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4 Outdated and Unsafe Electrical Panels That Could be Hiding in Your Home

September 18, 2017

 

If you own an older home (built before 1990), you might have one of these outdated main electric panels/boxes hiding in your home.

And these outdated panels don’t just make you uncool like a pair of outdated bell-bottoms might. They can also be extremely unsafe. 

You see, electrical panels contain safety devices (either fuses or circuit breakers) that trip and shut off the power when too much electricity flows through them. This helps prevent fires caused by overheating wires.

Yet many Sarasota-area homes have old, outdated panels that might not work as intended, leaving them vulnerable to a house fire. Here are 4 types of unsafe panels you should consider replacing if you have them...

Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panels

For a long time (1950s-1980s) Federal Pacific Electric was one of the most popular manufacturers of electrical panels in the United States. And they were installed in millions of homes.

But these panels are extremely unsafe. 

Why they’re unsafe: FPE electric panels’ circuit breakers fail to trip when they should (when there’s a short circuit or circuit overload). This problem has lead to thousands of fires across the United States, including this one in Central Florida. 

There are also many reports that FPE circuits in the off position still send power to the circuit. This can cause electrocution when working on a circuit you believe to be off.

How to tell if you have one: FPE panels are most common in homes built between 1950 and 1980. Federal Pacific Electric will likely be written on the cover of your breaker box. Inside, look for the name Stab-Loc (the brand name of the circuit breakers).

Zinsco Panels

Zinsco or GTE-Sylvania panels were popular electrical panels installed in homes throughout the 1970s. Zinsco is now defunct, but many homes still have these panels.

Why they’re unsafe: The circuit breakers inside many Zinsco panels melt to the main ‘bus bar’. This means the breaker can’t ever trip, even when there’s a short or overloaded circuit. So if there ever is a short or other problems, the surge of power melts wires and starts fires in your home.

How to tell if you have one: The name Zinsco anywhere on the panel is a sure sign it should be replaced. Also, many GTE-Sylvania or Sylvania panels are simply re-branded Zinsco panels or contain the problem Zinsco design. These should also be replaced. 

However, not all Sylvania and GTE-Slyvania branded panels are dangerous. So if you have one, an electrician will need to inspect it to see if it has the problematic design.

Split-bus electrical panels

A typical modern circuit breaker has a single metal bus. Electricity comes into the panel, passes through a main breaker and to the bus. The bus then connects to each individual circuit breaker, providing power to your entire home.

You can then shut off power to the bus (and therefore your entire home) simply by turning off the main breaker.

Split-bus electrical panels are different. They have 2 buses and no single main disconnect. They have up to 6 breakers labeled “main”. One of these main breakers controls power to half (the bottom) of the breakers in the panel. The other main breakers connect directly to the first bus.

Above is a photo of a split bus panel with front cover removed. You can see how the top 3 breakers are connected directly to the incoming power (large black wires at the top). Then the 3rd breaker supplies power to the lower breakers (see the blue wires conn