When to Replace House Electrical Panel

​Transcription of FAQ Video:

Hi, I'm Bill Root with Root Electric, and today I'm going talk to you about how I determine if an electrical panel needs to be replaced. Now this is an actual electrical panel that I removed from one of my customer's house. It's a Federal Pacific panel built in the late 1970s, and it is a perfect candidate for replacement. The first thing that I look at when determining if one of these things needs to be removed is the outside of the panel. We call this the housing or "the can" in the trade terms.

And the first thing that I look at is, does it still have paint on it or is there rust? In this case, we have a great deal of rust on the outside of the electrical panel. So now you could see up close on the panel, you could see evidence here on the top of the panel of rust. In fact, it's heavily rusted if you saw it from my point of view. And then inside the panel you can see where water has actually entered through the panel. You could see the rust residue there on the back of the housing.

Now let's pan down to the bottom of the panel. And you can actually see the bottom where it's again been heavily rusted, and you could see where water has actually pooled there and begun to rust up the back of the panel. Now the next thing that I look at are the internal components of the panel, and I start with the main breaker. The main breaker is the location where the service entrance cable enter the electrical panel and power the electrical panel at the main lugs, okay? So the lugs are actually the devices that hold the wires.

Now this panel, you really can't see the main lugs because of its design. They are actually deep down inside. You need like a long wrench to go ahead and work them. But if you could actually see deep inside of them, you would see that in this panel they are heavily rusted. Now when the lugs are rusted, one of the big symptoms of it is heat, and in many cases, you can actually put your hand over the main breaker, and you could feel that heat. Usually it's not enough to blister your hand, but it'll be significantly hotter than you would deem reasonable.

The next thing we look at are the circuit breakers. Now the first thing I'm looking at with circuit breakers is, is there evidence of water running through or around the components in the circuit breaker? And the way I determine if that's happened is if I see rust residue on the exterior of the breaker. And as you can see about halfway down here, there's a significant amount of rust residue here on the outside of the breaker and even out here near the breaker terminals. In fact, these breakers have had so much water in and around them that the terminals themselves, the screws that you see in the picture, are heavily and deeply rusted.

This panel was in very bad condition when we replaced it. The last thing that I look at are the bus bars, and I'm gonna need a tool here. Wait, let me see if I can get one of these breakers off. Okay. So the last thing that I look at are the bus bars. The bus bars are deep inside the panel. Let's see if I can even get these out now. Looks like that was pretty well seized in there.

But the bus bars are deep inside here, and the bus bars are actually the component that distributes electricity to the circuit breakers. Now if you've had water inside of the circuit breakers, there's a pretty good chance that your bus bars are also corroded. In this panel the bus bars don't appear to be significantly corroded; however, some corrosion is visible. So as you look at this panel, this is an example of a panel that is very far gone and in very poor condition.

So in some, when I'm trying to determine if your electrical panel needs to be replaced, what I'm looking at are the terminals inside of your electrical panel. And what a terminal is, that's the location where the wires connect into the panel. And when I'm looking at those terminals, I'm looking for corrosion or rust. The reason why corrosion and rust are bad is because they cause resistance inside those terminals. And resistance causes heat which can cause a catastrophic failure in the electrical panel. Of course, when people think catastrophic failure they think fire or burning. That's the worst that can happen.

But if you're thinking that your electrical panel might need a change, please give us a call. We'll be happy to give you a free estimate. I'm Bill Root with Root Electric, and we'll keep you grounded.

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About the Author

During my tenure at Root Electric, I lead the transition of Root Electric from a primarily sub-contracting based business model to a prime-contracting based business model.