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  1. #1
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    Arrow recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    I may be having a false memory here. I fervently remember reading in more than one place that electrical panels older than 15 years should be evaluated for replacement. The logic (as I remember reading) is that breakers and panels are mechanical and the rate of failure increases when over 15 years. The problem is that I am unable to find support data for this ingrained opinion. Not one bit, nowhere. Is my wife hiding a history of head injury from me? I am not referring to FPE or Zinsco.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    That's a new one for me! I've never heard that.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Some panels have lifetime warranties so it might be hard to find any support for that position.

    All answers based on unamended National Electrical codes.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Thom Walker View Post
    I may be having a false memory here. I fervently remember reading in more than one place that electrical panels older than 15 years should be evaluated for replacement. The logic (as I remember reading) is that breakers and panels are mechanical and the rate of failure increases when over 15 years. The problem is that I am unable to find support data for this ingrained opinion. Not one bit, nowhere. Is my wife hiding a history of head injury from me? I am not referring to FPE or Zinsco.
    Hi Thom,

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) published a document of life expectancy of home components several years ago. While they addressed wiring, lighting controls and accessories (whatever they are), they did not have any specific information on circuit breakers or panels.

    According to electrical guru Douglas Hansen: "For estimating purposes, a life cycle of 30-40 years is sometimes used for circuit breakers." He goes on to say that manufacturers do not claim a specific life nor recommend replacement after a specific time (he says a lot more than that, I just don't feel like retyping it).

    In addition, we would have to understand that life expectancy would also have to do with use, maintenance, location and any adverse environmental conditions. For instance, I am not too far from the Pacific Ocean and will find 10 year old exterior panels in coastal communities that are corroded-out because of salt spray. Panels in pool equipment sheds are often in contact with chlorine vapors and may be heavily corroded. There is also a community near me that floods periodically and any panels that have been inundated should be replaced.

    If you are really interested in becoming more knowledgeable at electrical inspection, pick up Hansen's book "Electrical Inspection of Existing Dwellings". It may not be a gripping page-turner, but it is full of very helpful information written with home inspectors in mind.

    Or... playing football without a helmet might have finally caught up with you and you are actually imagining this whole thing.

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  5. #5
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunnar Alquist View Post
    "For estimating purposes, a life cycle of 30-40 years is sometimes used for circuit breakers."

    For instance, I am not too far from the Pacific Ocean and will find 10 year old exterior panels in coastal communities that are corroded-out because of salt spray. Panels in pool equipment sheds are often in contact with chlorine vapors and may be heavily corroded. There is also a community near me that floods periodically and any panels that have been inundated should be replaced.
    Well said. Working in the electrical industry since the 1970s.. what I have always seen is the 30-40 year lifespan. And the comment about exterior panels, those exposed to chemicals, etc can reduce useful lifespan.

    The problem is when a breaker fails.. then it fails to trip when needed. So potential consequences can be serious on a failing breaker.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Robin Wells View Post
    The problem is when a breaker fails.. then it fails to trip when needed. So potential consequences can be serious on a failing breaker.
    That is why we have to rely on the listing and labeling ... and the testing which goes on in achieving that listing and labeling.

    That said, we all also know that some breakers have had listing and labeling issues.

    And that being said ... I know that some of my 34+ year old FPE trip when needed.

    That is not saying that ALL FPE breakers will trip or even that ANY other breaker of ANY manufacturer will trip ... NEW or OLD.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Gunnar Alquist View Post
    Hi Thom,

    The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) published a document of life expectancy of home components several years ago. While they addressed wiring, lighting controls and accessories (whatever they are), they did not have any specific information on circuit breakers or panels.

    According to electrical guru Douglas Hansen: "For estimating purposes, a life cycle of 30-40 years is sometimes used for circuit breakers." He goes on to say that manufacturers do not claim a specific life nor recommend replacement after a specific time (he says a lot more than that, I just don't feel like retyping it).

    In addition, we would have to understand that life expectancy would also have to do with use, maintenance, location and any adverse environmental conditions. For instance, I am not too far from the Pacific Ocean and will find 10 year old exterior panels in coastal communities that are corroded-out because of salt spray. Panels in pool equipment sheds are often in contact with chlorine vapors and may be heavily corroded. There is also a community near me that floods periodically and any panels that have been inundated should be replaced.

    If you are really interested in becoming more knowledgeable at electrical inspection, pick up Hansen's book "Electrical Inspection of Existing Dwellings". It may not be a gripping page-turner, but it is full of very helpful information written with home inspectors in mind.

