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Fuse panel with improper fusing 
(C) Daniel FriedmanInspect Main Circuit Breaker or Fuse
Should you Pull a Main Fuse or Test a Main Circuit Breaker?
Are old fuse panels safe?

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Electrical Main Fuse/Breaker Inspection:

Should you ever pull the main fuse or switch off the main circuit breaker in the electrical panel?

Special hazards are faced when pulling a main fuse block even though this is a device intended for emergency use by a homeowner. Special hazards are faced when switching on or off a main circuit breaker.

This article discusses safety hazards at residential electrical panels when the main fuse is pulled or main breaker is switched. While we recommend that a professional inspector check these devices in some circumstances s/he should not do so, and extra care is always needed.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Testing Main Circuit Breakers or Main Fuses in Electrical Panels

Main circuit breaker in a panel in Buenos Aires Argentina (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.comFatal Shock Hazard Warning: Inspecting electrical components and systems risks death by electrocution as well as serious burns or other injuries to the inspector or to others. Do not attempt these tasks unless you are properly trained and equipped.

These articles suggest safety procedures for the electrical inspector, home inspector, or other professionals who examine residential electrical systems. Readers of this article should also see Touching Electrical Equipment and also Safety for Building Inspectors

Photo: with cover removed on this main electrical panel in Buenos Aires you can see that it would be too easy to accidentally touch a live electrical terminal or wire. [Click to enlarge any image]

Homeowner advice for electrical panel safety: These safety suggestions are for professional inspectors and are not a guide for homeowners.

Homeowners should not remove the cover from an electrical panel - it is unsafe to do so. Homeowners should look at their electrical equipment for signs of trouble and should contact a licensed electrician to address any concerns that arise.

Without removing the electrical panel cover, but by opening the hinged electrical panel access door, homeowners can access the main circuit breaker or fuse, as well as individual circuit breakers and fuses. These devices may be turned on or off by the homeowner as safety or other needs require.

8.1.D. [The inspector shall observe] branch circuit conductors, their overcurrent devices, and the compatibility of their ampacities and voltages

In addition to examining the electrical panel before touching it, looking for dangerous conditions like water, rust, sheet metal screws, rats, and blocking client access, the inspector should also recognize that certain brands or models of electrical equipment are known to be unsafe and may be dangerous to inspect or operate.

Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok equipment includes breakers which remain internally "on" when switched "off", as well as too often failing to trip off in response to an overcurrent, and which have been reported to result in electrical arc explosions when manually or otherwise exercised.

GE FPE breaker panel showing breaker tripped position (C) InspectApedia.comCircuit breaker photo: in a GE-branded FPE circuit breakers panel (unsafe) you see rust and you see that the breaker is recessed in the panel - either the cover is loose or the breaker and / or cover are not properly mounted.

See FEDERAL PACIFIC FPE HAZARDS for details.

Zinsco: Similar bus burnups and electrical arc explosions have been reported regarding Sylvania/Zinsco electrical panels.

See ZINSCO / SYLVANIA HAZARDS for details.

Contact Us by email to add field reports of problems regarding these or other electrical products.

8.3.B. [The inspector is NOT required to] test or operate any overcurrent device except Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

I continued to put my arm behind my back and close the breaker with my left hand with my head turned to the left.

BAM, a light as bright as the sun and an explosion. This knocked us down and blinded us.

We were rushed to the hospital. I spent the night in the ER with an ICU nurse and was off of work for 3 weeks and have had to have a stronger prescription. These FPE panels are all over the building

Pulling fuse blocks: At one inspection the author pulled the main fuse block in a 60-Amp panel, only to have the pullout block disintegrate in his hand.

The failure left one fuse in place and one half out of the panel.

"What did you just do to the panel?" asked the client (from a safe distance).

"I destroyed it." was the answer.

With permission of the owner, and following accepted home inspection practice of exercising normal user controls intended for use by the homeowner, the home inspector was performing a normal, if uncommon operation which a homeowner would be expected to do, for example, during an emergency or other need to shut off electrical power to the building.

At a minimum one would have had to perform this operation during an emergency or if the panel were to be worked on.

The client wanted to know if the fuse pullout disintegration was normal. [No.]

The inspector wanted to know if he was going to pay for a new panel. [No.]

A new panel was needed as the service and equipment were obsolete, not because the fuse pullout needed replacement. But we pose that it may be difficult to find a replacement fuse pull-out for some older fuse panels.

If you had not pulled the fuse shown at lower right in this photo, something interesting would have been missed.

Is that smaller fuse unsafe? No, installing a smaller fuse means that the overcurrent device will open the circuit under less current flow.

What about the other wiring in the panel? There is an unsafe open splice at the right side of the panel.

Are some of the edison-base fuses oversized? Can't tell for sure from the photo. In older fuse panels people are too often tempted to get around a frequent problem with blown fuses by installing an over-sized fuse - this is an unsafe action and is a fire hazard. Be sure that fuses in the panel are matched properly to the wire size.

Are Old Fuse Panels Safe?

Columbia Safe-T-Cirkits fuse panel in a New York home (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.comShown here is an antique fuse panel that was produced by the Columbia Metal Box Company and marketed under the brand Safe-T-Cirkits.

This is a 62-Amp rated fuse panel carrying ten fuses, providing power to ten electrical circuits in an older Poughkeepsie New York home.

A complete safety assessment of this electrical panel would require further inspection of the panel interior, the condition of its fuses, wiring, and connections as well as a check for signs of over-fusing or overheating.

But here are some initial antique fuse panel safety observations we can make from even a cursory inspection.

Columbia Safe-T-Cirkits fuse panel in a New York home (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com

Columbia Safe-T-Cirkits fuse panel in a New York home (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.com

Research on Old Fuse Panel or Circuit Breaker Panel Safety

Columbia Metal Box Company switch plate data tag (C) InspectApedia.com

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Continue reading at ELECTRICAL INSPECTION CLIENT SAFETY or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see BLOWN FUSE REPLACEMENT

Or see CIRCUIT BREAKER RESET STEPS

Or see ELECTRICAL PANEL INSPECTION SAFETY

Or see ELECTRICAL INSPECTOR SAFETY PROCEDURES - important basic safety procedures, clothing, and equipment for home inspectors and electrical inspectors

Or see ELECTRICITY TURN ON AFTER BREAKER TRIP

Or see SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS - home

Or see these

Electrical Circuit Breaker Articles

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CIRCUIT BREAKER MAIN or FUSE TEST at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to ELECTRICAL INSPECTION & TESTING

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