Zinsco PanelsZinsco Panels

There are many reasons to buy an older home. You can often get a great price in an established neighborhood on a sturdier older home. They have larger rooms and higher ceilings with character and personality, unlike many modern homes.

However, if your home has its original wiring and appliances, you may have to deal with some issues before you can safely move into your new home. You need to be especially careful if you are dealing with older wiring, and you want to make sure your insurance company knows upfront about your possible issues.

Zinsco Electrical Panel
Zinsco electrical panels were commonly used throughout the United States up until the mid-1970s. They were extremely popular, and some people continued installing panels even after design flaws became evident. According to the government's U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey, more than half of United States homes were built before 1980 when Zinsco panels were still a popular brand. That means that a significant number of homes initially used this now outdated technology.

Our National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publishes the National Electrical Code ® (NEC®) to guide the U.S. regarding commercial and residential electrical safety standards. They revise it every three years to update standards to help people avoid electrical shocks, fire hazards, and other dangers related to electricity. Those standards changed significantly as the world moved on from using aluminum in circuit breaker boxes, too late to help the people experiencing the dangers.

Are Zinsco Panels Safe?
No. Zinsco panels are not considered safe because of their potential for electric shocks and fires. While the original design seemed to work well, it turned out that there were some fatal flaws in the panel's construction and how they worked.

Zinsco Breaker Box Problems
Breaker panels or circuit breaker panels are distribution boards that hold fuses or circuit breakers for all the electrical circuits within your home. When power is short-circuited or in overload, the breaker interrupts the flow of the electrical current. That is what people in the know mean when they say breakers trip. Once they are no longer useful, you must replace blown fuses and reset breakers.

blow a fuse GIF by NBC

Circuit breaker panels are one of the most critical safety features in any home. The biggest problem with the Zinsco panels was that they used aluminum bus bars. A bus bar in a home circuit breaker carries large amounts of current, and aluminum is a light metal that tends to overheat and corrode easily. Once the breakers took on too much, they melted the bus bars.

Zinsco Electrical Panel Fire Hazard
Once a breaker melts to the bus bar, the breaker does not trip, and power continues to surge into the panel and through the associated circuits. The breaker might look to be in the off position but not off. You can no longer shut the power off manually, and power will continue to surge until there is no more power available or until the wires melt.

Once the breakers melt, they are no longer capable of tripping. Homeowners discovered that their electric panels caused a higher rate of electrical fires.

Zinsco Panel Recall
Usually, when products become dangerous, the companies who produce the defective products will put out a call to send them back so that the company can replace them. With all the Zinsco electrical panel problems, it may have helped the Zinsco brand to have the panels recalled.

The company did not recall the panels voluntarily, and Zinco was sold in 1973 to a company that divested itself of the electrical distribution business. It took a class-action lawsuit in 2002 to get a recall on these dangerous products. But because the company no longer exists, you cannot contact the company to have your panel replaced.

Zinsco Class Action Lawsuit
Federal Pacific Electric and Zinsco were two companies named in a 2002 class-action lawsuit over their dangerous electrical panels. A New Jersey Court found against the companies on the basis that they acted fraudulently by not testing their circuit breakers at the expected standard. Under the Consumer Fraud Act, companies must be transparent and open about their products and testing. The breaker failure rate was too high for the companies not to know there was a problem.

Are All Zinsco Panels Bad?
According to InspectAPedia, about one in every three Zinsco panels failed to trip as required by testing. That would not be an acceptable failure rate even if the system were not as vital as the electrical system is to a home. An older home that already has a Zinsco panel may have other issues related to older homes.

For instance, air conditioning in older homes can put a strain on the electrical system. The larger rooms and higher ceilings do not seem as desirable when trying to heat and cool the space, especially if your home does not have updated insulation. When you know that you need a large amount of power, it becomes even more critical to make sure that you have an updated electrical system.

Zinsco Electrical Panel Insurance
Insurance companies must consider the risk potential when they are offering you a policy. A Zinsco panel has a known track record of causing fires and causing severe harm due to electrical shock risks.

As a homeowner, you are liable when someone is injured on your property, especially if the harm was foreseeable. In the case of Zinsco panels, the risks are well known. The bottom line is that having a Zinsco electrical panel can make it challenging to insure your home. Even if you find a company that will allow you to purchase a policy, your home insurance premium will probably be much higher than expected.

Home inspectors pay extra attention to a home's electrical system because there are many potential safety issues. They will inspect the wiring, the electrical panels, the outlets, and even the light switches. Electric code requirements have changed drastically over the years, and Zinsco electrical panels are not the only outdated features that can cause you to fail a home inspection.

Zinsco Breaker Panel Replacement Cost
The typical cost to replace an electrical panel is between about $500 and $2,000, with the average being about $1,000. However, you may need to have more electric work done if your home is older.

If you have a Zinsco breaker panel, you should use a licensed electrician to replace the breakers and the existing wiring to ensure your home's safety. Because of the Zinsco circuit breakers' risks, replacing them may be less expensive in the long run than dealing with the added risks over time. Licensed electricians should also be insured and bonded so that you can trust their work.

Regardless of the cost of the work, the safety of your family is the most critical issue. You need to know that your home is not a fire hazard and that a strong insurance policy protects your home. You cannot predict everything that could go wrong, but you can at least try to avoid obvious dangers.

Does Your Home Insurance Cover Your Electric Panel?
If you have any insurance-related questions about your electrical system or your own home is not insurable because of your panels and circuit breakers, please feel free to get a quote below. We can help you through the trials and tribulations of getting insurance with an old breaker and wiring. We also insure older homes and historic houses.

Hope that helps!

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At your service,
Young Alfred