Electrical Panel Upgrades

Brief History of your Service Panel

Thirty years ago, the average new home was equipped with a 60 amp electrical service connected to a screw-in fuse panel with two fuse blocks. The common distribution was a fuse block for the stove and one for the hot water tank. The balance of the homes electrical needs were served by six, 15amp screw-in fuses.

Twenty years ago the average new home was equipped with a 100 amp electrical service and some of them used the latest in technology, circuit breakers.

Now the average home is equipped with a 200 amp electrical service with a distribution panel handling up to 40 circuit breakers serving the electrical needs of the home.

Old style distribution panels, those with screw-in fuses are generally considered fire hazards. The contact between the base of the fuse and the buss bar oxidizes or charcoals from poor contact. In order for the current to continue to flow heat is generated. In many areas, insurance companies will not renew homeowner insurance if the home is equipped with an electrical distribution panel that has screw-in fuses.

Electrical Panels & Services

A panel upgrade or “change out” is usually required to alleviate a problem with the existing panel. Sometimes a breaker might overheat to the point that the buss bar in a panel gets burned. The conductors between the meter and panel may become loose and burn out the main lugs, especially common when aluminum conductors were used. Other common reasons to change out an existing panel are due to obsolescence and outdated technology. Split-buss panels, cheap builder-grade panels, panels contaminated by water, paint and corrosive environments are often candidates for replacement. Panels long ago manufactured by Zinsco and FPE have many issues and are considered a hazard by many in the industry.

Electric panels are the heart of your electrical system. When your electrical panel goes out almost everything shuts down or worse yet a fire.

Electrical panels typically last 20-25 years. Sure signs of a failure in your electrical panel are flickering lights and excess heat at the circuit breakers.

If you see any of those signs call us immediately. Phone (707) 953-4672.

ZINSCO and FEDERAL PACIFIC PANELS

Over the years, the professionals at All Star Electric Electric have been striving to be the best educated, most knowledgeable electricians in the state of California. We are proud to pass this knowledge on to you, our customer in hopes of educating you to the potential dangers of having a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE), Zinsco or Zinsco-Sylvania electrical panel installed in your home.

History has shown that these brands of panels have a high failure rate and installed circuit breakers will not trip during an overload condition. Even direct short circuits will not cause some of these breakers to work as designed, often creating a hazardous and potentially deadly situation in their homes. These panels also have a high rate of failure to the internal bussing which provides the connection from the utility company to the individual circuit breakers.

If you have one of these panels in your home, please do not attempt to remove the cover unless you have the proper equipment and training to do so. We encourage you to schedule an appointment today to have one of our Professional Service Technicians inspect your panel for visible hazards like those shown below.

Panel Upgrades For Your Home

Repairing or rebuilding your circuit breakers can prevent unnecessary downtime and in many cases is more economical than replacing your existing equipment. Our experience ensures that we can perform top quality repairs, modifications, rebuilding and maintenance on most circuit breakers and larger frame molded case breakers of all brands and vintages.

An electric panel upgrade is just what it implies. It is an upgrade from the existing electrical panel. With all the new appliances, and technical devices we now have in our Wa. homes, we find that older homes might not have sufficient power available to handle the increased demand. Therefore, a “service change” is required. This includes not only an upgrade in your electric panel. but an upgrade in your meter socket and wire size between the meter and panel.

Panel Change Out

A panel change out is usually required to alleviate a problem with the existing panel. Sometimes a breaker might overheat to the point that the buss bar in a panel gets burned. The conductors between the meter and panel may become loose and burn out the main lugs, especially common when aluminum conductors were used.

When you plugged in your new refrigerator, cranked up the air conditioner, or turned on the light to read this report, you probably didn’t give a lot of thought to the wires carrying the electricity.

Few people do. After all, your home’s electrical system is hidden in the walls. Most homeowners generally know so little about electricity that they tend to take potential problems too lightly or overlook them altogether.

