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What To Do About Really Old Breaker Panels


kurt
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Editor's Note: I screwed up when I split a thread and accidentally missed the first two posts; instead starting with Kurt's response. To straighten it out, I've inserted the first two posts into this post as quotes in order to keep the thread in context.

This might fit into this thread.

I've got a Bulldog Pushmatic in my house. My air compressor shorted out a while back. I didn't realize what had caused the breaker to trip, so I went to re- set the breaker. It instantly arched inside the panel and re- tripped. I thought "that's weird", so being the smart guy that I am , I tried to re- set it again. Same thing happened. Seems a little odd to have arching inside a panel when trying to re- set a breaker does it not?

Brandon, in my experience with PushMatic panels - when I trip a circuit if I wait 5-10 minutes it usually resets and does not continue to trip. I just assumed that the heat had to dissapate before it would reset. Jeeze, what panels are good??? Maybe we should just make a "blanket statement" and recommend all panels over ?? (age) should be evaluated. That will really get us some points in this market!!!

Paul

That is odd. Pushmatic breakers have a mechanical (screw) connection to the bus. Where was it arcing?

Is there some cut off date for old breakers? Is it true that breakers lose their sensitivity over time?

Enquiring minds want to know..........

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Maybe we should just make a "blanket statement" and recommend all panels over ?? (age) should be evaluated. That will really get us some points in this market!!!

Screw the "points." Jim (Mr. Electric) taught a class at the franchise's annual convention in 1997 or 1998 where he told everyone that if it's 40 years old it's obsolete and needs to be replaced. I've used that recommendation ever since and have never had an argument from anyone about it.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Maybe we should just make a "blanket statement" and recommend all panels over ?? (age) should be evaluated. That will really get us some points in this market!!!

Screw the "points." Jim (Mr. Electric) taught a class at the franchise's annual convention in 1997 or 1998 where he told everyone that if it's 40 years old it's obsolete and needs to be replaced. I've used that recommendation ever since and have never had an argument from anyone about it.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

That's a stupid statement and doesn't apply to today. In 1997 all 40 year old panels were fuse panels. Just because you haven't had an argument about it doesn't make it so.

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That is odd. Pushmatic breakers have a mechanical (screw) connection to the bus. Where was it arcing?

I've been waiting 'til I replace the panel to find out. I'll take pictures one of these days when I get around to it. I believe it was arcing directly behind the breaker which makes me assume from the connection, but it's hard to say for sure as it was some pretty decent arcing.

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Maybe we should just make a "blanket statement" and recommend all panels over ?? (age) should be evaluated. That will really get us some points in this market!!!

Screw the "points." Jim (Mr. Electric) taught a class at the franchise's annual convention in 1997 or 1998 where he told everyone that if it's 40 years old it's obsolete and needs to be replaced. I've used that recommendation ever since and have never had an argument from anyone about it.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

That's a stupid statement and doesn't apply to today. In 1997 all 40 year old panels were fuse panels. Just because you haven't had an argument about it doesn't make it so.
Well, you're entitled to your opinion but I could counter with just because you say it's stupid doesn't mean that it is stupid. Besides, you are wrong about a 40-year old panel in 1997 being a fuse box. There were lots of breakers around before 1957. A 1957 MagnaTrip would have had breakers for one; a 57 Bulldog would have had breakers too. I know because my father installed one in my home when I was six years old. I sat there and watched him wire it and was fascinated by the push-button breakers and the little yellow boxes with the bulldog on the cover. I know it was 1957 'cuz that was the summer he bought the house and he had to wire it and plumb it before we could move in.

The non-argument I'm talking about is with electricians; not a single one has ever said that it was a bad call to recommend replacing a 40 year or older panel.

