Some old breaker boxes pose serious safety concerns. Many were not manufactured up to safety standards from the beginning. During World Wars I & II, manufacturers used inferior aluminum metals for bus bars. Over time they have been proven to overheat, making them dangerous and unsafe.
The typical lifespan of a breaker box is 25 to 40 years. If you live in a home built before 1980, you may have one of these old electrical panel brands and may be due for an electrical panel replacement.
Even if they have been working correctly for many years, there is no way of knowing if they will continue doing so. We recommend upgrading if you have one of the below electrical panel brands.
Old Breaker Boxes & Electrical Panel Brands
As technology advances, old breaker boxes, and electrical panels can become outdated, inefficient, and potentially dangerous. If you own an older home with one of these old electrical brands, you should consider replacing it to ensure your family’s safety.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments battle an estimated 32,160 residential house fires annually caused by old breaker boxes and faulty lighting components in older homes.
We invite you to use our electrical panel cost calculator for an estimate on an electrical panel upgrade.
1. Federal Pacific Stab-Lok
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Lok panels are a long-known hazard. Insurance companies often flag these uninsurable electrical panels despite the Consumer Product Safety Commission never recalling the unsafe electrical panels. People widely consider these old breaker boxes unsafe and dangerous. They are the cause of nearly 3000 electrical fires annually in the US.
Insurance companies and the Consumer Product Safety Commission consider Federal Pacific Electric panels dangerous. When tested, Federal Pacific Electric Panels are hazardous due to age and faulty components with higher failure rates. The breakers have been shown not to trip, causing the panels to catch fire.
Contractors installed Federal Pacific panels in homes built between the 1950s and 1980s. FPE panels are tricky because governmental institutions have no official stance, and no recalls have been initiated.
However, if we look into some of the investigations and tests done on these panels, we will see that they have incredibly high rates of failing to trip in the presence of an overcurrent or short circuit.
During some tests, these old style circuit breakers failed to trip at high rates ranging from 25% and going up to 65% in some cases, making them a major fire hazard and dangerous.
Changing the circuit breakers with FPE replacement breakers is not less dangerous, so replacement is best.
2. Zinsco and Zinsco-Sylvania
Zinsco panels are outdated and fail to provide proper safety. They are not the most reliable and can be quite dangerous. The breakers may melt and fuse to their bus bar or have a poor connection causing arcs of electricity, something you don’t want near your home!
On the one hand, we don’t have any official position from the governmental authorities. And on the other hand, we have often seen how Zinsco panels have failed to work and even started house fires.
What makes these old breaker boxes dangerous is the materials used in manufacturing.
- In the production of the Zinsco panels, there was a particular flaw. A specific aluminum alloy was used that can oxidize.
- The breakers have been known to melt and fuse to the bus bar, which renders them ineffective in providing protection.
- The circuit breakers are often loosely connected to the bus bars, leading to arcing.
- The breakers may appear to be tripped, but the electricity is not cut off.
An easy way to recognize a Zinsco panel is by looking for the following labels: Zinsco, Sylvania, GTE-Sylvania, Sylvania-Zinsco.
So, which Sylvania electrical panels are bad? Sylvania electrical panel issues mostly center around the Zinsco buyout. Zinsco and Zinsco-Sylvania panels were declared a safety hazard by Underwriters Laboratories in the early 80s after numerous house fires.
3. ITE Pushmatic and Bulldog
Unlike the Zinsco and FPE panels, the ITE Pushmatic panels have not proven unreliable. However, they are still not without their issues.
ITE Pushmatic doesn’t have formal recalls; however, industry professionals and insurance companies still consider them dangerous. ITE Pushmatic is unsafe because they are outdated and likely accompanies aluminum or ungrounded wiring. Electricians and insurance companies recommend replacing electric panels over 40 years old, mainly where aluminum or ungrounded wiring exists.
These old breaker boxes are easily recognizable as they don’t have switches but buttons you need to push when switching them off.
They were produced and installed during the 1930s to 1960s, making them extremely old and outdated. Finding circuit breaker panel replacement parts for them can be expensive and risky.
With that, they have reports of failing to trip in the presence of overcurrent. The circuit breakers in these panels use a thermal tripping mechanism. While in comparison, newer units use thermal and magnetic tripping mechanisms, making them safer and more dependable.
