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Have One of These Breaker Panels? Replace it!

Summary

Your home's breaker panel distributes power throughout your home and plays an important role in making sure that this is done safely. However, a malfunctioning or defective circuit breaker panel can present a real hazard to the safety of your home and its occupants. In this article, we'll examine the role of your breaker box and let you know about three models of breaker panels that should be replaced if you have one in your home.

Contents

What does your breaker panel do, actually?

Breaker panel, electrical panel, circuit breaker panel, breaker box, circuit breaker box - they're all different names for the same piece of ubiquitous electrical gear you'll find in every home. Whatever you call it, it's an important part of your home's electrical power system.

This crucial piece of hardware is important because all the electricity that flows through your home first goes through this piece of hardware and the circuit breakers inside. When it's working properly, you don't have to give it a second thought.

Your electrical panel is the connection between the power grid outside and the wiring inside of your home. It's the central distribution point that ensures that all the electrical outlets, lights, HVAC equipment, and more get the necessary power.

Power comes into the breaker box from the outside through a "service drop," either from buried power lines or power poles. From there electricity is routed to the branch circuits that take power around your home. Each of these branch circuits will have a circuit breaker that should shut off automatically when too much current flows through it.

If your circuit breaker panel isn’t up to the job, either because it's outdated or defective, the safety of your home and its occupants may be threatened.

The dangers of a substandard breaker panel

We've established that a substandard circuit breaker panel is dangerous, but what are the dangers involved? Do you really need a new electrical panel? Let's look at the dangers and you'll probably agree that the answer to that question is definitely yes.

Fire hazard

Without a doubt, the biggest potential danger from a faulty electrical panel is the risk of fire. The breakers in your circuit breaker panel are designed to shut off the flow of power when too much current is being drawn. If that doesn't happen, wires and electrical equipment can overheat and fires can result.

Electric shock

If you've done any electrical work in your home, you know that the first step is always to turn off the power to the circuit you're working on by flipping the circuit breaker to "off." In many faulty panels, the circuit breakers do not operate properly and can allow electricity to continue flowing, creating the danger of electrical shock.

Inspect your home for these panels

Any electrical panel can malfunction or wear out. So it's important to watch out for these warning signs:

  • Frequent breaker tripping
  • Blackened or scorched areas near the electrical panel
  • Hot surfaces
  • Burning around your outlets

If you notice any of these, contact an electrician right away - it may be time for an electrical panel upgrade. But one important step you can take right now before you notice anything wrong is to inspect your home for these dangerous electrical panels.

Federal Pacific

Federal Pacific Electric was a respected name in electrical panel manufacturing in the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s. They built panels that were installed in millions of homes, and there are undoubtedly many that are still in service today. But if you have a Federal Pacific circuit breaker panel in your home, you're in need of an electrical panel upgrade.

Like the flow of water in a pipe, electricity moves from where electrical energy is high, to where it's low. So, for example, when you plug a lamp into an outlet, the electricity flows from the powered area (the outlet) to the unpowered device (the lamp).

You can identify a Federal Pacific electrical panel by the name, which is usually printed on the inside of the breaker box door. In addition, the brand name "Stab-Lok" is usually printed by the circuit breakers.

Unfortunately, the breakers in these boxes often fail to trip when they receive too much current draw. This can cause fires, and in addition, the breakers may still send current through when set to the off position. Replacing circuit breakers to remedy the defect is not an adequate solution to the problem.

Electrical panel replacement is always necessary if you find one of the electrical panels in your home. It's estimated that at least 1 in 4 of the breakers found in a Federal Pacific electrical panel are faulty.

Challenger

These panels were installed in many homes in the 1980s and 90s, and the problem lies in some of the 15- and 20-amp circuit breaker switches they were equipped with. While the majority of the defective circuit breakers were identified and recalled, there are still thousands that are unaccounted for, with most probably installed in homes across the nation.

Testing established that the mechanical portion of the circuit breaker switches often came detached, preventing the breaker from functioning. When the breaker fails it causes overheating that leads to electrical arcing, resulting in damage to the breaker and the electrical panel's bus bar. In some cases, the components melt, leading to electrical shock hazards and fires.

It's not always easy to know if you have one of these panels. Look for the Challenger logo inside the box, but some were labeled as GTE-Sylvania or Zinsco. If in doubt, contact a licensed electrician to inspect the box.

