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Pushmatic electrical panel (C) Daniel Friedman Bulldog & ITE Pushmatic Circuit Breakers & Electrical Panels
Safety Advice & Field Failure Reports

  • PUSHMATIC - BULLDOG PANELS - CONTENTS: Pushmatic Bulldog Circuit Breaker & Electrical Panel Possible Safety & Operating Concerns. Pushmatic Bulldog Circuit Breaker & Electrical Panel Brands & Identification & Compatibility or Interchangeability. ITE Pushmatic Bulldog History & Distribution. Pushmatic Bulldog Circuit Breaker & Electrical Panel failure hazard description. Legal Documents, References on Pushmatic & Bulldog Circuit Breakers & Electrical Panels. Advice for Owners of Properties Using a Pushmatic or Bulldog Electrical Panel. Compatibility of Bulldog, Pushmatic, ITE-Pushmatic, Siemens Pushmatic Circuit Breakers
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs on Bulldog & ITE Pushmatic Circuit Breaker Performance
  • REFERENCES
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ITE / Siemens Bulldog Pushmatic Breakers: this article describes potential fire and safety hazards where certain Bulldog & ITE-Pushmatic circuit breakers and electrical panels are used. We provide Pushmatic circuit breaker identification photographs including of electrical panels and of individual circuit breakers.

The article series discusses the history of Pushmatic breakes, gives advice to homeowners whose building is served by a Pushmatic electrical panel, and we discuss both compatability of and concerns when using replacement circuit breakers or used Pushmatic circuit breakers sold by salvage operatoers.

We solicit field failure and field inspection reports of questionable or possibly problematic electrical equipment in buildings such as the Bulldog™ and ITE-Pushmatic® brands described here.



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Pushmatic & Bulldog Circuit Breakers & Electrical Panel Safety Warnings

Pushmatic electrical panel (C) Daniel Friedman Matt StegerArticle Series Contents

Beginning in 1986 and continuing through 2014 we had received occasional field reports on product failures of PushMatics, and older similar Bulldog circuit breakers and electrical panels, but not enough data to reach a sound conclusion about the reliability and safety of this electrical equipment. we had been unable to find independent research reports on this product.

In April 2011, preliminary results of yet incomplete testing of a wider range of brands of residential electrical panels and circuit breakers, conducted by David Carrier, an electrical engineer, had begun to suggest some failures to trip among certain Bulldog, ITE & Siemens ITE.

That testing remained incomplete. Interestingly, in addition to the anticipated higher failure to trip rates among FPE Stab-lok design breakers Carrier was seeing an unanticipated trip failure rate among certain Murray circuit breakers and certain Challenger circuit breakers, Crouse Hinds circuit breakers. [1]

Photo of a Pushmatic electrical panel at left courtesy of Matt Steger. [Click to enlarge any image]

Our own personal experience with inspecting and on occasion using ITE Pushmatic circuit breakers and panels did not encounter product failures and our lay opinion was that the product appeared (to visual inspection) well made. But at InspectAPedia.com we have received increasing questions about and mixed reviews about this product design.

This web page provides a contact point for inspectors to send field inspection reports, field failure reports, and reports of research, product history, and safety opinions regarding Pushmatic brand and Bulldog brand electrical panels.

Pushmatic Bulldog Circuit Breaker & Electrical Panel Brands & Identification & Compatibility or Interchangeability

Pushmatic panel label (C) Daniel Friedman

ITE Pushmatic Bulldog History & Distribution

These products were sold throughout North America. The original product name was Bulldog Pushmatic Electric Company, a company also known for designing the Vac-U-Break circuit breaker. ITE purchased the brand (ITE Intermatic). Siemens purchased ITE. An electrical panel bearing the Bulldog brand and found in a home in North America today probably dates from the 1950's through the 1960's, though indeed the product label was produced as early as the mid 1930's.

Pushmatic Bulldog Circuit Breaker & Electrical Panel Possible Safety & Operating Concerns

Bulldog Pushmatic ITE type 20A circuit breaker (C) 2013 Daniel Friedman

Greg Bell, a Florida home inspector offers the following additional details, (edited and supplemented by DJF)

Bulldog or Bulldog-Pushmatic electrical panels use a unique, proprietary type of circuit breaker called a "Pushmatic." Bulldog panels with Pushmatic breakers indicate an older system that is no longer manufactured, making replacement parts difficult or expensive to find. There appear to be two major problems with Pushmatic Breakers:

  1. Bulldog circuit breakers use a solely-thermal breaker design (they have no internal magnetic trip mechanism [according to Mr. Bell]) - what this means to consumers is that the circuit breaker lacks one of the mechanisms used by newer equipment to increase the probability that the breaker will trip OFF when it should to protect the building from a fire - it may be therefore less inherently safe and reliable than other designs
  2. Bulldog circuit breakers are "grease fed" - if the circuit breaker is not not used (exercised) and serviced regularly they become stiff and difficult to operate or reset. (Mr. Greg doesn't conclude that this means they also don't trip, but that is plausible question) . Greg adds and we agree that no official study has been conducted documenting unusually high failure to trip rates and opinions of electrical professionals vary on the need to replace or upgrade thee panels.[3]

The inspector concludes with an advice paragraph suggesting that the home inspector call for an electrician to shut down the panel power, inspect and check the contacts for rust and corrosion, and proper bus-bar contact.

