What kind of electrical panel do you have? If you’re like most homeowners, you aren’t even sure!
But we'll let you in on a little secret: if your home was built before 1990, you may have an outdated electrical panel.
Electrical panels are specifically designed with safety in mind. They prevent too much power from flowing to the same area at once and overheating or causing a fire. But many panels installed before 1990 were recalled for their potential safety hazards.
Unfortunately, some homeowners didn’t get the memo and failed to replace their service panels— living with dangerous electrical risks or unintentionally passing the problem onto new home buyers.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common outdated electrical panels and why they can put you and your family in danger if not replaced:
RECALLED: Federal Pacific Electric Service Panels
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels were very common in homes for over 30 years, until about 1980. Unfortunately, they don’t trip when they’re supposed to, and instead of short-circuiting, can cause fires. And even when the circuit is turned off, power may still be flowing to it, which can cause electrocution.
If you have this type of panel, it’s fairly easy to spot, as it will likely say, “Federal Pacific Electric” on the front. You can also check inside for the circuit breaker brand label, “Stab-Loc.”
RECALLED: Zinsco Service Panels
If your home was built in the 70s, it may have a Zinsco panel. The circuit breakers in these panels would melt to the bus bar, making it impossible for the circuit to trip. As such, a short or a power surge could melt the wires, causing them to burn.
If your electrical panel says “Zinsco,” that’s a sure sign that it should be replaced. However, many Zinsco panels were rebranded as Sylvania or GTE-Sylvania panels, which can be just as dangerous. If you have one of these two logos on your panel, have an electrician inspect it.
While the first two outdated electrical panels were specific brands, these next two are general designs. Unfortunately, that means you can’t identify them from a logo, and you’ll have to look a little harder.
Split-bus electrical panels aren’t unsafe in and of themselves, but the design has since been replaced and hasn’t been used in 40 years. That means if you have one, it’s well past its expected lifespan and could cause a variety of problems.
To see if yours is a split-bus panel, look to see if the breakers are divided into two groups. Modern single bus panels have a single disconnect breaker, but split-bus panels don’t. If you see two groups of breakers and no single disconnect, you may have a split-bus and should look into having it replaced with a newer electrical panel.
OUTDATED: Fuse Box
Fuse boxes were the precursors to the modern circuit breaker. If you have one of these, you probably know it. With a circuit breaker, you can just reset after an overload by flipping a switch. However, if you have too much power on a single fuse, the fuse blows and must be replaced.
Again, these aren’t inherently dangerous, but replacing fuses, in addition to being a costly hassle, can lead to other problems. First of all, fuse boxes typically have fewer fuses than circuit breakers have circuits. This makes it easier to overload them, and makes replacements more frequent. And if you take steps to reduce blowouts, by replacing the fuse with a bigger one, or by simply putting a coin or other piece of metal in the slot where the fuse was, you can inadvertently create a fire hazard.
Do You Have One of these Old Electrical Panels?
If you find or suspect that you have an outdated electrical panel, call an electrician. They can inspect it and advise you on which current models are the safest and most efficient.
But it’s important to get a replacement as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to have an incident. Safety first!
Even if you don’t have one of these outdated service panels, there are a number of other reasons why it may be wise to install a new one. Check out our other article 8 Reasons it’s Probably Time to Install a New Electrical Panel.
Download Your Very Own Electrical Toolkit
Unfortunately, replacing an electrical panel isn’t something you should do without deep electrical experience and certifications. That’s a job for your local electrician! Not only is this for your own safety to avoid electrocution, but you want to make sure the job is done right to avoid electrical issues in the future.
Want to see if your service panel needs replacement? Explore our Electric Services or give us a call at (239) 307-0716, today.
If you like to do things yourself, you’ll love The Homeowner’s Easy Electrical Maintenance Toolkit. Our free guide is packed with 13 pages of tips for performing other popular electrical projects all on your own.