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Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem?
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Zinsco panels, like the one shown above, use a clip-on connection between the breakers and aluminum bus bar. They have a higher than usual rate of failure, due most often to loosening of the connection between bus bar and breaker. When this happens, it causes arcing and overheating in the area, which leads to melting of the metal, with breaker permanently welded to bus bar and impossible to remove. Secondary problems are failure of the breakers to trip under an overcurrent event and cases of a tripped breaker continuing to be energized.
The Zinsco company was sold to GTE-Sylvania in 1973, which continued to manufacture the Zinsco panel design under the name of Sylvania-Zinsco. It was also sold under the Kearney brand name. But the design was eventually discontinued, and later Sylvania panels do not have the problematic Zinsco design.
There have been no recalls of the Sylvania-Zinsco panel, and it has not been made for many years now. We occasionally see these panels, still in use and not experiencing any problems after we examine them with an infrared camera for hot spots. However the high failure rate means that most home inspectors (including us) recommend that any of them still in service be examined by an electrician for defects, which are not visible unless the deadfront (front cover plate) is removed, along with multiple breakers, in order to examine the bus bar and back of breakers. We DO NOT recommend that you attempt to examine the interior of the panel yourself. You might also consider replacement of a Zinsco panel as a safety precaution, based on its checkered history, and that is what some experts recommend.
Another panel of the same era, the “Stab-Lok” made by Federal Pacific, was found to have fraudulently obtained UL-approval of their panel design and eventually went out of business due to lawsuits related to fires caused by equipment failures. Although Sylvania-Zinsco panels should have a safety examination, the standard recommendation for Stab-Lok panels is replacement. See our blog post “Who is the manufacturer of those ‘bad’ electric panels” for more information.
Challenger brand panels have also gone on the uninsurable list in the last few years, due to overheating of the bus bars. See our blog post Why are Challenger electrical panels not insurable? for more on this.
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Field Guide for Home Inspectors, a quick reference for finding the age of 154 brands of HVAC systems, water heaters, and electrical panels, plus 210 code standards for site-built and manufactured homes, and the life expectancy rating of 195 home components. Available at amazon.com for $19.95.
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