock Hazard Recall of Eaton Electrical Meter Breakers
Outdated and Unsafe Electrical Panels That Could Be Hiding In Your Home
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