Is My Electrical Panel a Fire Hazard?

Electrical panels become fire hazards when they can’t longer handle the voltage flowing through them. Age, damage, corrosion, or faulty installation can compromise the effectiveness of electrical panels and turn them into fire hazards. If your circuit breakers trip constantly or you smell burning near wires, call an electrician immediately!

Your electrical panel is like the nerve center of your home’s electrical system. All the voltage you use flows through your panel before reaching your electric devices. If there’s something wrong with your electrical panel, it will affect your entire house. Here’s what you should know about your electrical panel, including what to do if something’s wrong with it:

What is an electrical panel?

All of the electricity that you use travels to your home via two 120-volt service wires. These service wires travel from a local transformer to your home either along overhead distribution poles or underground. When electricity reaches you, it must pass through two central “checkpoints” before it’s distributed throughout your home. The first of these “checkpoints” is your electricity meter, which measures how much voltage you’re receiving. The second is your main electrical service panel.

Your home’s main electrical panel distributes electricity to every circuit in your home. The service wires enter your main electrical panel by passing through the main breaker. If your meter ever measures too much voltage, your panel trips the main breaker to prevent surges. After passing through the main breaker, the service wires connect to two hot busbars. Each circuit in your home connects to these busbars to receive power. Finally, your main electrical panel contains breakers for each individual circuit that contacts its busbars. If any circuit receives too much electricity, the breakers activate to prevent excess electricity from hurting your home–or you!

Why can electrical panels be a fire hazard?

Your electrical panel isn’t just the place where electricity enters your home. It’s also one of the most important pieces of safety equipment in your home. The breakers in your electrical panel “trip” or close whenever they sense too much electricity flowing through a circuit. When a breaker trips, it restricts the flow of electricity through the circuit beyond it. This prevents excess electricity from flowing through your home, where it could hurt you. The main breaker in the panel does the same thing, but for the busbars themselves.

Electrical panels become a fire hazard when they can no longer reliably trip breakers to the wires that receive too much electrical voltage. When too much electricity flows through a circuit, that circuit will begin to overheat. Over time, overheating wires could melt their insulation and even wear away until they begin to spark. They’ll also become dangerously hot to the touch. Either the sparks or heat produced by overheating wires could start electrical fires all over your home.

When do electrical panels fail?

Electrical panels can fail to function effectively for several reasons. The most common reason is simply that they get old. Most electrical panels last 20 to 30 years. As they get older, their components may wear down. When your electrical panel gets too old, you may notice that your circuit breakers trip very frequently. This is a sign that your home requires more electrical voltage than your panel can adequately handle or supply.

Even if your electrical panel isn’t old, it may be damaged, improperly installed, or too small for your needs. Electrical panels are more likely to fail when they’re overloaded. You may be demanding too much voltage from your circuits for the electrical panel to keep up.  It’s also possible that circuits have partially disconnected from the busbars, breakers, or other connectors as a result of damage or rust. This is more likely if your wires are old, improperly installed, or made of substandard material.

How can I tell if my electrical panels are a fire hazard?

First, monitor how frequently your circuits trip. If you have to reset your breakers frequently, it’s a sign that your circuits are overloaded. Your circuits could (but aren’t necessarily) overloaded because your panel can’t keep up with the demand you’re placing on it. Pay particular attention to how quickly specific circuits break after you reset them. If circuit breakers trip immediately after you reset them, it means there’s constantly too much voltage in your circuits.

Electrical panels are more likely to fail and become fire hazards when they’re overloaded. If one of your circuits trips constantly, try plugging fewer electrical fixtures into that circuit. If all of your circuits trip frequently, check the inside of your panel for signs of corrosion or damage. Burning, singe marks, and other signs of wear or damage, are always a serious problem. Electrical fires don’t always start because of a problem with your electrical panel, but when they happen it’s because your panel couldn’t stop them.

If you think there’s something wrong with your electrical panel, call Early Bird immediately. Our electrician experts can inspect your system, find out what’s wrong, and fix it in the best way possible. The sooner you call about your electrical panel, the sooner we can make sure it can’t hurt you–so call now!