Are Challenger Electrical Panels Safe: Dangers & Cost to Replace

Challenger electric breaker box

Challenger electrical panels are among the most popular electrical panels installed during the 70s and 80s. The number of Challenger electrical panels installations has decreased as replacements occur. Was it because of safety reasons? Or has its popularity just died down?

Challenger electrical panels are no longer available because they do not meet today’s UL safety standards. If you still have a Challenger box in your home, you should consider getting the panel replaced. The cost and process to replace these are relatively similar to just replacing any older electrical panel in most cases.

The cost estimate to replace a Challenger panel is $1800 to $2500. You may need additional upgrades if degraded, ungrounded, or aluminum wiring is present.

We strongly recommend getting started on the replacement process if you have a Challenger electrical panel prone to danger. Even if it may look like it operates well, there are a lot of internal processes that can cause serious problems.

Why Home Inspections Are Important x
Why Home Inspections Are Important
What is a Challenger Electrical Panel?

In 1973, General Telephone & Electronics Corporation (GTE Corporation) came out with a new type of electrical panel and named it the Challenger. After the breaker box came out, electricians installed it in numerous homes in the next 15 years. The panel was supposed to contain a way to distribute electricity throughout your house to your appliances safely.

Electrical panels are serious business because they are the heart of how your devices can turn on, off, and operate daily today.

To determine if you have a Challenger electrical panel, you can either look for the Challenger logo or the GTE logo. Most insurance companies won’t insure your home if you have this electrical panel installed. If you are unsure of how to see if you have one, you can call a licensed electrician over to confirm if you have a Challenger panel or not.

It is always a smart move to get the answer from someone who can intricately inspect the panel before giving a final yes or no.

What is Wrong With Challenger Electrical Panels?

Besides the fact that Challenger electrical panels are outdated, they have many problems with how it functions. These problems include fires, melting, and overheating circuit breakers. These hazards could physically harm people who have Challenger electrical panels installed.

Challenger electrical panels have not caught on fire before, but it is possible in certain situations. Whenever the panel melts, it creates an even deeper hole and is more prone to catching fire. The Challenger can also cause shocks if you go near it and touch the panel.

The circuit breakers were a huge issue because they were overheating at normal usage. It would be a different story if the overheating were caused by the homeowners abusing the power of the electrical panel. Sometimes, homeowners may not understand the capacity of how specific machines in their house tend to work, so they end up overworking it.

However, this panel operated in a cycle of damage happening on top of damage under normal usage conditions. As the overheating occurred, the components would meltdown more and more to a point where it was at its peak of being a fire hazard.

Since all these problems would arise, insurance companies are not likely to cover Challenger electrical panels if the panel was the item that caused some damage. That is unsafe and not recommended.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Challenger Panel?

The cost to replace a Challenger electrical panel will be around the same amount as installing a new electrical panel. Depending on how big your house is and where you live, the prices can vary. The installation process can be anywhere between $1800 and $2100. 

There are some cases where you will be looking to pay between $1,500 and $4,000 depending on internal measures. These internal measures could be how the wiring is done or how the electrician who installed the original Challenger panel had handled the installation process.

The extra cost is to ensure that the new wiring and panel are better than when the Challenger or similar electrical panel was installed. Moving the breaker box is also a cost that needs consideration.

Usually, when you want to replace your electrical panel with a better one, insurance will help out with the cost of breaker box replacement. However, insurance companies may not cover certain types of electrical panels because of the gravity of danger they come with.

Many older electrical panels are located inside closets which can require a permit to update an electric panel.

When Were Challenger Electrical Panels Recalled?

There is no recall on the Challenger electrical panel, but the CPSC recalled the 15 and 20-amp single-pole HAGF ground-fault circuit-interrupter circuit breakers (GFCI) on November 12, 1988. (CPSC)

The Challenger panel did not have any reports of shocks occurring, but they were not up to the UL safety code. It was good to recall it when they did because it prevented physically harming people.

When the recall was issued, most homeowners had no idea about the recall as the news of the recall was not widely covered, which means that most of these breakers, while recalled, were not replaced. Replacement breakers were available in stores, but most homeowners did not replace the breakers unless a problem arose.

The actual Challenger panel as a whole existing in homes was not the only problem. The circuit breakers came in different amps and were manufactured separately from the Challenger panel. 

These circuit breakers were bought individually by distributors or stores that provided electrical products. It gets messy because it could go to so many different locations and no definite system to keep track of them.

Then, it could have been anywhere in the country because the distributors sold it to anyone who wanted access to them. Challenger did not even find many breakers after the recall because the company did not collect registration information of breaker boxes sold.   

