The Hazards Associated with Federal Pacific and Zinsco Panels

Outdated electrical panels can pose a fire hazard in our homes. Federal Pacific and Zinsco are two models to be on the lookout for. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers they pose.

What Dangers Are Lurking

If your home was built or had an electrical system upgrade between 1950 and 1990, danger may be lurking. This is the time when Federal Pacific breaker and Zinsco panels were installed in millions of homes. Both brands have design flaws that can cause their breakers to fail, posing serious risks. These panels are no longer manufactured, but many homes still have them.

What’s Wrong with Federal Pacific and Zinsco Panels

The FPE panel style contains Stab-Lok breakers. Independent testing showed they failed to trip in the case of overload. This flaw could result in overheating and fires. A circuit breaker is designed to trip or “break” the flow of electricity when a circuit becomes overloaded. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated the performance of the circuit breakers in the 1980’s. They found many of the Stab-Lok breakers didn’t disconnect when overloaded.

Homes built between 1963 and 1981 may have Zinsco panels. They contain aluminum wiring that can overheat and cause an electrical fire or shock. Many times, a problem isn’t detected until it’s too late.

How to Tell What You’ve Got

Check the cover of your electrical panel to see if it’s labeled Federal Pacific or FPE. Also look in the breaker box. You’ll typically find the Stab-Lok logo inside the panel. The breakers have a signature red strip running across the front.

Zinsco panels also go by the names “GTE-Sylvania”, “Sylvania”, or “Magnetrip”. Check the label on your electrical panel. Zinsco panels have signature red, green, and blue toggles on their circuit breakers.

Our Changing Electrical Needs

Older electrical panels are not equipped to handle the electrical needs of modern homes. More than half of today’s homes were built before the 1970’s. People living in newer homes have computers, several televisions, a stereo system, cell phones, and many other electrical devices. Today’s homes need at least 150 amps. Many older homes had no more than 60-amp electrical service.

Outdated Electrical Panel Dangers

Electrical systems in older homes cannot safely keep up with today’s demand. If you have an outdated electrical panel, it should be replaced. Here are some older models to be aware of.

Fuse boxes. These were used before the panel box arrived. A fuse would pop and have to be replaced if an overcurrent or short circuit occurred. Some people would replace a 15-amp fuse with a 20-or-30-amp fuse which created a huge fire hazard. Others would insert a penny where the blown fuse once was, leaving the home open to the potential risk of fire.

Split-bus panels. These panels don’t have a main breaker, but a smaller one feeding the bottom half of the panel. They have been known to melt or burn due to the demand placed on them. These panels are no longer considered a safe option.

Let Us Handle Your Electrical Needs

If your home has an FPE or Zinsco electrical panel, call a licensed electrician right away. These panels need to be inspected and most likely replaced. You don’t want a fire hazard lurking in your home.

The folks at CKElectric can handle all your electrical projects, big or small! Our electricians serve Sykesville, Eldersburg, Frederick, and all of Central Maryland. Call us at 443-920-3078 or email us at We are happy to serve you!