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    Be Fire Safe: Electrical Panel Upgrades, Repairs and Replacements

    Did you know that many foothill homes were built with materials and methods of wiring that cannot sufficiently handle the heat build up from the growing electrical demands of a typical 21st century household?

    As a licensed local electrician for more than two decades, I feel a duty to our community’s public safety. That’s why I want to educate you about two major fire hazards I often encounter while serving the Tri-Counties.

    1.  Faulty electrical panels that were installed in many homes and buildings from the ’60s through the early ’80s.

    There are two panels built during this time that would no longer pass safety standards:

    • Zinsco or Zinsco-Sylvania (especially prevalent in the Tri-Counties)

    • FPE-Federal Pacific Stab-Loc

    These panels are known fire hazards, but homeowners are mostly unaware because they were never formally recalled.

    Especially problematic is the use of push-­in terminals. I have repaired many outlets that have completely melted as a result of these loose connections. Not only is this a fire hazard, it is also an expensive repair.

    While the potential damage from such hazards are very real, there is good news — they are also preventable by conducting a thorough safety inspection.

    When performed by a licensed electrician, a safety inspection of your entire electrical system can prevent hidden problems from suddenly surfacing.

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    Did you know that many foothill homes were built with materials and methods of wiring that cannot sufficiently handle the heat build up from the growing electrical demands of a typical 21st century household?

    Heat producing electrical equipment, such as hair dryers, portable heaters, and cooking appliances, use significantly more power than other electrical equipment. These devices may overload a circuit, especially one that is already reaching its maximum amperage allowance. Coupled with faulty circuit breakers and poorly wired outlets, this overload can cause the products to overheat and possibly catch fire.

    Nearly 25,000 residential building fires were attributed to electrical sources annually in 2017, 2018, and 2019. These fires resulted in 227 deaths, 875 injuries, and over $3.5 billion in losses, according to the United States Fire Administration’s (USFA) most recent data. When equipment was involved, nearly half (47%) of these electrical fires were started from wires overheating and causing their insulation to melt and ignite.

    As a licensed local electrician for more than two decades, I feel a duty to our community’s public safety. That’s why I want to educate you about two major fire hazards I often encounter while serving the Tri-Counties.

    It’s important that you understand these dangers in order to prevent property damage or personal injury. They include:

    1.  Faulty electrical panels that were installed in many homes and buildings from the ’60s through the early ’80s.

    There are two panels built during this time that would no longer pass safety standards:

    • Zinsco or Zinsco-Sylvania (especially prevalent in the Tri-Counties)

    • FPE-Federal Pacific Stab-Loc

    These panels are known fire hazards, but homeowners are mostly unaware because they were never formally recalled.

    Tests have shown that the breakers on these panels do not perform properly under normal overload conditions. Breakers are thermally rated to turn off or “trip” in order to stop the flow of electricity in case of an emergency. When they don’t trip, the heat buildup is a very real hazard to the home and its occupants.

    (I have conducted my own tests on Zinsco panels and have found breakers that do not trip consistently under a dead short condition.)

    Additionally, the bus bars (the metal electrode that distributes current to the breakers) is so poorly designed that it is easily compromised under excess heat. The resulting malfunction can cause a panel to go into a “meltdown” condition, which often leads to a fire in the panel.

    2. Far too often, I see wall outlets and switches that are improperly wired in homes and offices. 

    Especially problematic is the use of push-­in terminals. I have repaired many outlets that have completely melted as a result of these loose connections.

    Marketed as a quick and efficient alternative to the standard method of installation, push-­in terminals allow someone to just strip a wire and push it into a hole on the backside of the electrical device. The wire is held in place by a spring loaded piece of metal that keeps it from falling out of the receptacle.

    However, the wire can still turn in the hole, and this can lead to a connection failure. A loose connection between the wire and the outlet or switch causes the electricity to arc and build up heat. Not only is this a fire hazard, it is also an expensive repair.

    Searching for “wire push-­in outlet hazards” will help illustrate many of these problems.

    Although the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA.org) lists “electrical” as one of the top five causes of fire, electrical hazards, like those I outline here, tend to be hidden from view. Property owners simply don’t know they’re at risk when Zinsco panels and push-in terminals seem to work properly for years before showing signs of failure or failing entirely.

    While the potential damage from such hazards are very real, there is good news — they are also preventable by conducting a thorough safety inspection.

    When performed by a licensed electrician, a safety inspection of your entire electrical system can prevent hidden problems from suddenly surfacing.

    I encourage property owners to engage in regular safety inspections — not just for your safety and peace of mind, but to help safeguard our communities against the growing risk of fire.

    Call us now at (530) 305-5851 to receive an estimate for your fire safety, including:
    Electrical Panel Repair
    Electrical Panel Replacement
    Electrical Panel Upgrade
    Electrical Panel Installation
    Breaker Box Replacement

    Sola System Electrical is committed to providing superior service for your safety and peace of mind. We look forward to speaking with you soon.


    (This article was originally published in The Union in 2010; updated 2022.)

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