I have been having an incredible time researching and formatting information and photos for my latest specialty website www.ElectricalFire.info. The site deals with electrical risks inside the homes that I inspect here in Northern Utah, but the same issues are widespread all across North America. The current project has been my compiling and organizing information regarding antiquated Zinsco electrical panels. These older electrical panels are proving themselves hazardous and the source of many electrical fires.
Do you know what brand electrical panels you have in your home?
You might find one brand outside and different brands of interior subpanels. If your electrical panels were installed between 1950 and 1985, then you better take a moment to go look and see what brand you have installed in your home. If it is a Zinsco or Federal Pacific, then you need to consult a licensed electrician familiar with their safety issues to prevent an electrical fire in your home.
My good friend Mark Cramer, from beautiful and sunny Tampa, Florida (www.BestTampaInspector.com), sent along this great Zinsco panel photo. Let’s take a closer look at the issues in Mark’s photo...
BLUE - What in the world is all that rust doing on the breakers. Being as I inspect in a relative humidity of 8-18% and this photo was snapped in humid Florida where you better put your Frosted Flakes in a Tupperware container or else they will be soggy before you have finished pouring them in a bowl even before you have added any milk. Maybe this is just humidity condensation from the dead cover panel’s contact with the breakers. In my area this would be a sure sign of water entry above the panel and my report would probably say, “A River Runs Through It!”
GREEN - The top lug of the 40 amp breaker shows corrosion, while its partner does not. This may be due to overheating and bigger issues with the breakers connection to the bus bar.
PURPLE - My per peeve with Zinsco breakers is that the bare wire can be secured against the breaker casing and the screw instead of underneath the lug. Obviously the manufacturer wants the wire securely under the screw head, but their design allows for what we see in the purple box.
YELLOW - As a home inspector, I get upset when there is double lugging with breakers that only allow one wire to safely connect (See upper yellow box). I am left for a complete loss of words when there are 5 wires under one securing screw. Now who has ever heard of “Quintiple Lugging” before? Who thought it was even possible?
REALITY - The issues identified in Mark Cramer’s photo are not all that different from what are commonly found in older electrical panels of all brands. Older panels always seem to require further evaluation and repair by a licensed electrician. And from a visual only home inspector inspection, that is really all that can be seen. We remove the dead cover panel and look with our light for signs of charring and overheating of the wire connecting points. We also look for the electrical miswirings like double lugging at the breakers and the neutral terminal strips. But Zinsco panels are unique in the way the breakers connect to the panel and are prone to poor connections that are concealed from a visual only inspection by a home inspector. We usually cannot see poor breaker to bus bar connections unless there has already been major overheating. Having an electrician evaluate can alert and help eliminate upcoming electrical fires.
HOME INSPECTOR RECOMMENDATIONS - Since 1995 years I have recommended repair by a licensed electrician the obvious visible miswirings. The Zinsco panels continued to age by 2004 enough evidences came forth so I added the recommendation for a licensed electrician to remove the breakers and inspect the bus bar connections for signs of arcing and overheating. By 2010 there came forth enough evidences of numerous reports of breakers not tripping and I added the recommendation to have the breakers lab tested to ensure that they would still trip when hit with an excessive load. But let’s face it, electrical panels do not get safer with age and the evidences show that old Zinsco panels are better off being replaced, and that is what I now recommend in 2013. By upgrading the panel you immediately increase the safeness of your electrical system over the antiquated and aging Zinsco panel. You can also add the needed circuits that modern lifestyles demand, but older systems did not allow. And the best benefit is that you can add the modern AFCI safety protection found in newer homes, but that could not be added to old Zinsco panels. Remember,
Electrical Panels Do Not Get Safer With Age!!!
For a detailed presentation of the Zinsco electrical panel issues, risks, hazards, and upgrade benefits, please visit my new www.ElectricalFire.info website.
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah - www.TheHomeInspector.com - Michael Leavitt & Co Inspections, Inc.