Is My Electrical Panel Safe?

Have you ever asked the question, “Is my panel safe”? You probably own an older home if you’ve asked this question. You might even ask yourself what an electrical panel does. Electrical panels are similar to the heart for your body but for your entire electrical system in the home. Just like your heart pumps your blood to your entire body your electric panel is the starting point for all the electricity in your home. Your electric panel plays the most important role in the safety of your electric system. We will be giving you more specific information on Zinsco/Sylvania panels in this newsletter.

History of the Zinsco and Sylvania Electrical Panels

Here are some things to know about Zinsco/Sylvania electric panels. Reports estimate over 2 million of these were installed in homes across America. Zinsco was the original manufacturer starting in 1950. Sylvania bought out Zinsco in 1973. Sylvania continued to make them until 1981 when Challenger bought them out. Thankfully, Challenger stopped the making of this panel. These panels were extremely popular at one point. If your home was built between 1950 and 1981 it is possible that you have one. Consider calling a local electrician to have a look if you aren’t sure whether you have one or not.

Here is What Makes Zinsco and Sylvania Electric Panels Unsafe

These electrical panels have two main problems associated with them that occur commonly. One of the issues is with the breakers. The other issue stems from the material used to construct these panels. These panels have even been found with breakers that got hot enough to melt the metal parts and permanently weld to the panel. Challenger thankfully stopped the production of this panel in 1981.

Problem #1 – The Breakers

Breakers are designed to only allow a certain amount of current to flow through them. To keep things simple, lets look at a 20 amp breaker. A 20 amp breaker should only allow 20 amps to flow through it. Breakers are designed to trip when they measure current flow more than 20 amps. Zinsco breakers are known to allow far more than the amperage allowed on a 20 amp breaker. Breaker failure is the term for when this happens. They are known to have up to a 25% failure rate. Compared to the standards for breakers today this is a very high failure rate.  Breakers manufactured today have less than a 1% – 4% failure rate. This means a Zinsco electrical panel that has 20 breakers in it has at least 5 that are no good by this standard! The photos below demonstrate what happens when these breakers don’t trip properly.

Photo collage of Zinsco and Sylvania electrical panels

This photo collage is of a Sylvania/Zinsco Panel we came across not that long ago. The breaker should have tripped but it didn’t. This allowed the receptacle and the wires to keep burning until they broke contact.

Problem #2 – Plastic Breaks Down

The second problem with the breakers is with the plastics. The plastic in the breaker often breaks down. This causes the breaker to stay on even when flipped to the off position. The breaker leaves the circuit energized when this happens even though it appears to be off. It can leave dangerous situations when you need to have a circuit off. Especially when there is an emergency and you can’t get it shut off properly. These breakers have also gotten hot enough to weld to the panel itself to where it can’t be removed.

Identifying Whether Your Electrical Panel Is a Zinsco or Sylvania

Zinsco and Sylvania panels are actually easy to identify. Most of these panels have the Zinsco or Sylvania label as shown in the photos below. Bright colors on the handles make them easier to identify. These colors include green, light blue, white, and red breakers. The old ones are black in their construction and the grey ones are newer replacement breakers. I have circled another way to identify the panels if they don’t have a clear marking in the pictures below.

Inside look of an electrical panel

Notice the bright colors on the breakers.

Interior label of electrical panel

Look in the labeling if the panel has any sticker labels for the Zinsco or Sylvania Label


Do you think that you have one of these panels? Are you still asking yourself “is my panel safe” ? Consider calling your local electrician. A good electrician can evaluate your panel and assess it for repairs or replacement. Nothing is more important than the safety of your home and loved ones. Here at Hometown we pride ourselves on being knowledgeable and professional. We also believe we provide the best to offer in our trade, please consider calling us if you are in the Nashville area!