Challenger Electrical Panel & Home Insurance
A well-functioning electrical panel trips its circuit breakers and cuts off electricity to an area of your house if it becomes overloaded. However, a malfunctioning or outdated system will place your family in danger.
One of these problematic systems is the Challenger electrical panel, manufactured by Challenger Electrical Equipment Corp or Challenger Electric. Popular in the 80s and 90s, Challenger breaker panels started facing constant recalls in 1988, and roughly 9,000 older homes still have these recalled Challenger parts.
Unfortunately, the misfortunes did not end there. Challenger's successor company, Eaton/Cutler-Hammer, issued its latest recall in 2014 after discovering its breakers cause electric shock. It used similar parts to the previously problematic Challenger breakers.
Breaker boxes are a better-safe-than-sorry issue. So, any homeowner who discovers an older Challenger electrical panel in their home should replace it. Besides their risks, these panels are outdated, and keeping them risks canceling your home insurance.
If you live in a historic or older home, know that Challenger was not the only brand recalled. There were several brands of electrical panels recalled then as well.
Challenger Electrical Panel
There are many names for an electrical panel, including a distribution board, breaker box, or breaker panel. You usually find it in your garage, basement, or utility room. If you live in a flat or condominium, you may find it in a closet or your kitchen.
Electrical panels perform two functions.
- They divide electricity into separate circuits, so electricity is available to each area of your home.
- They protect each circuit to prevent electrical overloads. For example, if you run your microwave and hairdryer simultaneously on an older panel, you may experience a power outage. The outage is your breaker box 'tripping' a circuit and shutting off electricity to it, so your home stays safe.
When the circuit breakers trip, you need to turn off lights, appliances, and devices that caused the overload. Then, you visit your panel to switch the breaker switch from off to on. Your electricity activates and, unless you overload it again, it should keep operating.
Frequent circuit breaker trips mean it is time to update your breaker box. However, with some unfortunate brands, like Challenger, a manufacturing error prevents circuit tripping and allows overloads. That malfunction places you at risk of electrical shock and electrical fires.
Challenger Electrical Panel Recall
In 1988, Challenger recalled their 15 and 20-amp single-pole HAGF ground-fault circuit-interrupter circuit breakers (GFCI).
Are All Challenger Electrical Panels Recalled?
No. Challenger only recalled their 15 and 20-amp single-pole HAGF ground-fault circuit-interrupter circuit breakers (GFCI).
When the recall was issued, the company offered a free breaker replacement but could not find all of them. They sold parts through retail outlets and installed them in other products but did not locate all of them. There are 9,000 Challenger parts believed still present in residential homes in the U.S.
Rather than try to locate all the parts, they released a description of the offending breakers. Faulty breakers have 'Challenger' embossed on the panel’s front or a label on the backside of the panel door. Affected breakers contained a yellow button; also 'test' in raised letters on one side. The handles had number 15 or 20 in white letters that are between the raised words indicating "on" or "off."
If your breaker box has breakers with this description, you should replace them. The time for free replacement is over since Challenger Electrical Equipment Corp. has been out of business since 1994. So, you likely must fund this project out-of-pocket.
Are Challenger Electrical Panels Safe?
If your breakers do not resemble the description above, they were not part of the recall. However, recall is not the only thing to consider when it comes to safety.
Eaton Corporation acquired Challenger in 1994. At this point, any breaker boxes containing the Challenger name are likely outdated and need replacement. Also, home inspectors and insurance companies are aware of these breakers' issues. So, there is a good chance your home will fail a home inspection or become uninsurable.
It is safer to replace Challenger and Challenger-affiliated electrical panels than to hope you installed one of the good ones.
Which Challenger Electrical Panels Are Unsafe?
If you own a home built from 1970 - 2000, chances are you have a recalled Challenger panel. Again, Challenger only recalled their 15 and 20-amp single-pole HAGF ground-fault circuit-interrupter circuit breakers (GFCI). They are the unsafe breakers.
There are also Challenger-affiliated panels to consider. Look for Challenger products marketed under GTE-Sylvania and Zinsco -- both are known to cause fires. Zinsco stands out as it contains brightly-colored breakers that feel flimsier than other brands.
Also, be aware that these faulty breakers also showed up in other brands, causing more recalls. If your home is 20 - 50 years old, you likely need to update the electrical wiring and your panel. That is true if you have a Challenger brand or not.
The company has not used the Challenger name since 1994. Therefore, you can assume that any panel bearing that name is likely out of date.
Are All Challenger Electrical Panels Bad?
Challenger electrical panels are outdated and likely unsafe, which could be considered bad. If contractors built your home between 1970 and 2000, have an electrician confirm whether your panel contains flawed breakers.
