Outdated and recalled electrical panels pose a big fire risk, which is why they can prevent you from getting homeowners insurance. Though they are most commonly found in older homes that haven't been updated, check to make sure your home doesn't have one of these four recalled electrical panels to be safe.
If your home does have one of these panels, work with a licensed electrician to replace it as soon as possible.
4 recalled electrical panels
Electrical panels, sometimes called load centers or breaker panels, are service boxes that contain your main power line and distribute electricity to circuits throughout your home. If the panel fails to operate as expected, it can send too much electrical current through a circuit and cause a fire.
Old electrical panels are usually found during the home inspection before you buy, but inspectors can miss them. The following panels are considered out of date or have been involved in an electrical panel recall:
- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Lok panels
- Zinsco panels, also known as GTE Sylvania-Zinsco panels
- Challenger panels made by Challenger Electrical Equipment Corp or Eaton/Cutler Hammer
Federal Pacific Electric
FPE panels were a popular electrical panel and were widely used starting in the 1950s through 1990. However, Stab-lok panels can fail to trip when a circuit is overloaded, causing the system to overheat and potentially ignite a fire. This issue led the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to investigate Stab-Lok panels in the early 1980s.
While FPE Stab-Lok panels were never actually recalled, most electricians recommend removing them. Here are a few ways you may be able to recognize FPE Stab-loks:
- Federal Pacific Electric or FPE stamped into the metal cover.
- An information sticker on the inside that reads Federal Pacific Electric, Federal Pioneer FPE, or Stab-lock.
- Breakers with a red stripe on each switch.
Many homes built or updated in the 1970s, particularly those in the western portion of the county, have electrical panels made by Zinsco. Unfortunately, these panels have several design flaws that create a serious electrical panel fire hazard, including:
- Insecure connections between breakers and bus bars (the part that distributes power).
- Components made of aluminium that need to be replaced at 30 years.
- Bus bars that corrode easily.
- Breakers that melt into the bus bar.
Moreover, Zinsco panels may continue to conduct electricity even when the breaker appears to be off.
Zinsco was purchased by GTE Sylvania in 1973, so you want to check your electrical panels for the following names:
You can also look for bright red, blue, and green tabs on the individual breakers, but treat this as a rule of thumb. Zinsco electrical panels can also have black breakers.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Challenger electrical panels were installed into hundreds of thousands of homes, but they were recalled in 1988. That recall specifically focused on Challenger panels with 15- and 20- ampere circuit breakers made between February and April of 1988 that have a mechanical component that can detach leading to overheating, melting, and fire.
Unfortunately, problems with these panels continued even after Eaton/Cutler Hammer purchased Challenger. In 2014, Eaton/Cutler Hammer recalled 1,000 panels because their easily accessed components presented a shock risk.
You may have a Challenger electrical panel that you need to replace if you see:
- Challenger stamped on the handle or door.
- Challenger on the manufacturer’s label (often found on the inside of the panel door).
- Circuits with yellow buttons and the word “test” on one side.
Please note that Challenger parts can show up in other electrical panels, including those made by GTE Slyvania and Zinsco.
Pushmatic panels were popular from 1950 through 1980. During that time, the Pushmatic system wasn’t known to have any fire hazard, but it’s now considered an outdated system and should be replaced. Be forewarned that you can still buy new Pushmatic components. However, these parts may not be compatible with the original Pushmatic electrical panel.
Identifying a Pushmatic panel is relatively easy. Unlike most panels that have right to left switches, a Pushmatic has rectangular buttons that activate and deactivate circuits.
Electrical panel safety tips
Do not remove your panel! Your panel should only be maintained by a licensed electrician. But it is smart to look for signs that yours needs to be replaced, like:
- Evidence of melting.
- Pest damage.
- Poor panel access.
- Nearby water or condensation.
Any of these could indicate that you should leave your electrical panel alone and call a professional electrician. The same is true if you hear popping or crackling noises. Moreover, if you feel a tingle or charge when you touch your electrical panel, back away and call a professional.
Getting home insurance with old electrical panels
You may have a difficult time getting even high-risk homeowners insurance if you have an electrical panel that is a known fire hazard. But if you replace the panel with the help of a licensed electrician, your insurance company might decide to offer you a policy. You may need evidence that you have made the change, like a work order or receipt.
If you know that you have a problematic circuit panel and fail to disclose this to your insurance provider, a fire claim could be denied. It’s best to make sure that you are safe with an upgraded panel and protected in the event of a fire.