Your electrical panel is the heart of your home’s electrical system. If it isn’t working right, then there is the potential for some serious problems. There are two electrical panel manufacturers known for being unsafe: Federal Pacific and Zinsco.
Generally, I see more Federal Pacific panels in homes than Zinsco panels—at a rate of about five Federal Pacific to one Zinsco—but I see both of them. In fact, one home I was in had a Federal Pacific electrical panel for the main house panel and it had a Zinsco electrical panel for the subpanel! If your home has one of these panels, you should seriously consider having the electrical panel changed as soon as possible.
There is a lot of information available on the internet about Federal Pacific and Zinsco panels and why they are unsafe. One of the best websites for information on these electrical panels is http://www.ismypanelsafe.com/. What makes a Federal Pacific panel so dangerous is the breakers. Countless studies systematically show that the breakers in a Federal Pacific panel will not trip even when they are in a situation where they should. If the breaker in an electrical panel is under a load and will not trip, this can lead to overheating and worst-case scenario an electrical fire.
According to this article in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/despite-previous-safety-concerns-this-circuit-breaker-is-still-in-homes/2018/05/08/8927af86-4ef9-11e8-b725-92c89fe3ca4c_story.html), faulty breakers in Federal Pacific electrical panels may be responsible for as many as 2,800 fires, 13 deaths and $40 million in property damage every year.
How to Identify Your Electrical Panel
You may be asking yourself, “How do I know if I have a Federal Pacific panel?” The easiest way to identify the manufacturer of your electrical panel is to look at the stickers on the panel. Here is an example of a Federal Pacific sticker on an electrical panel.
If your panel is missing the sticker or it is covered up by something, it is also fairly easy to identify a Federal Pacific electrical panel by the color of the handles on the breakers. They are bright orange as you can see in the photo at the top of the page.
My Electrical Panel Looks Fine, so Why Should I Change it?
I get a lot of phone calls about Federal Pacific electrical panels. A fair amount of the time the conversation goes like this: I had my Federal Pacific panel checked out and it’s okay. Do you really think I need to change it? YES, you do! When I hear this, I know that the person who looked at this panel doesn’t fully understand the danger of these electrical panels.
Take a look at the above photo—this is a Federal Pacific electrical panel I changed out for a customer. What you are looking at is the bus or guts, if you will, of the panel. This is where the breakers attach. What stood out on this one was, as you can see, the front of the bus does not necessarily indicate signs of any issues or significant heat. In fact, it looks pretty decent. This could lead someone to think this panel is okay based on a simple visual inspection of the panel.
Once I took this electrical panel out and broke it down further, I could see clearly that this panel had been subjected to extremely high levels of heat. In the photo below, you can see that the back of the bus was severely melted at the top and was melted to the metal housing. This is the perfect example of the main issue with Federal Pacific electrical panels. The breakers don’t function the way they are supposed to—when the breakers were under extreme load in this panel they should have tripped and cut off the power to the panel. That didn’t happen so the excessive power started melting the panel. If this electrical panel had been left in place, eventually it could have started a fire and caused serious damage to this customer’s home.
There is no safe Federal Pacific electrical panel, period. No Federal Pacific panel is okay no matter how it may look. If you have one, have it replaced as soon as possible by a qualified residential remodel electrician. Give Classic Electric a call—we have replaced numerous Federal Pacific panels and others. We do them right and we make them look nice! In fact, 95% of the time we replace electrical panels without doing any drywall damage. When I am done replacing your electrical panel, the new panel will look like it has been there since day one.
Are you considering a residential remodel project, an electrical panel change or upgrade, or a garage or shop electrical project? Thomas Adams is an Oregon Master Electrician, with an Inspector Certification, who has over 25 years of experience in the industry and he would be happy to talk to you about your Sherwood electrician needs.