Challenger Electrical Panel Problems
The panel problems arise from malfunctioning circuit breakers. As explained above, circuit breakers trip during an overload or short circuit, which cuts off electricity and prevents overheating and fire.
If this does not happen, wires overheat and can ignite. The two types of Challenger circuits subject to the recall overheated at the bus bar under normal circumstances. That lead to arching between breakers and bus bars.
Both sustained damage and eventually melted the components. Melted components cause fire hazards and electric shocks.
Challenger Electrical Panel Fire
While there are no documented cases of Challenger electrical panel fires, quality control tests revealed circuits overheated even under regular use. This conclusion presented a serious enough fire risk for Challenger to issue the recall.
Are Home Inspectors Aware of Challenger Electrical Panels?
Yes. Home inspectors and insurance companies are aware of the issues with Challenger panels. Inspectors may issue a failed report for your home for not meeting the electric code. Also, your insurance company may not insure you until you replace the panel.
Challenger Electrical Panel Insurance
Generally, home insurance covers damage to electrical panels if the damage occurs from named perils. However, most carriers don't cover Challenger electrical panels or electrical fires they cause.
Also, if a Challenger panel causes a fire and damages your belongings or house, your insurer likely will deny the claim. In this case, the uncovered panel was the root of that damage (hence, the uncovered peril).
How your insurance covers a Challenger electrical panel issue depends on your insurance company and policy.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Challenger Electrical Panel Replacement?
Yes and no. If your panel gets damaged from a covered peril unrelated to the panel itself, your insurer will pay to replace it. E.g., if a kitchen grease fire destroys your panel, it will be replaced. But, if the panel caused the fire, they would not cover it or the other property damage.
If you are buying homeowners insurance and you have a Challenger panel, they might require you to replace the panel. Or they might agree to cover you but exclude electrical fires caused by your panel. However, if you insist on coverage with a Challenger panel, expect to pay a higher premium.
But if you are already insured, you may have to pay for the replacement out-of-pocket. Or you could switch insurance companies.
Electrical Panel Safety Precautions
If you believe there is a risk with your panel, here is how to stay safe until you replace it:
- Arrange for an Electrician Inspection. You should check your panel once a year to make sure it handles the load you place on it. No one designed homes even in the 1990s to withstand multiple computers, smartphones, and your Google Home. An inspection ensures your system stays up to date and insurable.
- Control Usage in Problematic Areas. If you find an area or room that produces the most breaker trips, shut off the power to those areas. Then arrange an electrician's visit. That step reduces fire risk and the chances of needing to file an insurance claim.
- Reduce Appliance Use. If your electric panel is old and your appliances are new, do not use them all at once. While today's appliances are more efficient, they still make demands on out-of-date wires. Upgrade your panel to accommodate them before you run them simultaneously.
- Talk to Your Insurance Agent. Ask your home insurance agent if a new panel will reduce premiums or if the company can help you replace it. Even if it is not written in your policy, some companies might offer that service to make your home less risky.
Challenger Electrical Panel Breaker Identification
To identify Challenger products, look for the name "Challenger" embossed on the panel or door handle. Check the manufacturer's label on the back of the panel door too. Also, know that your panel may contain Challenger parts under other names, like GTE-Sylvania.
Affected circuits contain yellow buttons, and the word "test" is in raised letters on one side. Their handles show the number 15 or 20 in white yellows between 'on' and 'off." You call an electrician to replace these circuits right away.
However, even if you do not see these marks, your panel might still contain unmarked integrated Challenger parts. Or your electrical panel is simply old. If you are unsure, have an electrician check.
Challenger Electrical Panel Replacement Cost
An electrical panel replacement ranges from $496 to $1,787. Remember that this is an estimate and may vary based on your home's size and location.
Should I Replace My Challenger Electrical Panel?
Yes. Between these panels' age and their questionable past, you should replace them as soon as possible.
When you decide to start this project, hire a licensed electrician to complete the work. Never do electric panel work as a do-it-yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.
Even if the company did not recall your electrical panel, electricity use has changed since the 1970s and even 1990s. Once upon a time, 200 amps were the standard for home electrical systems. Now, many newer homes require over 400 amps to accommodate modern demands.
Households contain more devices and higher-tech appliances than even 20 years ago. The same electric system that accommodated your childhood home will not meet the demands of your current one. Even without recalls and product liability claims, your electric panel must remain updated to keep your family safe.
Contact us or use our quote app below today to find the home insurance that meets your needs. If you have a Challenger panel or breakers, let us know. We will work with you to try and find the best solution.
Hope that helps!
At your service,