One of their inherent faults is that the buttons use grease; if not frequently operated, they can get tricky and stiff. Even though it may appear to be working, An electrician should replace the ITE Pushmatic panel due to its age and lower safety.
The Challenger electric panels are another brand that can pose a latent fire risk. They were one of the most popular circuit breaker boxes installed in homes built during the 1980s and the 1990s.
Challenger panels are dangerous because some of the circuit breakers Challenger manufactured tended to overheat during normal working conditions. Some insurance companies will not insure a home with a Challenger panel. However, this is not true for all insurance companies.
The heat generated led to the breakers expanding and contracting, causing the connection between the breaker and the bus bar to become very loose. A loose connection like this causes arcs that produce tremendous amounts of heat, melting the breaker. The result is a circuit breaker rendered completely useless and unable to work.
In addition, CPSC recalled some Challenger breakers because they failed quality testing when they discovered that they could not provide the necessary ground fault protection.
These old breaker boxes don’t always have the Challenger label on them. Some of the Zinsco or Zinsco-Sylvania were issued under the Challenger name.
Murray is another of the old breaker boxes contractors installed several decades ago. There are modern Murray panels that are perfectly fine. These modern Murray panels are safe.
Murray panels were less expensive than some of the other older ones; however, they were considered safe and without faults. The main problem plaguing Murray panels is their age. It must be updated if your Murray electric panel is over 40 years old.
In 2010 Murray circuit breakers were recalled by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) because of the inherent danger. CPSC discovered that a spring clip could break under normal working conditions, leading to electrical fires and shocks.
Westinghouse panels are considered unsafe. The main issue that plagues these old breaker boxes is their age. The breakers can also have a poor connection to the bus bar, causing them to overheat and melt, thus burning the connection tabs.
Loose breakers were not a widespread problem resulting in any recalls. If you have a Westinghouse electric panel, have it examined by a licensed electrician, especially if you see an old breaker box with multiple breaker brands?
If the Westinghouse panel has several other branded breakers, there has likely been an issue in the past, and the bus bar could be damaged. These panels’ natural wear and tear makes them a potential safety hazard and should be replaced.
Wadsworth panels are generally well known for their high quality. However, Wadsworth is now one of the old breaker boxes no longer in production.
Wadsworth panels are obsolete as the panels no longer meet today’s stringent safety standards. According to electricians, other issues related to Wadsworth panels are aluminum or ungrounded wiring. The main issue plaguing Wadsworth panels is their age. Homes that have a Wadsworth panel should make electric panel upgrades a priority.
Many Wadsworth panels are still in use today. However, replacing during renovations should be a priority. Typically, a Wadsworth service panel upgrade will include some electric wiring updates.
8. General Switch
General Switch is another one of the old breaker boxes that is no longer manufactured. You may have difficulty finding replacement breakers if you have a General Switch electric panel. While many other breaker brands may fit and work perfectly fine, it’s technically not compliant.
General Switch panels will likely require replacement if a breaker fails. General Switch components are no longer in production, and replacing bad breakers with other brands is not compliant. Other issues related to General Switch panels are aluminum or ungrounded wiring.
Like Murray panels, Bryant is one of the old breaker boxes contractors installed several decades ago.
Bryant panels are considered safe; however, age and condition are the main factors as to whether they are safe or dangerous. Cutler-Hammer owns the name rights to Bryant and does manufacture replacement breakers under the Cutler-Hammer name. However, if your Bryant electric panel is over 40 years old, it likely needs an upgrade.
Old Breaker Boxes FAQs
Are old electrical panels unsafe?
Yes, old electrical panels can be unsafe. Even though many have never been recalled, they pose serious dangers. Any panel brand manufactured before 1980 should be inspected by an electrician for replacement consideration.
Why do I need to replace my old circuit breaker box?
You may need to replace any circuit breaker box if it is outdated, malfunctioning, or has visible damage, like burns, melting, or rust. An outdated or malfunctioning circuit breaker box can cause electrical problems and create a fire hazard. If the circuit breaker box has been damaged due to an electrical surge, lightning strike, or physical damage, it needs to be replaced to ensure the safety of your home and property.
How many years does a breaker panel last?
A breaker panel typically lasts 25 to 40 years. However, it is important to regularly check and maintain the breaker panels to ensure they function properly and safely.