    Or... playing football without a helmet might have finally caught up with you and you are actually imagining this whole thing.
    Thanks Gunnar. That's one of those issues that I'm glad I didn't report before I researched. I'm usually pretty good about recall issues and quickly found out it was a false memory. I was simply trying to find out if something had been published. It would be interesting to know if any other "experienced" inspectors have also had similar false sureties that they later found had no basis in fact. So glad I checked and didn't actually ever print it in a report.

    The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it's unfamiliar territory.
    - Paul Fix

  8. #8
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Thom,
    Some time with in the last 2 years there is a thread that has some manufacture rep responses on breaker longevity. Took a quick search but did not find it, sorry. You might want to search a little.

    Breakers are a lot like inspectors, they work until they don't.


  9. #9

    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    What about fuse panels? Does everyone recommend replacing? I know one inspector that believes they are better than circuit breakers and therefore does not recommend replacing them.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by chris brown View Post
    What about fuse panels? Does everyone recommend replacing? I know one inspector that believes they are better than circuit breakers and therefore does not recommend replacing them.
    Is that the same inspector/teacher who used to recommend leaving knob and tube alone and NOT replacing it ... because it was "better"? Years ago I had fruitless discussions with that person and his view that K&T was "better" than NM cable and the like - I wonder if he still holds that belief to be true today.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  11. #11
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Most fuse panels are antiquated in terms of amperage or number of circuits. If you find one that is not, then it should not be a problem. Fuses are more reliable. Using Type S fuses solves the biggest problem-over-sizing fuses.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Reinmiller View Post
    Using Type S fuses solves the biggest problem-over-sizing fuses.
    Ooooh!, On that note:

    Someone just told me that Type-S fuses are no longer code-compliant. I am unable to find anything to substantiate this claim. Does anyone have any corroborating information?

    One area where fuses may not provide the desired protection would be 240 volt circuits. If only one fuse blows, there is still voltage and current at the appliance (water heater, whatever).

    Department of Redundancy Department
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  13. #13
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    [QUOTE=Mark Reinmiller;255148]If you find one that is not, then it should not be a problem. Fuses are more reliable.[quote]

    Unless tampered with, and fuses are easier to tamper with ...

    Using Type S fuses solves the biggest problem-over-sizing fuses.
    Even S-type fuses.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  14. #14
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    And that being said ... I know that some of my 34+ year old FPE trip when needed.
    With all that we know about FPE, I'm surprised that you would not replace your panel. A friend of mine replaced his FPE after he became a HI although he had never had any known problems. The electrician found the back of his main breaker melted!

    I'll guess that you've thoroughly inspected your panel, but the almost 25% failure rate of the breakers is a defect that you can't test for.

    And I'll agree that any brand can have an occasional breaker fail to trip. I had a GE breaker fail to trip when I put a screw through the wiring in the wall. But that's the exception. The percentage of GE failures is miniscule.

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Quote Originally Posted by Lon Henderson View Post
    With all that we know about FPE, I'm surprised that you would not replace your panel. A friend of mine replaced his FPE after he became a HI although he had never had any known problems. The electrician found the back of his main breaker melted!

    I'll guess that you've thoroughly inspected your panel, but the almost 25% failure rate of the breakers is a defect that you can't test for.

    And I'll agree that any brand can have an occasional breaker fail to trip. I had a GE breaker fail to trip when I put a screw through the wiring in the wall. But that's the exception. The percentage of GE failures is miniscule.
    It's on my list of things to do ... now I have the meter can to add to that list.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  16. #16
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    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    Re: fuse panels, I saw one a couple of years back in a 1960 house that appeared to be in immaculate condition with all correct fusing. That is rare, tho. In many cases, the panel is too small and circuits have been added by double-tapping.

    I recall that my client was planning to put his brother in a suite in the basement, so I advised him that the service was undersized and would need to be replaced for that reason, but appeared to be safe for the time being. Last time I drove by, they haven't even fixed the fence yet.

    Gunnar, good point about the one leg blowing on a 240 v circuit. Also the cartridges are hidden in the fuse block which most home owners are fearful to pull. Could be copper pipes in there for all they know.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  17. #17

    Default Re: recommendations on replacing panels based on age of equipment

    [QUOTE=Jerry Peck;255165][QUOTE=Mark Reinmiller;255148]If you find one that is not, then it should not be a problem. Fuses are more reliable.

    Unless tampered with, and fuses are easier to tamper with ...



    Even S-type fuses.
    Agreed, I've been asked on more than a couple of occasions "what's the amperage rating of aluminum foil?"

    I've never been able to answer that one with a straight face.


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