Zinsco Sylvania

Zinsco electrical panels were a popular choice for home electrical systems in the 1970s. In 1973, the brand was purchased by GTE-Sylvania and some of their existing panel designs were rebranded under the GTE-Sylvania name.

A class-action lawsuit in 2002 established the danger of these panels. Under normal usage many circuit breakers melted to the electrical panel bus bar, preventing the breakers from functioning in the event of an overload or short circuit. Melted wires and electrical fires were often the results.

Inspect your panel for the Zinsco name. In addition, if you find GTE-Sylvania or Sylvania markings, it's a wise idea to contact an electrician to inspect the panel. If you have one of these panels, panel replacement is necessary.

Another danger: Fuse boxes

There's another thing to look for when you inspect your electrical panel, and that's checking to see that you don't still have a fuse box.

If your home is old enough that it still has a fuse box, you should have it replaced with a new circuit breaker panel. Not only are circuit breaker panels safer and easier to use than fuse boxes, but it will also be a good time to have a comprehensive survey of your electrical system done to see if there are any other defects.

Are there other reasons you should replace your circuit breaker box?

If you have one of the three types of circuit breaker panels we've listed, or have a fuse box, you should make plans to have a new electrical panel installed as soon as possible.

But there are some other reasons that make installing a new electrical panel a good idea. Electrical upgrades of an outdated electrical panel will not only make your home safer, they'll also help you accommodate major alterations and additions to your home. Let's examine some common reasons that you may want a new electrical service panel.

Your current panel is outdated or can’t handle your current needs

Are you finding that your current electrical system isn't up to the job? Are you using numerous power strips and extension cords, and you're tripping circuit breakers all the time?

If that's the case you should consider electrical panel replacement as a starting point. With a new, larger panel replacement in your home, you can tackle your current wiring needs.

You're adding a home generator

Adding a standby home generator or making provisions to use a portable generator safely will require new wiring and a new sub-panel. The sub-panel lets you keep the power flowing into your home from a generator separate from the power supplied by the power company. It's an essential part of safe generator usage.

You can learn more about standby generators in this article, and more about how you can wire your home for safe portable generator use here.

You're adding an addition to your home

Congratulations if you've decided to add an addition to your home. Remember though, that along with that extra square footage comes increased power demand.

As part of your remodeling plans, consult with a licensed electrician to see if an electrical panel replacement or upgrade is a good idea. A new circuit breaker box will head off any future problems with the capacity of your electrical panel.

You're adding a home office

If you're working from home more than you used to, or maybe full time, you may have changed one of your existing rooms into a home office.

You may run into a problem with this if you need to add more electronic equipment to meet your needs. Rather than just adding power strips, getting an upgrade to your undersized electrical panel will make it easier to add extra circuit breakers to your current electrical system.

You're adding an in-law suite

If you've got elderly parents or a child still at home, adding an in-law suite to your home might be an excellent solution. But especially if you are adding an independent cooling and system to the suite, through the use of a multi-split system, it's quite likely that you'll a new circuit breaker or even a new circuit breaker panel to accommodate the increased electrical system requirements.

You're adding an EV charging station

Electric car and truck sales are booming. But if you want reliable and speedy charging at home, you'll want to employ a Level 2 charger that employs a 240-volt circuit. This could be a major addition to your home's electrical system, one that necessitates a new electrical panel.

Let Team Enoch help

Evaluating your existing circuit breaker panel is a job for a licensed electrician. A professional electrician will be able to evaluate your existing equipment and track down any existing problems, like poor connections, replacing a breaker switch, or other electrical issues, while having the knowledge to know when it's time to replace an electrical panel.

So, in addition to checking for commonly-found defective panels, be alert to other signs of problems with older panels, like flickering or dimming lights. Professional electricians can make recommendations for new electric panels that can accommodate your electrical upgrades, new electrical appliances, and more.

Team Enoch has the expertise necessary to ensure that you'll get the right circuit breaker panel and that it will be properly installed in your home in accordance, with local codes and the national electrical code, so you can enjoy the security of knowing that your home will have all the power it needs supplied safely, with a reduced chance of a house fire caused by an undersized or defective electrical panel.

Team Enoch performs over 10,000 residential jobs every year, and we take great pride in our many positive reviews. We never use subcontractors, and all of our employees undergo full background checks and extensive training before they work on your home.

If you're in the Dallas Fort Worth area and want to see if you need to replace the electrical panel in your home, be sure to contact us. Estimates are always free!

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