If you’re a homeowner, chances are you’ve heard that Zinsco panels are bad, but is there a Zinsco panel recall?
No, there isn’t a formal Zinsco panel recall. Despite overwhelming evidence that Zinsco panels are bad, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has not missed a recall on Zinsco panels or breakers.
However, due to their potential safety hazards and unreliability, it is strongly recommended that homeowners replace their existing Zinsco panels with more reliable alternatives. Replacing an old Zinsco panel will make your home safer and reduce your risk of a house fire due to failing or malfunctioning Zinsco components.
Zinsco Panel Recall: What You Should Know
For decades now, the industry has known that Zinsco panels are faulty. However, a Zinsco panel recall was never official due to CPSC’s claim of insufficient evidence and budget concerns related to proving the panels were faulty.
Despite being acquired by GTE-Sylvania in 1973, its Zinsco-Sylvania electrical panels couldn’t keep pace with the evolving electrical codes.
Despite widespread discussion about the product’s faults, official evidence of a Zinsco panel recall is elusive. The foremost authority in the field, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), has no record of such a recall, not even for rebranded GTE-Sylvania electric panels.
Yet, a closer look reveals that CPSC does have a record of Challenger Electrical Equipment (which bought GTE-Sylvania) recalling its circuit breakers due to faulty parts, leading specialists to believe it could be the same as the original Zinsco board.
Sylvania purchased Zinsco and tried to address some of the problems. Sylvania created the Challenger brand but used Zinsco components in the panels, which sparked a recall of the Challenger breakers in 1988.
Challenger voluntarily offered a free replacement of its 15 and 20-ampere type HAGF single pole ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) circuit breakers.
The CPSC took no further action citing in its report that “HAGF circuit breakers which require replacement will only be found in dwellings which have been constructed since February 1988 or in which electrical work has been done since February 1988”.
Meanwhile, the evidence against Zinsco continues to mount, as evidenced in field testing reports, yet no Zinsco panel recall has happened.
Part of the reason no Zinsco panel recall has occurred is that the parent company is no longer in business. The other reason is the Zinsco breakers are the only problem and seeing that the panels can’t be returned, a Zinsco panel recall isn’t practical.
Zinsco Class Action Lawsuit
The New Jersey Court ruled against the companies, finding that they had engaged in fraudulent behavior by failing to test their circuit breakers to the required standard. This violated the Consumer Fraud Act, which requires companies to be transparent and honest about their products and testing procedures.
The high rate of breaker failures indicated that the companies were aware of the problem yet failed to take appropriate action.
Why Are Zinsco Panels Bad?
Zinsco panels in residential homes pose a safety risk, but the risk of fire in commercial properties poses a greater danger. Residential complexes and other commercial properties require more power units, making the electrical panels more vulnerable to overload.
Designed at the turn of the 20th century, Zinsco panels were built for simpler times with less energy consumption and cannot handle the demands of modern appliances. This can result in overheating and, in extreme cases, fire hazards.
Homeowner associations often take the lead in upgrading the electrical panels, which can be lengthy but necessary for a safer community as it is becoming harder to find appropriate insurance.
Initial damage from Zinsco electrical panels can be hard to spot, even upon closer inspection. Zinsco breakers are prone to melting to the bus bar in high power circuits, causing electricity to flow without interruption and leading to fire and electrical shock hazards.
The risk is even higher in residential complexes, where multiple consumers and electrical needs increase the likelihood of these hazards occurring.
The risks and costs associated with Zinsco panels can be even higher for commercial properties. Insurance companies are cautious about covering properties with what they deem as uninsurable electrical panels, making it difficult for property managers to find a reasonable insurance policy.
Home inspectors scrutinize the electrical systems in properties, including wires, outlets, switches, and electrical panels, to ensure safety. Outdated panels like Zinsco can make it even harder for homeowners to find an affordable property insurance policy.
Zinsco panels were initially created in the 1960s. For years, they were considered reliable and safe electrical panels for homes. But in recent decades, homeowners have reported issues with Zinsco panels failing or posing safety risks due to corrosion, arcing, and other problems.
Why Are Zinsco Panels Dangerous?
It will not necessarily be easy to spot if there is a problem with your Zinsco panel. They may appear to work correctly for many years without failing. Even if you try and remove the cover, this will not help.
Zinsco electrical panels are considered dangerous by electricians and industry experts. Zinsco circuit breakers melt and fuse to the aluminum bus bar causing failure in about 25% of the panels inspected.
Another issue plaguing Zinsco panels is that solid-strand aluminum wiring was prevalent during their time. These wires were known to overheat and cause fires, leading to a rise in electrical fires.
The aluminum wiring would expand as it was under electrical current, causing the wire to overheat. In addition, the wiring would contract when cooled, causing loose connections and electrical shorts.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire departments report over 46,700 house fires occur annually from electrical failure and malfunctions.
Which Zinsco Panels Are Unsafe?
The US went through significant copper shortages during WWII and the Korean War up to the 1960s.
The severe copper shortage led to manufacturers using cheaper aluminum alloys in electrical panels and breaker manufacturing.
Although aluminum is used today in some electrical panels, the one used back then was of a different alloy with slightly different properties.
The aluminum used for the Zinsco panels was not of the best quality. It was prone to oxidation, and oxidized aluminum has an insulating property, not conducting one. The results were numerous burn-outs and electrical fires.
Because of that, there are several significant reasons why Zinsco panels are not safe:
- The circuit breakers can melt and, as a result, fuse to the electrical panel’s main bus bar. Doing so prevents the breaker from ever being able to trip. The circuit will stay closed, and electricity will pass regardless of how bad the power surge or the short circuit is. Eventually, the panel, breakers, and wiring will overheat and catch fire.
- The poor quality of the aluminum used.
- The breakers might not connect to the bus bar in a proper way. If the breakers are loosely attached to the bus bars, this may cause arcing. Arcing produces tremendous heat that may set the whole panel on fire.
- The bus bars tend to corrode easily.
- Even though the breakers may appear off, they may not have cut out the power and allowed the electrical current to pass.
- Zinsco panels don’t pass today’s UL requirements. They will not be sold on the market if they cannot pass the safety requirements.
- They could sometimes be set up as a two-wire electrical system without ground.
Even without a Zinsco panel recall, the takeaway is that all Zinsco panels are bad, and if your home has one, you should replace it even if the panel appears to be ok.
Make sure to hire an experienced electrician who can inspect your system thoroughly and make any necessary recommendations for repair or replacement. These proactive steps will help keep your family safe for years!