So, how many 40+ year old panels do you see that aren't maxed out or nearly so and have so many issues that it will probably be cheaper to upgrade to a new panel with larger capacity and more bending room etc. than to spend what it will cost to have an electrician dink around adding sub-panels etc.? My answer would be, "Not many." I think that's why Jim recommends replacing them.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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All respect due Jim Simmons, but I'd like a thorough discussion of exactly why >40 year old panels are "all bad".

I can understand NFPA saying any house with wiring older than 40 years probably has defects; that's due to homeowners dinking around.

I don't understand why a breaker would simply go bad due to age. Maybe they can......I don't know......(?)...

I see plenty of panels of all makes, types, sizes, and configurations that are >40 years old. If there's adequate circuitry, no obvious stupidities in the panel, then what's wrong? My old Pushmatic seemed just fine since 1952 when it was installed. (I replaced it in 2002 when I upped to 200 amps and a 42 circuit panel to accommodate an addition.)

Ol' Jim has some answering to do before I'm telling everyone to replace any panel >40 years old.

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All respect due Jim Simmons, but I'd like a thorough discussion of exactly why >40 year old panels are "all bad".

Ol' Jim has some answering to do before I'm telling everyone to replace any panel >40 years old.

Exactly what I'd expect from a fellow with that avatar. [;)]
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I would think that since most mechanical and electrical things don't get better with age, recommending to a client to have a licensed electrician evaluate a 40 year old breaker panel would make sense. We have no way of knowing, as home inspectors doing a non-invasive visual inspection, if the breakers have ever needed to trip and possibly didn't and we don't know the condition of the bus bar/breaker connection. What is the typical design life expectancy of a breaker panel?

Personally, I recommend evaluation of all Zinsco, FPE, and Pushmatic panels.

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Kurt's question is a good one, and something we should all know (I don't).

Do breakers wear out over time, or lose their ability to trip due to internal parts becoming stiff because of oxidation or whatever? Is there anything inside the breaker that becomes marginally worn after the breaker is tripped "x" amount of times?

Before I rewired my house, I had a Pushmatic, and the breaker never failed to trip when a blow dryer was turned on in a bathroom at the same time a small appliance was being operated in the kitchen. Uh, don't ask . . .

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Other than having a "professional" pull the cover and take a look, just HOW does anyone "evaluate" a panel's condition. I suppose the breakers could be removed and the bus bars examined. Are we naive enough to think a " professional" is actually going to apply an increasing load on a breaker to determine when it trips? Is that even a valid test? Is there a protocol?

Are comment like this not simply "don't blame me comments".

Food for thought.

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Well, that's what I'm thinking. What's an electrician going to do to evaluate it? Look inside, and hmmmm........yep, it's a panel. What's really necessary is the breakers being evaluated in a near lab setting. Otherwise, what electrician isn't going to say "...better replace it, better safe than sorry....."

Which is fine and good if there's actually a problem. How do we know there's a problem?

I've read somewhere over the years that breakers lose sensitivity each time they trip, so that after several tripping incidents, they might not work. Is this folklore?

And c'mon Mike, the avatar doesn't have anything to do with it other than a knowing smile from anyone in this biz.......[:-paperba

Also, FTR, I can all Zinsco/Stablok/Magnatrip stuff due to the crappy bus design; not so sure about the Pushmatics or an old Cutler Hammer.......

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I've read somewhere over the years that breakers lose sensitivity each time they trip, so that after several tripping incidents, they might not work. Is this folklore?

Well, I heard the same (so it must be true). I was told the bimetal strip that trips some breakers "stretches" (the way metal stretches when it bends) during a trip, and this then-fatigued metal won't bend as quickly as it's designed to when again over-heated. Or some such crapola.

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And c'mon Mike, the avatar doesn't have anything to do with it other than a knowing smile from anyone in this biz.......[:-paperba

Somebody is wound pretty tight today!

Jeez, I even put one of those smiley thingies on that response and you still took it as serious.

