Unsafe and outdated Electrical panels, what to look for in your home.
During a building inspection, electrical panels have a plethora of things we must inspect for and document for our clients. Some of these things can be spotted easily and draw red flags without having to open the dead front of the panel. Among these things are the type of panel and breakers being used for the home that are known to be unsafe and outdated.
There are 4 main panels that have been proven to be unsafe, obsolete, outdated and or dangerous for homes built before 1990 and are seen often in Mid-Missouri during a home inspection.
This article is about homeowner awareness and how to spot a potentially dangerous condition in your home associated with electrical panels. This can be done by simply doing a visual inspection of your electrical panel and knowing what to look for.
Note* If your home was built prior to the 1990’s, it is always a great idea to have your electrical panel evaluated by a licensed electrician to assure your safety.
(FPE) Federal Pacific Electric panels
This was one of the most popular panel manufactures between the 1950s-1980s, installed in millions of homes across the United States, also one of the most common panels I come across in Mid-Missouri. Just like all of the other panels, they are easy to identify through a visual inspection, without having to remove the dead front.
How to spot one: Look for the name Federal Pacific or FPE and Stab-Lok name or breakers (usually has red tips on breaker switch). This photo was taken at a recent building inspection.
Why are they unsafe? Because the circuit breakers are known to fail or trip during a circuit overload or short circuit and have been linked back to thousands of fires across the country.
Recommendation: Due to the safety issues associated with FPE and Stab-Lok, we would recommend consulting with a licensed electrician.
Zinsco or GTE Sylvania Panels
These panels were mostly installed throughout the 1970's and were very popular. It wasn't until 2002 that they were recalled due to a class action lawsuit and yet to this date thousands of homes still have these panels.
How to spot one: Your panel may have a Zinsco label on it, or possibly a Sylvania or a GTE Sylvania label somewhere on it or inside of the electrical panel itself. These breakers are most easily recognized by the colored coded breaker handles.
Why are they unsafe? The circuits have been reported to not trip during an overloaded circuit and causing fires due to the excessive heat. Additionally, they were known to melt the circuits instead of safely shutting the power off.
Recommendation: Due to the safety issues associated with Zinsco, we would recommend consulting with a licensed electrician.
Fuse boxes are outdated and unsafe. They use fuses instead of circuit breakers to protect your wires from becoming overloaded. Essentially, when a circuit draws too much electricity, the fuse burns out, much like a circuit breaker but they do not have the ability to reset and must be replaced.
How to spot? Well, pretty simple to spot. See picture above.
Why are they dangerous? Fuse panels are natural unsafe, but become dangerous mostly due to human incompetency. The most commonly spotted issues include: replacing a fuse with a metal object, overloading a single circuit and replacing the fuse with the wrong size (mostly larger). All of these issues are potential fire hazards.
Recommendations: Our recommendation would be to consult with an licensed electrician and update panel.
Split Bus panels
These panels were allowed between 1965-1981 and took advantage of the NEC electrical code allowing up to 6 hand movements to shut off power. After 1981 the NEC no longer allowed these panels. These panels do not have a single circuit breaker and could have up to six.
How to spot one? Spotting one is relatively easy... there is no single main breaker to shut of power to the home. Shutting of the power would require multiple breakers to be turned off.
Why are they dangerous? Other than not being able to shut off power with a single switch, they are relatively not dangerous, just obsolete and outdated. However, they haven't been used for over 35 years and are past they life expectancy.
Recommendations: Our recommendation would be to educate the buyer on how to shut off power to the home and recommend upgrading the panel due to age.