But you need to pay attention to your home wiring no matter when your home was built or where you live, especially if you live in an older home. Thirty-nine thousand house fires and 350 deaths each year in the U.S. are caused by faulty home wiring and other electrical equipment, such as extension cords, lighting, and plugs, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Electrical Service Panels

By Nick Gromicko and Rob London
Electrical panels are boxes that house circuit breakers, which are safety devices that stop the electrical current if it exceeds the safe level for some portion of the home electrical system.
 An unfortunate snake entered this serice panel and was electrocuted. The resulting mess may make the components defective.
Safety

Many people, even experienced electricians, have been killed or seriously injured while opening electrical panels. In 1991, an Atlanta electrician was killed while attempting to inspect a panel that had a faulty spring-loaded bus-bar assembly. Apparently, the bus-bar was moved while the electrician was opening the panel, causing an arc and a lethal electrical explosion. Generally, two factors contribute to these situations:  defective components and complacency.

Inspectors must be aware that all forms of electrical inspections, especially electrical panel inspections, are inherently dangerous. Practice calm, steady movements and learn to avoid distractions. A sudden flash, shout or movement could cause an inspector to lunge and touch an electrically live and dangerous component. Advise your client that they should never remove an electrical panel cover themselves, as they should leave this duty to InterNACHI inspectors or qualified electricians. Before touching the electrical panel, inspectors should ask themselves the following questions:
  • Do I have an escape path? Make sure that you know where you can safely turn or step if you must safely escape a dangerous surprise, such as bees or sparks. An unfortunately placed shovel or extension cord, for instance, can turn a quick jerk into a dangerous fall.
  • Are the floors wet? Never touch any electrical equipment while standing on a wet surface!
  • Does the panel appear to be wet? Check overhead for dripping water that has condensed on a cold water pipe. Moisture can arrive in more ways than you can imagine.
  • Is the panel rusty? Rust is an indication of previous wet conditions that may still exist.

As an optional safety measure, use a voltage ticker to make sure the box is safe to touch. If the alarm sounds on the device, have the box examined by a qualified electrician. Also, safety glasses and other personal protective equipment may be used to protect against burns and electric shock.

While removing the panel cover, inspectors should:

  • Stand a little back while removing the cover, which makes it easier to remain in a blocking position.
  • Stand so as to block your client from touching the panel and its components.
  • inform the client that opening the panel is a dangerous step, and that if sparks fly, the client should not touch the inspector.

Service Panel Inspection:

Inspectors can check for the following defective conditions during an electrical panel inspection:

  • Insufficient clearance. According to the 2008 National Electrical Code, most residential electrical panels require at least a 3-foot clearance or working space in front, 30 inches of width, and a minimum headroom clearance of 6 feet, or the height of the equipment,Zinsco panels are believed by many experts to be defectivewhichever is greater. If obstacles would make it unsafe for you to inspect the service panel, you have the right to disclaim it.
  • aluminum branch wiring.
  • sharp-tipped panel box screws or wires damaged by these screws. Panel box cover screws must have blunt ends so they do not pierce the wires inside the box. Look for wires that pass too closely to the screw openings inside the electrical panel.
  • circuit breakers that are not properly sized.
  • oxidation or corrosion to any of the parts. Oxidized or corroded wires will increase the resistance of conductors and create the potential for arcing.
  • damage caused by rodents. Rodents have been known to chew through wire insulation in electrical panels (and other areas), creating an unsafe condition. Rodents have been electrocuted this way, leaving an unsightly mess inside the panel.
  • evidence of electrical failures, such as burned or overheated components.
  • evidence of water entry inside the electrical panel. Moisture can corrode circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable, and make the equipment unsafe to touch.
  • evidence of missing or improper bonding.  This may indicate improper wiring, damaged equipment or unsafe conditions.
  • the physical contact points of the overcurrent protection device to the contact point of the buss are not making good contact. The sounds of arcing (a cracking or popping sound) may indicate this condition.
  • panel manufactured by Zinsco or Federal Pacific Electric (FPE). These panels have a reputation for being problematic and further evaluation by a qualified electrician is recommended. Zinsco panels can generally be identified by a blue and silver “Zinsco” label inside the panel, and an embossed “Magnetrip” label at the top of the panel face. FPE panels should include, if they were not removed, one of the following identifying labels:
    • Federal Electric
    • Federal Pacific Electric
    • Federal NOARC
    • Federal Pioneer
    • FPE
    • FPE-Stab-Lok
    • Stab-Lok
In summary, electrical panels are potentially dangerous and should be inspected with care.