Is My Panel Safe?…Zinsco Panels

Zinsco Panel

Picture this…Your family sits down at the dinner table to enjoy a meal together for the first time in weeks because if you are like a lot of American families, everyone is busy. Between school activities and sports that your children are involved in and work for your and your spouse, life has you going a million miles an hour.

Anyway, back to our story…you sit down for a nice meal together and the lights flicker. You think nothing of it because this has been happening for weeks. Your family enjoys a time of conversation and catching up on what is going on in everyone’s life and then you disperse to start your evening routines. Your children have homework to do and head to their rooms to plug in their devices that need to charge after use all day.

You clean up the evening meal and start the dishwasher. Again, the lights flicker but you don’t think anything of it. Then you remember that you put a load of laundry in the washer before you left for work in the morning. So, you put it in the dryer and start another load of laundry.

By this time, you are tired after a long day’s work. You sit down on your couch, plug in your laptop computer to catch up on a few last-minute emails before your meeting at work tomorrow and turn on the TV.

And then it happens…your children come running downstairs complaining that they don’t have power in their rooms and before you know your appliances are going on and off and lights are flickering…so much for a quiet evening.

The DYIer that you are, you decided to investigate the problem, because after looking outside you realize that all your neighbors have power. You head to the basement and when you get to the panel, there is a distinct burning smell. You open the panel and there is a glow on some of the breakers.  

On top of trying to call an electrician to come out and look at the problem you are dealing with your children who are screaming that they do not have enough battery life in their devices to complete their homework and trying to make sure that a fire is not going to start and burn down your home, which is traditionally considered the biggest purchase in your life.

When the electrician arrives, he finds that you have a Zinsco Panel and your panel will need to be replaced.

Unfortunately, for many homeowners if you have a Zinsco Panel or a Federal Pacific Panel (also known as FPE Panel) installed at your home, the above scenario is a very real possibility. For more on FPE panels, check out our previous blog post.

Zinsco Panels were popular in the 1970s, however they are now obsolete and what electricians and home inspectors are finding is that they “may leave homes and homeowners at risk to both fire and electrical shock. These panels can work fine for years, but as homes have increased energy demands, these panels may overheat and portions of it melt.”

Over the years, the following design flaws have been found within Zinsco panels which may lead to fire…

  • Zinsco panels have certain components that contain aluminum. Aluminum has a useful life of approximately 30 years.
  • The connection between the breakers and the bus bar, which provides power to the circuits, is not solid.
  • An easily corroded bus bar.
  • Although the breaker appears to be off, internally, the panel may still be conducting power.

Within electrical panels there are breakers. These breakers are designed to trip if the circuit is overloaded or if something is malfunctioning. When a breaker trips, it shuts the power off to that particular circuit, thus preventing a potential fire. Over time breakers in Zinsco panels have been known to melt and if they melt to the panel’s bus bar, they are unable to trip. “Once that happens, the power can’t be stopped or shut off manually. Electricity will burn until it runs out of fuel or the wires melt. This leads to a panel that could overheat and catch fire.” 

What Should I do?

You may be wondering what you should do next. If you have a Zinsco panel, we recommend that you seriously consider having your panel replaced.

Besides the fact that the Zinsco Panels pose safety hazards, since the panels are obsolete, if something goes bad in your panel you may be without power for days or be forced to have your panel replaced in an emergency situation, which will be more expensive than if you were to schedule a panel replacement.

You should reach out to your trusted electrician today to receive an estimate on the cost to replace your panel. If you do not have a trusted electrician, we would welcome the opportunity to help you out with a panel replacement.

As a value-added service, all panel replacements performed by Lapp Electric receive a typed panel schedule…that way you know what is on each circuit if you ever need to turn off a circuit. This value-added service is also a huge resale factor should you ever decide to sell your home.

Panel Schedule