The Danger Zone
While the 1990's don't seem that far back in musical history, homes built before the era of grunge rock may have outdated, highly unsafe electrical components still in use. These dangerous electrical panels leave your residence vulnerable to damage, or even a fire caused by overheated wiring.
Federal Pacific Panels (FPE) & Zinsco/GTE–Sylvania Panels
Two electrical panels that are safety hazards:
Why are these types of electrical panels dangerous?
FPE and Zinsco panels are considered hazardous specifically because their breakers fail to trip as intended, or they trip and fail to disrupt the power flow as intended.
What happens when a breaker fails to trip?
When a breaker fails to trip during an overload of too much electrical current, your whole home is flooded with that surge of power.
The power will continue to run through the circuit until it is disrupted another way, which may lead to:
There have even been many class action settlements for these panels due to these failures.
What do the experts say?
Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) is a global safety certification company. UL standards require that breakers trip (shut off the current) when overloaded to prevent electrical hazards. The FPE breakers did not comply fully with UL testing requirements, and are not UL listed.
The National Electric Code (NEC) is part of the National Fire Code published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NEC sets the the standard for safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States. The guidelines of the NEC require all electrical components and products to be listed by Underwriters Laboratories or other registered testing agencies to be acceptable for installation and use. FPE breakers are not UL listed, and therefore do not meet the guidelines of the National Electric Code.
Sure, they may not pass inspection, but are these electrical panels/breakers really likely to cause a problem?
Testing has shown that one in four FPE Stab-Lok breakers are defective and will not trip properly.
In one case study, the failure rate was as high as 50% for even refurbished breakers.
What does an electrician recommend if one of these panels is in our home?
In common areas where several FPE panels are located close together, the safest course of action is to replace all of the present FPE panels.
Replacing even one in the area decreases the risk but there remains a high chance of failure for the surrounding panels.
As a result of the proximity, if one panel overheats and catches on fire, those panels near it may be at a high risk of being damaged or also catching on fire. Additionally, many of these panels may not be grounded properly which increases the risk of fire hazards.
What if I want to just have some small upgrades done to one of these panels?
FPE and Zinsco panels are a legitimate safety concern. Many electricians will opt not to work on these panels due to the liability they may incur. In some cases, a contractor’s insurance prevents them from even performing work on these panels except to replace them.
Furthermore, depending on your insurance carrier for your home there is a possibility that they will not cover damages caused by a faulty FPE panel.
In 2020 when a home is being purchased that has an FPE or Zinsco panel, many insurance companies are refusing coverage until the panel has been replaced.
Updated Technology for Modern Life
While panels are considered long term investments - they aren’t meant to last forever.
Aside from the known risks associated with FPE and Zinsco panels, they are also very outdated for today’s usage. We use more appliances and pull more power in our home today than many older panels are rated for.
A newer panel will run more efficiently, protect your larger appliances and small electronics, keep your home safer from electrical fires, and save you money in the long haul!
HOMEOWNER 411 – Electrical Panel & Circuit Breaker Basics - JSR Electrical Blog
17 Common Electrical Service Terms for Homeowners to Know – JSR Electrical Blog
National Electrical Code, Electrical Solutions – National Fire Protection Association
JSR ELECTRICAL SERVICES
JSR Electrical Services is a Grapevine/Euless, Texas-based residential and commercial electrical contractor serving the North Dallas and Fort Worth metropolitan area.