Electrical Service Panel Safety

We depend on electricity. Today, everything seems to be electronic and when the electricity to our home is interrupter for some reason, our lives come to a halt and we are quite inconvenienced. Almost every home has five or more large appliances, and most people have at least one computer, a microwave, a stereo system, one or more televisions, cell phones, clock radios, and the list goes on. Some of us consider many of these things as basic necessities of life, and all require electricity to function.

A 2003 survey by the Canadian Department of Natural Resources found that 63% of homes were constructed before 1980. Many of these older homes are still using the originally installed electrical equipment. Some have only a 60-amp electrical service providing power to the home. These electrical systems were installed at a time when the average load on the system was much less than what it is today and perhaps even decades before many of our modern electronic conveniences were even invented. These facts point to a problem. Older homes are at risk, unless the electrical system has been consistently and carefully maintained or completely upgraded. Aging or neglected electrical systems may not be able to safely handle the demands placed upon them by today’s homeowner.

When is panel replacement necessary?

electrical-panel-servicingOlder homes, with aging or outdated electrical panels, cannot handle today’s electrical demands. In the past, a 60-amp service was considered to be more than sufficient to meet the needs of any household, but current power demands requires a minimum 100-amp service with many homes needing 200-amp service panels. Modern electrical panels that lack regular periodic maintenance, or are exposed to undesirable conditions, may also create safety concerns.

Serious consideration to full panel replacement is recommended if you have any of the following:

The fuse box is the precursor to the modern panel box. This relic can be easily recognized by its’ distinctive round glass fuses. If a current over load or short circuit occurs, the fuse will “pop” and need to be replaced.  Problems occur when the blown fuse is replaced with an incorrectly sized fuse, as over-heating creates the risk of fire. If a replacement fuse is not readily available, some homeowners have discovered that an inserted penny may also restore the power. Unfortunately this creative little trick also comes with significant risk as it leaves the circuit completely unprotected. There is nothing to trip the circuit and stop the flow of electricity in the event of a surge or short circuit.

The split-bus panel presents unique challenges as well. Instead of the main breaker found on current updated panels, these panels have a smaller breaker feeding the bottom half of the panel. These smaller breakers have been known to melt or burn due to the excessive demand placed on them. Given today’s energy needs, split-buss panels probably would not be considered a safe option any more.

A damaged panel is not a safe panel. If the panel has missing parts, if the wires and/or devices show signs of deterioration or if there is obvious corrosion (rusting) due to environmental conditions, panel replacement may be the best option.
You might also consider a panel upgrade or replacement when:

  • major renovations or a home addition are planned,
  • appliances don’t seem to be running on full power,
  • outlets are only the two pronged (non-grounded) type,
  • multiple extension cords are being used throughout the home,
  • more circuits are needed,
  • breakers seem to trip easily and often,
  • a sub panel is needed,
  • a 240v circuit is require,
  • a ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet is required,
  • you want to increase the resale value of your home.

The circuit breaker panel is one of the most important parts of your home’s electrical system. Its’ function can be compared to a human heart. A healthy panel works quietly and efficiently, as it regulates and distributes the flow of electricity to all the branch circuits in the home, much like the heart pumps blood throughout the body’s circulatory system.  A defective, damaged or aging panel can cause serious damage and possibly tragedy. With regular maintenance by a licensed electrician, experts say that today’s electrical panels can function safely for 30+ years. We recommend that every panel be inspected, calibrated and rejuvenated approximately every three years.

Serious panel problems that require immediate attention include:

  • panel surface is warm to the touch,
  • an unusual odor around the panel,
  • a crackling or buzzing sound,
  • visible arcing or sparks,
  • visible charring or melting.

If you detect any of these symptoms, immediately turn off the flow of electricity to the affected breaker, or turn off the entire panel by switching the main breaker OFF.

Then call us at any of the numbers listed on our contact page as this repair should only be handled by a trained professional electrician.

Do you own a federal pacific panel?


Old Electrical Service PanelFederal Pacific Electric Company (FPE)
was one of the most common manufacturers of circuit breaker panels in North America from the 1950s to the 1980s. Millions of their panels were installed in homes across the continent. Yet, as the years passed, electricians and home inspectors often found Federal Pacific Electric panels failed to provide proper protection to homeowners and their families. Experts now say that FPE panels can appear to work fine foryears, but after one overload current or short circuit, they can overheat and become fire hazards.

When a breaker fails to trip, an extreme amount of electricity, from the outside electrical supply, surges into a home’s panel and circuits. Once that happens, it cannot be stopped or shut off manually. Electricity will burn until it runs out of fuel or the wires melt. The panel could overheat and catch fire, causing serious harm to a home and its occupants. Many Federal Pacific Electric panels and breakers can operate properly for years. But if and when they do malfunction, a disaster could occur. For more information on this specific panel problem, go towww.ismypanelsafe.com

Old Electrical Service PanelThese photos were taken of an FPE panel after it caught  fire. Note the manufacturer’s nameplate on the second photo. Photos provided by R. Franco, PhD., PE., Electrical Engineer www.Electrical-Forensics.com

If you suspect that you may have a Federal Pacific Electric panel supplying power to your home, we strongly recommend a panel change. Please do not assume that because the panel has worked without incident up to this point that you may have gotten “a good one”. There is just too much evidence against FPE panels to take that risk.

If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment to have your FPE service panel replaced, please Contact us here or call us at any of the numbers listed on our contact page. All work quoted in advance.