On any given home inspection one area that often gets called out for deficiencies is the electrical panel. Because fire safety is of utmost importance special care should be taken when the electrical panel is installed. Unfortunately this is often not the case. I would like to give you some solid advice about how you can deal with your own electrical panel as well as inform you of some of the common deficiencies inspectors see and report. I also want to help you understand why these items are deficient.
Know where your panel is located and where the main shut off breaker is. You should be able to shut your entire house electrical power off in case of an emergency.
Your panel should be clearly and accurately labeled to identify individual circuits and their corresponding breaker.
Never take the dead front off of your panel un less you are a qualified electrician.
Its always a good idea to have an escape plan in mind when you open the cover of your panel. Is there tripping hazards around the panel? Is the area wet and slippery? The National electrical Code requires any panel or shut off switch have at least 3’ clearance in front of the panel and 30” clearance side to side. It also requires a 6’ headroom clearance.
Always check to see if there is any water dripping around on on your panel. Never touch a panel if there is indication of water.
Is the panel rusty? Rust is an indication that water has been in contact with panel at some point.
Common deficiencies seen in home inspections:
Oxidation or corrosion to any of the parts. Aluminum feeder wires that do not have anti oxidant paste installed.
Double tapped wires. Only one wire is allowed under one terminal screw unless the device is duly noted as being engineered to take take two wires.
Sharp-tipped panel box screws. Panel box cover screws must have blunt ends so they do not pierce the wires inside the box.
Circuit breakers that are not properly sized. Over sized breakers can melt the wire and start a fire.
Evidence of electrical failures, such as burned or overheated components.
Evidence of water entry inside the electrical panel. Moisture can corrode circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable and the equipment unsafe to touch.
White wires to be identified as hot. White wires are typically used as a neutral. When they are used as a live circuit code requires them to be identified. This is often done by wrapping black tape around the white wire. This can prevent a technician from electrocution.
Wires entering the panel with improper strain relief. Wires that are not firmly restrained at the panel entry can get cut and short out.
Panels that do not have a clearly labeled legend identifying which breakers control which circuits.
Wires are bundled together. When more than 2-3 wires enter a panel bundled together is can cause over heating and produce voltage drop. This has been determined to possibly be a safety issue.
Improper bonding in a sub panel. A sub panel must have their bonding lugs separated from the neutral lugs.
Wrong type of ground clamp.
Panels that are filled with debris and dead rodents. These circumstances can lead to a fire in the panel.
In addition to all the information above you need to know that there are several older electrical panels that are considered unsafe and have been taken off the market. Some of the names of these panels are Federal Pacific and Zinsco. If you have one of these panels I recommend having a professional inspect and advise you what you should do.