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Zinsco Panels – Safety Concerns & Replacement Options

zinsco panels

A circuit breaker panel is the heart of any electrical system. It’s constantly working to distribute power and protect your residential or commercial buildings from surges and other potential hazards. As such, it needs to be well-maintained, including replacing circuit breakers or any other faulty parts.

But what if your current electrical panel is outdated? What if the original manufacturer closed shop and replacement parts are no longer easy to come by? What options do you have to make sure your panel is working safely and correctly? These are some of the frustrating questions facing homeowners with obsolete Zinsco panels.

Read on as we highlight everything you need to know if you have a Zinsco electrical panel installed on your residential or commercial building—including safety concerns, the issue of Zinsco panel recalls, and the options available for any electrical project involving the panels.

What is a Zinsco Electrical Panel?

Zinsco refers to a brand of electrical panels manufactured by Zinsco Electric—a company that was founded in 1943 after Martin Zinsmeyer bought and renamed the Zinsmeyer Company from his father Emile Zinsmeyer.

Zinsco Electric designed and manufactured patented panels and breakers (labeled “Magnatrip”) that were widely popular through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Martin later sold the company to GTE-Sylvania in 1973—with the new owners maintaining the product line and only changing the labeling/branding. Zinsco breakers and panels later became outdated towards the 80s as production ceased following a rebrand to Challenger.

How to Know if You Have a Zinsco Panel

It’s been several decades since Zinsco closed shop and the company's panels are rare. But you can still come across a Zinsco electrical panel if you live in properties built before the 90s. If you fall into this category, here are a few tell-tale signs to identify a Zinsco circuit breaker panel:

  • The panel will likely have a Zinsco logo
  • Look out for the following brand names – Zinsco, Sylvania, Sylvania-Zinsco, GTE Sylvania, and Challenger
  • Individual Zinsco circuit breakers may have the label “Magnatrip”
  • Breakers on Zinsco panels are typically brightly colored (green, red, blue, etc.)
  • Zinsco breakers were relatively thinner than the newer designs we see today
zinsco electrical panel

Is a Zinsco Panel Safe?

Are Zinsco panels dangerous? Short answer: Yes and no, depending on the condition of the panel!

If your Zinsco electrical panel is in good condition, it may not be dangerous. But there’s good reason to be concerned if you identify faults like dents, holes, rust, hissing sounds, burning smells, scorch marks, or any sort of damage. In such cases, we advise homeowners to call in a licensed electrician to inspect the unit.

While the electrical panel box itself may not a huge safety concern, some of its components are questionable—and this is partly due to World War II. Here’s why:

At the outset, electrical panel manufacturers mainly used copper bus bars and copper clips, as only gold, silver, and copper were deemed suitable as electrical conductors. But following a severe copper shortage in the United States during World War II, the National Electric Code implemented changes that allowed aluminum to be used as a conductor—prompting Zinsco to switch to this material.

However, the quality of aluminum alloy utilized by Zinsco Electric was inferior and had certain properties that made it susceptible to oxidation. Oxidized aluminum possesses insulating properties, increasing the risk of burn-out and electrical fires.

There were also questions surrounding a loose connection of breakers to the bus bar—potentially leading to arcing that produces significant heat. It’s for these reasons that many electricians and industry experts recommend replacing Zinsco panels with newer alternatives like  General Electric, Square D, and Siemens.

Zinsco Panel Recall

A quick Google search on Zinsco panels will likely reveal a host of questions regarding their safety and risk of failure. However, you’ll have a hard time finding an official Zinsco panel recall from authorities like the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CSPC)—implying that the panels are okay unless damaged.

Several sources link the lack of Zinsco panel recalls to insufficient evidence to prove the panels were faulty and budget concerns (i.e., implementing a Zinsco panels recall would be an expensive endeavor).

What To Do When You Have a Faulty Zinsco Electrical Panel

If you have a damaged Zinsco panel, your options mainly fall into two categories:

  • Repairs/Part Replacements: This basically involves the removal of damaged or malfunctioning parts and replacing them with safe and functional components. But for outdated panels like Zinsco, finding reliable replacement parts can be a headache. The good news is that there are a few vendors who still stock fully refurbished/reconditioned and tested Zinsco circuit breakers for your residential or commercial electrical needs. These breakers typically undergo thorough updating and testing to ensure they’re as good as new.
  • Panel Overhauls: Alternatively, you can replace the entire Zinsco panel in favor of a more modern design from credible manufacturers.

Whichever option you choose, it’s important to source your parts from trustworthy vendors and work with a licensed electrician to mitigate the risk of fires and other hazards.

Zinsco Bottomline

When it comes to Zinsco panels, it's essential to prioritize safety and reliability. As we've discussed, these panels have an alleged history of issues and are no longer manufactured, making it crucial to take caution when dealing with them.

If you're in need of circuit breakers for your Zinsco panel, Circuit Breaker Wholesale offers a variety of reconditioned options that have been thoroughly tested and guaranteed to meet safety standards. Don't take any chances with your electrical system – choose a trusted, experienced provider for your Zinsco electrical panel needs.