Anyone in the real estate industry has likely come across certain electrical panels that have a bad reputation, such as the notorious “Zinsco” panel, “Federal Pacific” and “Push Omatics.”
These panels have repeatedly been found to be unreliable and, in some cases, dangerous. The problem lies in the contacts from the breaker mechanism to the bus bar, which is not always easily seen. Just because they appear to be working does not mean they don’t pose a serious danger. Defects are not always visible from the surface.
Information is readily available for the above manufacturers. There was a class action law suit against some of these companies and a simple Internet search shows multiple websites that explain what the latent issues were and what brought about litigation.
From my own experience, my house had a “Zinsco” which I upgraded immediately after purchase. This panel had been functioning well for quite some time—or so I thought—and had never exhibited any problems. It wasn’t until my electrician took the older Zinsco apart that the significant defect was seen. The over-current protection device (breaker) would have failed to perform as it should, due to inadequate contact and bus bar corrosion. This would have caused the conductors to overheat which could have resulted in a fire.
The bus bar in my Zinsco panel (pictured above) was fried and, eventually, there quite possibly would have been an arc or failure. I am grateful that I followed my instinct and relied on my experience, and had the panel replaced.
We recommend not taking any chances with these panels. Even if the unit appears to be functioning as intended, these are older systems and, for a nominal expense, it behooves you to consider upgrades as soon as possible.
More information on electrical panels known to be unsafe can be found here.
Robert Gaudreault, CREIA, MCI, ASHI
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