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What You Need To Know About Federal Pacific and Zinsco Electrical Panels.

Photo credit: InterNachi Inspection Community

Federal Pacific and Zinsco Electrical Panels. 

Federal Pacific and Zinsco Electrical Panels pose significant risks of malfunction and potential fire hazards in homes. Unfortunately, these panels were commonly installed in new homes across the United States between 1950 and 1990. Therefore, homeowners with these panels are strongly advised to replace them with newer, up-to-date breaker panels. Homeowners in the Sykesville area are unfortunately no exception. Wondering what’s the deal with these panels and how to check if you have one? Let’s dive into the details.

How Did This All Start?

Federal Pacific Panels emerged from innovation in Newark, New Jersey, in 1925. Initially catering to commercial and industrial markets, Federal Electric Corporation, later rebranded as Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE), expanded its reach to residential electrical panels. However, amid mounting safety concerns and legal battles, FPE faced a downfall by the early 1980s. Despite their extinction, Federal Pacific Panels remain in many American homes, posing significant safety risks.

A 2017 study revealed alarming findings about Stab-Lok® breakers, indicating that up to one in four were defective, posing fire hazards. Moreover, a New Jersey court found that Federal Pacific Electric falsely labeled these faulty breakers as meeting safety standards. Despite this, the Consumer Product Safety Commission refrained from issuing a recall. With Federal Pacific Electric out of business, the legacy of its subpar products persists, highlighting the urgency for homeowners to replace these panels with safer alternatives.

Why Are Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers Dangerous? 

Replacing these electrical panels with ones that adhere to modern safety standards is imperative for several compelling reasons:

    1. Firstly, Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunctions are attributed to approximately 2,800 fires annually. CK Electric, along with other electrical experts, strongly recommends homeowners to swap out any Federal Pacific panels for updated circuit breakers.
    2. Breakers may fail to trip properly in the presence of moisture near outlets, leading to circuit overloads and the possibility of fire.
    3. The absence of a ground wire increases the risk of power surges overwhelming the breakers, potentially causing electrical hazards.
    4. Many insurance providers refuse coverage for properties equipped with FPE breaker panels. Instead of repairing the existing circuit breaker box, it’s advisable to enlist the services of a qualified and licensed electrician to replace the entire panel with a safer alternative that meets code.

How Can I Tell What Type of Electrical Panel I have? 

If your home is 25-65 years old, you may very well have this type of electrical panel. The sure way of knowing is to check your breaker box for a Federal Pacific logo on the front cover along with the name “Stab-Lok” in the center or the side of the panel.

 

 

Zinsco Electrical Panels. Where did they come from? 

Photo credit: Cornerstone Home Inspection Group LLC

There is a long story here, but we will try to keep it short and to the point.

The history of Zinsco electrical panels and circuit breakers traces back to the 1930s when Emile Zinsmeyer acquired the west coast stock of Frank Adam Electric company, forming the Zinsmeyer company. In 1943, the company was renamed Zinsco after Emile’s son, Martin, took ownership. The original electrical panel equipment developed by Zinsco was later re-branded and sold to GTE-Sylvania in 1973. In 1978, the original “Magnetrip” branded circuit breakers were rebranded as “Challenger”. Despite the various names and labels, most of the components remained the same. Although Challenger panel brand ceased manufacturing Zinsco style panels by 1981, they continued to sell Zinsco style circuit breakers for use in existing panels.

During World War II, the United States government redirected much of the copper supplies for the war effort, prompting electrical panel manufacturers to shift to aluminum components instead of the widely-used copper ones. In 1942, the National Electric Code included the use of aluminum wires and components. However, Zinsco didn’t adopt aluminum components in their panels until the third copper shortage in the 1960s. Unfortunately, some of the early aluminum alloys used in electrical panels proved to be faulty and caused issues.

Why are Zinsco Electrical Panels Dangerous? 

Experts have identified two major reasons why Zinsco circuit breaker panels pose a danger:

  1. Zinsco panels may fail to meet updated safety codes. Production halted in the mid-1970s, meaning panels from this time lack today’s UL listing and may not comply with current safety standards. What was once acceptable may now be considered unsafe.
  2. Zinsco panels may harbor significant design flaws not found in other panels of similar age. These include the use of aluminum in certain components, unreliable connections between breakers and bus bars, prone to corrosion, and breakers appearing off while still conducting power internally.

How Can I Tell What Type of Electrical Panel I have? 

Similar to it’s faulty Federal Pacific friend, Zinsco panels will have a sticker inside with it’s logo.

 

 

Owners, Carl and Nancy Kirkpatrick

What Do I Do If I Have One of These Panels? 

If your home has a Federal Pacific or Zinsco electrical panel, it’s time to take action and reach out to CK Electric! With our licensed electricians on the job, you can rest assured knowing that those outdated panels will be swapped out for shiny new ones that meet modern safety standards. Trust me, your home will thank you, and you’ll sleep better at night knowing you’ve banished those old panels to the electrical graveyard where they belong!