How To Look At A House

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What are the requirements for an electrical panel cover (dead front)?

Monday, April 18, 2022

There are three purposes of an electrical panel dead front: 1) keep any arcing or sparking that might occur inside the panel from escaping, 2) keep the exposed interior electrical connections out of reach, and 3) maintain a connection to ground so that it does not become electrically “live” and a shock hazard. That’s why they call it a “dead” front. 

    The dead front is just one component in the total assembly that is an electrical panel. The whole panel must be approved by a nationally recognized testing agency, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), before it can be authorized by a building code for installation in a home. If the original dead front goes missing, it must be replaced by an exact duplicate by the same manufacturer to comply with the UL-rating. A homemade dead front like the one at right, no matter how well it appears to be made, is not acceptable.

    Another requirement is that the dead front must fit snugly over the box behind it. That’s not a problem with a surface-mount panel, unless it is damaged. But a flush-mount panel (recessed in the wall) that is mounted too far back in the wall will leave an unacceptable gap between the box and the dead front. See our article What is the maximum gap allowed between the front of a recessed electric panel box and the wall surface surrounding it? for more on this.

    Missing dead front screws can also cause a gap—even just a single screw, like in the photo below.

    And any screws securing a dead front to the box must have a blunt tip, because a pointed tip may puncture any wires directly behind it inside the panel box, and then the dead front is no longer “dead”.

    Also see our article What is an electrical dead front?

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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 for $19.95.
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Here’s links to a collection of our other articles about ELECTRIC PANELS:

What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?  

What is the maximum number of circuit breakers allowed in an electric panel?

When should a corroded or damaged electric panel cabinet or disconnect box be replaced? 

What is a tandem circuit breaker? 

When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?

Can an electric panel be located in a closet? 

Can an electric panel be located in a bathroom? 

Can you add circuit breakers by different manufacturers to an electric panel if they fit?

My circuit breaker won't reset. What's wrong?  

What is a split bus electric panel?

How do I identify a combination AFCI (CAFCI) circuit breaker? 

What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers? 

Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?

What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)? 

What does it mean when a wire is "overstripped" at a circuit breaker?

Who is the manufacturer of those "bad" electric panels?

Why is the circuit breaker stuck in the middle? 

What is a double tap at a circuit breaker?

What is the right electric wire size for a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker? 

• What do I need to know about buying a whole house surge protector? 

• What is the maximum height you can mount an electric panel above the floor? 

• What is the code required clearance in front of an electric panel? 

   Visit our ELECTRIC PANELS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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