If you are looking at complexes built in the 1980’s or earlier there are some panels to be on the lookout for. These panels include Federal Pacific Electric (FPE), Zinsco, split bus panels and any systems with fuses. Not only are these panel brands a potential fire hazard, they can also cause higher insurance rates and may even prevent a future buyer from getting an agency loan. This article will discuss some of the reasons these panels are unsafe and how to identify them when doing a property tour.
Federal Pacific Electric panels have been around since the early 1950’s. These panels have breakers that have been linked to thousand of fires each year. The problem with FPE panels is the breakers may not trip when overloaded. This results in excessive temperatures and eventually fire. Another problem reported with FPE panels is that when the breakers are in the off position they may still energize the circuit resulting in possible electrocution.
FPE panels are easy to identify and have distinctive red tipped breakers and Federal Pacific Electric will likely be written on the cover of your breaker box. Inside, look for the name Stab-Loc (the brand name of the circuit breakers).
Zinsco / Sylvania panels were popular in the 1970’s. And while the company is no longer in business many of these panels are still in place. The circuit breakers inside many Zinsco panels melt to the main ‘bus bar’. This means the breaker can’t ever trip, even when there’s a short or overloaded circuit. So if there ever is a short or other problems, the surge of power melts wires and starts fires in your home.
To identify these panels the name Zinsco anywhere on the panel is a sure sign it should be replaced. Also, many GTE-Sylvania or Sylvania panels are simply re-branded Zinsco panels and have the same problem Zinsco design. These should also be replaced.
Split Bus Panels
A typical modern circuit breaker has a single metal bus. Electricity comes into the panel, passes through a main breaker and to the bus. The bus then connects to each individual circuit breaker, providing power to your entire home.
You can then shut off power to the bus (and therefore your entire unit) simply by turning off the main breaker.
Split-bus electrical panels are different. They have 2 buses and no single main disconnect. They have up to 6 breakers labeled “main”. One of these main breakers controls power to half (the bottom) of the breakers in the panel. The other main breakers connect directly to the first bus.
By themselves, split-bus panels aren’t unsafe. However, these types of panels haven’t been used for over 40 years. That puts them past their expected lifespan, meaning the circuit breakers may not trip as they are designed to. And, electrical code no longer allows for multiple disconnects.
If you see a fuse box when walking the property it’s time for an electrical upgrade and the system is obsolete. Also, many insurance carriers will not insure a property with fuses.
Identifying these panels can help you keep your tenants safe, better plan your capex without any major surprises and may even give you some leverage with negotiations. Replacing panels in 50 plus units will be a costly upgrade.
Priority Inspections, provides multifamily inspection services through-out Florida. If we can be of help contact us any time – 321-368-9921