Electrical Panel Concerns
By Steve Vacha
Most of us have an innate respect or fear of electricity. Be it our parents warning us about it from an early age or maybe having the outlet spark on us as we tried to plug in a damaged tool or appliance. Our homes today have many safety features to allow us the benefit of electricity.
One of the most important safety features is the electrical circuit breaker or fuse panel. These panels are the main distribution point for electricity as it goes to various branch circuits throughout the home. The electrical panel is so important because it is the main overcurrent protection for the electrical system. For instance, if there is a short in a circuit (an outlet) then the breaker or fuse will turn the power off to that circuit. If there was not this protection, then a short in the line could easily start an electrical fire.
It is not unusual to find safety concerns in many of the panels we inspect. The most common concerns found in panels are: double tapped breakers/fuses or undersized breakers/fuses. Normally these problems are caused by home owners adding circuits to the panel or replacing breakers/fuses with larger ones to prevent them from tripping off. Not a good idea!
Fused panels have threaded sockets into which the fuses are screwed in. These threaded sockets look like light bulb sockets and are call Edison sockets (named after Thomas Edison who invented them).
Some of the home we inspect still have 60 amp fuse panels. When they were installed, not long after Mr. Edison’s time, there was limited need for electricity in a home. With today’s usage of electricity these undersized panels should be upgraded for safety reasons. There are some larger fused panels – 100 and 150 amps that are still very functional. Some electricians will say fuses are just as safe as breakers. Buyers need to be aware that there are some insurance companies who will not insure homes with fused panels. (It is one way they can tell the house has not been upgraded electrically.)
Another issue that comes up are homes with Federal Pacific Stab loc panels. Many of these panels were installed in the late 60’s and the 70’s. There are many electricians who will recommend these panels be changed out. Federal Pacific continued to manufacture these panels even after the panels lost their URL rating. The concern for these panels are the breakers have been known not to trip when needed, thus causing electrical fires. The final verdict is not out yet for these panels in our local jurisdictions. For instance the City of Omaha is not calling out to have them replaced.
Unlike the concern for Federal Pacific, which has some grey areas, most electrical concerns do not have grey areas. If it is wired incorrectly it is a safety reason. There are too many house fires caused by electrical issues not to take the concerns seriously.
We are a locally owned home inspection company serving the metro areas of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska.