Your electrical panel regulates the electricity coming in from your utility company and then sends it back out into the appliances and outlets in your home. If too much electricity is demanded from the home, a circuit breaker is tripped in the electrical panel to stop the electricity from overloading the wiring. An overload can cause a fire, so it’s the job of the electrical panel to break the circuit and regulate the electricity in the system to keep your home and family safe.
What types of panels are unsafe and need to be replaced as soon as possible?
Your home’s electrical panel might have a serious defect if it’s more than 25 years old, because there are some electrical panels from that era that have known safety issues due to poor design. Electrical panels installed after 1990 are generally well designed and safe.
The following panels need to be replaced immediately:
- Split-bus Panels. Split-bus electrical panels are different from other electrical panels because they don't have a single circuit breaker to shut off all of the power. These panels usually have several circuit breakers labeled "Main", and they're all mains. There can actually be up to six main breakers in these panels. Beginning in 1981, new installations of split bus panels were no longer allowed, but existing installations were allowed to remain in place.
- Bulldog and Pushmatic Electrical Panel. Bulldog and Pushmatic panels have weak breaker switches that get harder to reset over time. They also do not have a main breaker switch to stop all power from flowing into the panel. These panels need to be replaced with better functioning panels.
- GTE and Challenger Panels. Challenger panels were popular in the 80s and 90s. Over the years it was discovered that two types of circuit breakers manufactured by Challenger were overheating under NORMAL conditions at the connection point to the bus bar. This causes expansion and contraction, which in turn causes arcing between the circuit breaker and the bus bar, thus damaging both. As this would continue over time these components would actually melt down completely, causing hazardous conditions such as fire and/or shock hazard. Challenger products did not always feature the Challenger brand name. Many of them were also labeled as GTE-Sylvania or Zinsco. These faulty breakers also wound up being sold to many other brands and caused many recalls to take place around the country. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of homes used these faulty products and many of those were affected by the overheating malfunction.
- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Electrical Panel. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission classified this panel as a safety defect warranting a new electrical panel. These panels, installed in homes between 1950 and 1980, have design and manufacturing defects that can cause fires and electric shocks.
- Zinsco Electrical Panel. Zinsco panels were taken off the market in the mid-1970s. They have a defective design that allows power to flow even when the breakers are switched off. Breaker switches also melt, which basically renders them useless. Zinsco electrical panels pose fire and shock hazards. Replace them with a new electrical panel immediately.
- Fuse Boxes. The oldest type of electrical panel is actually called a fuse box. Today’s homes require up to 200 amps of power or more. Fuse boxes can only handle 30-60 amps. In these older panels, every time a glass fuse broke, it had to be replaced. Many types of fuses are no longer available for purchase because they present a risk of fire and electrocution.
What is the problem with having an outdated electrical panel?
Older electrical panels were not designed to keep up with the increased electrical demands of a modern home. Many panels were installed at a time when the only electricity needed was to power a handful of lights. Unfortunately, older electrical panels have a hard time keeping up with the increased electrical demands on the system. Your appliances, televisions, computers, HVAC systems, lights and other electrical gadgets are increasingly energy efficient, but the average modern household uses more gadgets than ever before. If your home is more than 10 years old, your electrical system may not be able to keep up with your electrical demand.
When should I have my electrical panel inspected?
If you’re reading this page, it means that you’re wondering about the status of your electrical panel, which means it’s time for a checkup. If your electrical panel is more than 25 years old, you should have it inspected as soon as possible.
If any of the following are true, it may be time for you to install a new panel:
- You hear crackling sounds from the electrical panel.
- You see corrosion and rust on the circuit breakers.
- The interior of the electrical panel feels warm.
- Appliances are running at less than full power.
- Outlets near water sources – such as sinks, tubs, dishwashers and clothes washers – are not GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters).
- You are always using extension cords.
- Your home has a 60-amp electrical service.
- Your home has 100-amp electrical service, but it still can’t operate some appliances.
- Your older home has a fuse block panel or split-bus panel, which do not have a main breaker.
Will WIREONE inspect my existing electrical system and advise me on next steps?
Of course! Your neighborhood electricians at WIREONE are standing by and ready to serve you. Give us a call today for a home electrical inspection. We’ll measure how much power is being used on the circuits, and we’ll thoroughly check the electrical panel to make sure it’s safe. If it’s not working properly or it needs to be expanded, our professional electricians can install a new panel that will exceed your state and local regulations. Keep your home’s power system in great shape and keep your family and property safe with a healthy electrical panel.