It's time for a vacation, Bro! Comeon out, lets rent some sea kayaks, paddle out to the islands and do some camping.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Well, that's what I'm thinking. What's an electrician going to do to evaluate it? Look inside, and hmmmm........yep, it's a panel.

Depends on the panel design. At the top of this thread, Mr. Electric posted a series of pictures that show exactly what an electrician can do that we can't do (or dare not to). With the Zinsco/Sylvania design, there's quite a bit of evaluating that could be done.

That's not so true with the ITE Pushmatic design. I happen to disagree with Mr. Electric about those. They were very well built panels and the breakers have a fine track record. Anyone who opens the deadfront can see the busbars and tell right away whether or not there's a problem with them. When you consider the breakers of yesteryear, the Bulldogs are among the better pedigrees.

What's really necessary is the breakers being evaluated in a near lab setting. Otherwise, what electrician isn't going to say "...better replace it, better safe than sorry....."

I agree. The test is part of UL Standard 489. Some shops are actually set up to test breakers under this standard and resell them as used equipment.

Which is fine and good if there's actually a problem. How do we know there's a problem?

I've read somewhere over the years that breakers lose sensitivity each time they trip, so that after several tripping incidents, they might not work. Is this folklore?

I believe that's sort of true but the scale is off. I seem to recall that they're rated in hundreds of trip cycles not in onesies and twosies.

Also, FTR, I can all Zinsco/Stablok/Magnatrip stuff due to the crappy bus design; not so sure about the Pushmatics or an old Cutler Hammer.......

Me neither.

As for the blanket it's-40-years-old-you'd-better-replace-it statement, that might have been true in 1997 but I don't believe it now. I think that it's, frankly and with no offense intended, a lazy call. I certainly wouldn't replace an electrical panel in my home *only* because it's reached its 40th birthday so I won't be telling my customers to do it either.

1960s- & 1970s-era breakers from ITE, Murray, Square D, & GE were pretty well built and I have yet to see any trend of failure among them.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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"As for the blanket it's-40-years-old-you'd-better-replace-it statement..."

I'll have to run that by my wife, "Honey, you're over 40 so it's time for a replacement"[:-dev3]

Too bad she's only 36. Any chance Jim will revise that advice?

The only Cutler Hammer I advise to upgrade based on age alone is the old XO. Breakers are only available as used equipment and the few that have them want a fortune for them, a pair of double pole breakers will run you about what a preloaded Square D panel costs. Then too, there's always the panel that has so many issues replacement might actually be cheaper than fixing it.

Tom

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Just got back in from this mornings job.....and guess what.......

There's a Federal Stablok, and the customer says "I've heard those aren't any good".

I ask her, "how'd you know that?".

She says, "I thought it was well known; I heard it from my brother who heard it from someone @ work".

How 'bout that? Made my day.

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Which electrician isn't going to say that? The one hired by the seller's agent! I've had it happen more than once with FPE.

True enough.......it can both ways, but I think folks know what I meant.

The difference here is we can provide both Friedmans and Hanson's expert opinions on the subject, and there's some increasing base of evidence to show they (FPE's) burn.

I just get a little curious and nervous when any individual makes up useful lifespans for equipment that aren't supported by valid studies or research. I'm not aware of any study that says ITE Pushmatics are problematic, nor any of the other major manufacturers.

If there's recognized authoritative sources stating that all panels >40 years old are dangerous, that's something to consider.

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. . . If there's recognized authoritative sources stating that all panels >40 years old are dangerous, that's something to consider.

Actually, the only recognized, authoritative study that I'm aware of came to the opposite conclusion:

Residential overcurrent devices, which consisted mostly of fuses before the 1950s and circuit breakers after the 1950s, continue to perform as expected, unless they have been subjected to abuse or misuse. If properly installed and maintained, these overcurrent devices continue to provide protection to the wires and cables installed on the residential circuits.

From "Residential Electrical System Aging Research Project" by David A. Dini, PE, Underwriter's Laboratories, Inc.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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