Take a look at your electrical panel. If any of the labels in it say “Zinsco”, “Zinsco-
Sylvania”, “FPE-Federal Pacific” or “Stab-Loc” you may have a fire risk. These older electrical panels would not pass today’s UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listing and would not be sold to the general public.
The electrical load on a household has significantly increased in the last 50 years. Today most people have at least one computer, several televisions, gaming systems, cell phones … all requiring electricity. According to the US Census Bureau, more than half the homes in the US were constructed before 1970, before many of these modern conveniences were invented.
Before 1970, 60amp two-wire service was common. Today, minimums start at 100amp, three-wire service. Depending on the size of the home and its electrical load, 150 or 200amps may be required. Therefore, unless a home’s electrical system has been upgraded, it’s outdated and at risk of being overburdened.
Additionally, there are two brands of circuit breaker panels manufactured between 1950 and 1990 that have serious design flaws and put older homes with these panels at even more risk. They are Zinsco and Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels along with Stab-Loc circuit breakers. Now obsolete, millions of homes still have these panels today. While they may work fine for years, one overcurrent or short circuit and they can overheat and start a fire.
Experts report that both FPE and Zinsco breaker panels have major faults that could pose a real danger for fire, electrical shock, and injury:
- They don’t meet today’s updated safety codes.
- They have significant flaws that increase the risk of shock and fire.
- They may have manufacturing defects.
The circuit breakers inside many Federal Pacific panels usually overcrowding, loose connections, can easily split, and they may still be active when in the off or down position. Tha means they can melt the wires inside the panel and start a fire in your home.
The circuit breakers inside many Zinsco panels melt to the main ‘bus bar’. This means the breaker can’t ever trip, even when there’s a short or overloaded circuit. So if there ever is a short or other problems, the surge of power melts wires and starts fires in your home.
Each year, an estimated 2,800 fires directly result from Federal Pacific and Zinsco breaker malfunction. Federal Pacific Electric and Zinsco has been out of business for many years, but the danger and damage caused by their negligence continues.
Problems with certain Zinsco and Federal Pacific panels panels may not be easily visible; however, electricians often find that breakers cannot be removed from the bus bar because they melted together. In that condition, a breaker would be unable to trip, allowing an unsafe amount of electricity into the home. This could lead to a potential fire. A second known failure is when the breakers blow out the side, causing an electrical arc explosion and a third problem is that even if they appear to be shut off, they can still be conducting electricity which puts you at risk for electrical shock! Only licensed electricians should inspect and remove these breakers. It’s recommended the entire electrical panel be replaced, not just the damaged circuit breakers.
How to tell if you have one
FPE panels are most common in homes built between 1950 and 1980. Federal Pacific Electric will likely be written on the cover of your breaker box. Inside, look for the name Stab-Loc (the brand name of the circuit breakers).
Zinsco or GTE-Sylvania panels were popular electrical panels installed in homes throughout the 1970s. The name Zinsco anywhere on the panel is a sure sign it should be replaced. Also, many GTE-Sylvania or Sylvania panels are simply re-branded Zinsco panels or contain the problematic Zinsco design. These should also be replaced.
What should I do if I have an old panel?
Unfortunately, a damaged panel is not obvious by sight. You should have it inspected by a licensed electrician in your community. A reputable electrician should be willing to provide you with a 100% free safety analysis. You can get a free evaluation of your electrical panel by a licensed professional here, or you can check our recommended specialists in major cities in the US.