After the decline of Challenger panels, they eventually went out of business. Whatever was left of it was bought out by Eaton/Cutler-Hammer. Recently, in 2014, Eaton/Cutler-Hammer had to recall even more breakers. Parts of the panel were easily exposed, making it even more of a shock hazard. They had to recall around 1,100 of these breakers on December 02, 2014.

Fortunately, there were no injuries that were caused by this malfunction, but it was an excellent way to prevent anything from happening in the first place. 

It is good to keep some of these company names in mind. If you happen to see it on a panel or some electrical component, it never hurts to be proactive and get it checked out by a professional. If you also see these names in the future on another product, you will be sure to do all the research before handling those products.

What Electrical Panels are Dangerous?

The Challenger is just one of the types of electrical panels that is not the best. A few more similar ones are identical in the way the breakers react to the consumption of energy.

To list a few more dangerous electrical panels, we have:

  1. Federal Pacific Electrical Panels (FPE)
  2. Zinsco
  3. Split Bus electrical panels
  4. Fuse Box

1. Issues With Federal Pacific Electrical Panels

The Federal Pacific Electrical Panels were common electrical boxes between the 1950s and 1980s. The function supposed to regulate the electrical currents was overheating a lot. The breakers failed to make a good connection to the panel, causing overheating and numerous house fires.

In some instances, the breakers fail to trip when overheating causing arcing that results in breakers melting to the bus bar and eventually causing a house fire.

Another issue that the Federal Pacific Electrical Panels (FPE) had was its tangled wirings because the wires are packed tightly into a cramped space. Messy wiring prevents the electrical panels from operating efficiently and causing cover screws to nick wires.

Safety codes are also essential for anything to be available to the public. A lot of the qualities that a Federal Pacific Electrical Panel has are not up to the standard of the safety codes, which causes the panel to be defective.

2. Issues With Zinsco Panel

Zinsco panels have similar operations with Challenger electrical panels. It was also prone to melting as a result of overheating.

The reason that they did work well, for the time being, was because people who had these panels were consuming a specific limit of energy. As technology has evolved, human energy consumption has naturally increased in proportion to the amounts of devices used daily.

The tricky part about these panels is that everything looks up to code if you look at them with a naked eye. When you look deeper into the panel and its design, many things do not fit the safety code. 

Here are some internal design components that may have caused them to cease to exist.

  • The breakers are not safely connected to the panel, which can easily cause malfunctions.
  • The panel contains some aluminum which is not the best when dealing with electricity because quality can fade and cause a fire hazard.
  • The part that generates the electricity, the bus bars, seems to get destroyed easily.

3. Issues With Split Bus Electrical Panels

As said in the name, the Split Bus panel is split into two parts. Two bus bars generate electricity for separate parts of the house, one for larger appliances and another for smaller appliances. The Split Bus electrical panel also does not have a way to shut off everything at once in case of an emergency which is against safety codes.

Electricians would overwork the panels by adding extra components to support the increasing electricity consumption, which would be dangerous to the homeowners. Since there was no central way to shut off the entire thing, this panel had to be discontinued. 

4. Issues With Fuse Boxes

Just as a disclaimer, fuse boxes are not on the same level of danger as the electrical panels listed above. However, they are not the best choice because they are built and operated. Fuse boxes may not be enough to regulate the average energy consumption of homes today.

Fuses are not as good as breakers in an electrical panel. Over time, your fuse box could have had modifications applied to the box to keep up with the electrical consumptions. They would operate fine if the previous electricians did the changes correctly. However, if an electrician applied some unlicensed modification to the fuse box, it could pose a danger.

If you do your research and decide that you want to replace the fuse box with an electrical panel that is considered to be up to code, it will cost you between $200 and $2,000. The replacement cost varies depending on how big of a place you want to accommodate. The prices for upgrading out of a fuse box differ from breaker boxes like the Challenger because you deal with different components. 

Final Thoughts

As we have learned that Challenger electrical panels are bad, there are numerous things you have to keep in mind to fix this issue. You first need to identify if you have a similar kind of electrical panel. If you know your house was built before 1990, it would be a good indicator of whether it is more likely to have a bad electrical panel. 

If you do have a Challenger electrical panel or something similar, the next step is to gather the information of a good licensed electrician. Speak with your insurance company and make sure that everyone is on the same page. See what the electricians quote for this kind of replacement, as it should typically be around $1,500. 

If your insurance company is covering your home even with a Challenger panel, see how it would change if you were to replace it with a better electrical panel. 

Sources:

Eaton Recalls Electrical Meter Breakers (CPSC)

How Much Does It Cost To Upgrade Or Replace An Electrical Panel? (HomeAdvisor)

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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