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Sharp screws and panels...


Richard Moore
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I've unintentionally produced sparks from a main panel two times in my inspection career -both times as a result of using the manufacturer-supplied screws

As they were screwed in, the screws pinned the cable against the side of the panel and the threads tore through the vinyl sheath.

I still call out sharp-tipped screws, though. Now, I just make sure all the holes are reasonably clear of any wires that could contact the screw-regardless of what type of tip.

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This is one of those "little" things I see on a not too frequent basis that although of course is important and should be noted, often gets blown out of proportion. IMHO, there is a simple and cheap fix to these problems that has paid for itself a couple of times over. I carry an assortment of panel screws in my truck and use these to re-install the panel. I don't consider this a "fix" as we have to put the screws back in anyways and if we re-install the panel with the wrong screws, aren't we just committing the same error we are pointing out? It's like $4 for a pack of 6 screws at the box store but I think it's one of those extra little steps we can take to make all sides happy without compromising any ethics or codes. I also carry things like the basic receptacle covers and insulation for HVAC lines. I might spend $100-$150 a year, but I am also convinced this has helped me get more previous client referrals and repeat customers.

NOTE: This does not apply if for example the wiring is damaged or other problems exist.

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This is one of those "little" things I see on a not too frequent basis that although of course is important and should be noted, often gets blown out of proportion.

Agreed, not a big deal (but called) unless, like mine, the screw is buried in the SEC. I swear the hole was deeper than the insulation was thick, although I couldn't actually see metal.

IMHO, there is a simple and cheap fix to these problems that has paid for itself a couple of times over. I carry an assortment of panel screws in my truck and use these to re-install the panel. I don't consider this a "fix" as we have to put the screws back in anyways and if we re-install the panel with the wrong screws, aren't we just committing the same error we are pointing out?

There, I'm going to disagree a little. To me it's another indicator of a homeowner being in the panel and I would normally want it in the report. Especially in occupied home, I leave 'em as I find 'em (immediate deathtraps excluded). I DO make sure there are no wires that could come in contact before replacing the screws.

In this particular case, it was a pre-list inspection (verbal only), the homeowner was shown the problem, and I left that one screw out. I also managed to force a small kink into the SEC so that even a blunt screw won't come into contact.

I do carry extra screws for when I drop one and can't find or get to it.

Touch wood, I've been fortunate so far. The only "shocks" I've had are when a client suddenly takes a flash photo just as I'm removing the cover. That can make me jump!

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One of the things I've heard Douglas be most adament about is the need for safety glasses when working on/opening up electrical panels. I took his advice years ago. I keep safety glasses in my work kit.

Eyes are a one time gift. Safety glasses are cheap and easy.

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I've blown up a couple panels with those. Both times were on the way out. Scared the bejeezus out of me.

I had it happen once. I swore lightning struck right next to me.........

Uh huh,

Really, really loud pop and a flash, right? Loud enough to bring the neighbors running over 'cuz they thought someone had discharged a pistol, right? Ear-ringing loud, right?

Yep, been there, done that.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I see sheet metal screws from time to time in breaker panels. One time, a seller was following me and the seller around and being getting in our way, questioning everything I was telling my client, etc. We get to the breaker panel and I note sheet metal screws. I tell the client about the possible shock hazard of using these screws. The seller says that is not a problem and it's been that way for 10 years. I ask if he wants to put the panel cover back on with those screws and he said "sure, no problem". He puts the 3rd screw in and gets shocked and turns around and looks at us. The client and I are standing about 5 feet away and just about started laughing. 'Nuf said.

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Just curious, lets say you come across a panel using all sheet metal screws. Do you re-install the panel with those same screws or do you leave the panel off. For the sake of the discussion, lets say there is no apparent immediate danger for putting the screws back in?

Not putting the deadfront back on is a lawsuit waiting to happen........

I've moved wires out of the way/ left out a screw or two many times.

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Just curious, lets say you come across a panel using all sheet metal screws. Do you re-install the panel with those same screws or do you leave the panel off. For the sake of the discussion, lets say there is no apparent immediate danger for putting the screws back in?

I'd never put a sharp screw back into a panel. I carry panel cover screws, just as you described in an earlier post. The sharp screws get tossed in the trash and the real panel cover screws go in.

BTW, my local Ace hardware store sells those screws for a fraction of the cost at the dumbass box store.

Ace: $1.69 for six screws.

Dumb Box Store: $2 for two screws.

I keep about a dozen screws in my inspection bag and about 50 of them in the car.

I never replace a panel cover without every screw hole filled with a proper screw.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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The only "shocks" I've had are when a client suddenly takes a flash photo just as I'm removing the cover. That can make me jump!

I dam near shit my pants the first time that happened. Was putting the cover back on though, and just as it made contact with the panel, Flash! Clients wife taking a picture from behind me... I have a rule about picture taking during the panel inspection now.

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I never replace a panel cover without every screw hole filled with a proper screw.

I do write up missing screws in a panel cover, but............ I can't really see the need for the 6th screw at times. Is there really a hazard with having a screw missing when all 4 corners are secured?

No. Of course not. It just bugs me. Without the last screw it's . . . unbalanced.

As therapy, I once made myself leave the last screw off. That was on September 16, 1994 on SE Fir Grove Loop in Hillsboro. The memory haunts me to this day.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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