How to Tell if My Electric Panel Is Safe
A breaker panel is something most homeowners don’t give a second thought about. Many just assume it’s doing its job and keeping them safe. The truth is there are many popular brands, still in homes today, that have been recalled and could present a severe threat to the safety of your home and family.
What is an Electrical Panel?
An electrical panel or breaker is a part of an electrical system that divides the electrical feed into separate circuits. It also provides protection for each circuit within the same enclosure.
It is where you will find breaker switches for different appliances in your home. A lever can be used to turn on/off a circuit breaker. Normally, each breaker is labeled so you know which to check in case of emergency. There is also a main circuit that controls the electrical power of the entire house.
Electrical panels are typically installed in garages, basements, and utility rooms.
Why is an Electric Panel Important?
The circuit breakers are safety devices. In the event of an overload, they will automatically trip to prevent further electrical flow. Each breaker can only handle a certain volume of current, and it shuts the flow to prevent overheating which can result to fire.
Usually, a single circuit breaker has a limit of 120 volts. This voltage is typically used for lights, television, and smaller devices. Larger appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators need more volts so separate breakers are allocated for each of them.
Modern electrical panels can be reset using levers. Homes that still have fuses need to replace the damaged fuse.
What Happens If You Neglect the Electric Panel?
While breakers are designed to keep you safe, they are not exempted from natural degradation. Maintenance is imperative to prevent accidents.
Always keep the panel covered. This is to prevent dust and small animals from entering and causing damage.
Schedule an inspection with a licensed electrician. Ideally, this should be done at least once a year. A licensed electrician can conduct a thorough inspection and necessary repairs.
Be Aware of these Electric Panel Recalls
Some brands of electric panels have been recalled due to reports of accidents and death. If your home still uses any of these brands, call a qualified electrician to replace it immediately.
Many homes built in the 1970s have Zinsco breakers. But a design flaw that resulted in fire hazards and electrical shocks made this brand obsolete. An accident report that dates back to July 1994 was published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that an electrical contractor sustained second and third degree burns after an electrical fault happened while working on a Zinsco electric panel. This brand has also been linked to thousands of fires in the past 20 years.
Aftermarket replacements are available, but it would be more economical to just replace the entire panel. You can identify a Zinsco electrical panel with its brightly-colored breakers (pink, yellow, red, blue, and green). Furthermore, their breakers are thinner than modern ones.
Federal Pacific Breakers (FPE)
If your home was built between 1950 and 1990, there’s a chance that it has a Federal Pacific electric panel with Stab-Lok breakers. After reports of electrical fires in the 1980s, an investigation revealed that 1 out of 4 Stab-Lok breakers couldn’t trip. Meaning, they couldn’t prevent overloading and electrical faults. A paper published in 2012 stated that FPE Stab-Lok breakers may be accountable for 2,800 fires and 13 deaths.
To identify a Federal Pacific electrical panel, search for the FPE or Stab-Lok label around each breaker. Federal Pacific circuit breakers also have red strips across them.
Challenger Electrical Panel
In 1973, the GTE Corporation launched an electric panel design and called it “Challenger”. The Challenger panel was installed in thousands of homes between 1980s to 1990s. Like Zinsco, it brought safety hazards and was recalled. It is important to note that some Challenger breakers do not feature their brand name and have the GTE-Sylvania label instead.
If you’re unsure of the panel brand, it is best to bring in an experienced electrician for verification. While waiting, it is advised to shut off the power supply to prevent any untoward incident.
What to Do If Your Home Uses Any of these Brands
If your home has Zinsco, FPE, or Challenger panel board, it is unlikely that you will pass the home inspection. These brands have been recalled many years ago, so there’s no excuse that you still use it. Furthermore, it would be difficult to obtain insurance with any of these panels because they have been shown to pose extreme safety hazards.
Make it your priority to call a professional technician to replace this electrical component and to upgrade the entire electrical system.