Really? Our OPINION is that this is unreliable advice since it begs the question of whether or not the INTERNAL parts of the breaker are unreliable and it may fail to trip in response to overcurrent. Early patents for Bulldog & Pushmatic include product descriptions that describe a mechanical-only device patented in 1934 and a device including both a thermally-warping tripping element and magnetic components. While there appears to be a basis for Bell's claim that the device was mechnical-only in operation, that may not be the case for all versions of the product. Further, from field reports this role of this circuit breaker feature in Bulldog Pushmatic circuit breaker field failure reports is unclear. [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

ITE Imperial Employee Comments about Bulldog/ITE Pushmatic breakers ca 1974-1978

I worked for ITE Imperial (the company name seems incorrect above) from 1974 until 1978. I am certain that the Bulldog/ITE Pushmatic breakers sold at that time and for many years prior did have a magnetic trip. The was an old display that I found and used then which compared the tripping time for both overload and short circuit type faults between the Pushmatic device and others sold at the time. Under all normal circumstances, the Pushmatic breaker operated more quickly under short circuit than any competitive device. Based on the older sales engineers in the office at the time (and product literature) this was due to the "five turn coil" used in the magnetic portion of the tripping mechanism.

I sold literally thousands of these breakers for use on job site temporary power poles since the loadcenter could be much narrower (fitting on a pole easily), and because the Pushmatic breaker attached to the bus with a screw instead of the expected spring clip. This fact also led to the Pushmatic being used on projects where the specification was for bolt-on panels. There was -- for at least a short period -- even a three phase version manufactured.

For both the pole pole application, and when used in outdoor residential metering equipment (which was very common in Southern California), there were issues associated with dust entering the breaker and not allowing it to reset. Whether it was appropriate or not, the generally applied solution was to spray the breaker with WD-40. - (Jan 28, 2012) Edward Rossi [Via Comments Box feature at page bottom - Ed.]

Thank you for this report Mr. Rossi, we've added it as you see, but with a troubling reservation:

Really? a requirement that consumers spray circuit breakers with a lubricant to permit the breaker to operate normally is surely not reliable and considering that the lubricant discussed is one that thickens and gums with age, even that recommendation may in our opinion be unsafe as well - Ed.

Legal Documents, References on Pushmatic & Bulldog Circuit Breakers & Electrical Panels

Bulldog pushmatic circuit breaker 1936 patent schematic - USPOPatent Infringement: 1953 case of Westinghouse v Bulldog Electric Products Co - giving us an idea of the age and history of the Bulldog brand.

Westinghouse sued Bulldog for patent infringement.

The document is useful for pointing out technical differences among similar-looking products.

The Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed.

A copy of the court document is Westinghouse v. Bulldog.

At left - a 1936 Bulldog circuit breaker patent illustration. This is the earliest patent document we've found - indicating that this version of the circuit breaker was: Patented Mar. 31, 1936 PATENT OFFICE CIRCUIT BREAKER William Frank and Joseph Messing, Detroit, Mich, assignors to Bulldog Electric Products Company, Detroit, Mich, a corporation of West Virginia Application March 29, 1934, Serial No. 717,989.

Quoting this patent:

On the base 66 is pivotally mounted at 2M a thermal warping element 282 urged toward the base by a coiled tension spring 283 connected in circuit through the pivot hinge at 28 l, or through a flexible jumper, and adapted to warp on overload to the right.

Secured to and disposed transversely across and preferably insulated from the warping element is an E-shaped magnetic material piece 284 which, together with the magnetic material plate 285 mounted upon the pedestal 286, forms a magnetic circuit with the ther- 30 mal element 282 forming a single turn coil to provide the magnetomotive force.

A bracket 2M is rigidly secured to warping element 282 by rivets 262, there preferably being insulation 203 between the element and the brackets. An arm 204 is pivotally connected to bracket 2M by a pin ZOB-and is provided with a lock washer 206 which maintains arm 20; in any desired preset position, relative to the element.

A pin 20! on the outer or free end of arm 204 rides freely in a circular slot 208 of a lever-latch 209 pivotally secured to a foot 2| l bya rivet M2 and thus mounted on the base 50. A hook M3 on the upper end of latch 209 holds the breaker pawl 81 firmly when the breaker is in the on position, or in its normal 0 position.

When an overload occurs, the warping element 282 moves to the right, due to thermal forces, or magnetic forces, or a combination of both forces. This motion is magnified by the leverage ratio 50 provided by the lever latch 209 moving the hook end 213 thereof to release the pawl 81.[7][8]

[Click to enlarge any image]

Patent information for Bulldog / Pushmatic circutit breakers offer some product design details dating to at least 1936 is provided at [7][8]

Current Advice for Owners of Properties Using a Pushmatic or Bulldog Electrical Panel

Home inspectors encountering a Pushmatic or Bulldog brand electrical panel should warn consumers that

Examples of Pushmatic field failiures can be read
at PUSHMATIC BREAKER FAILURE REPORTS.

Contact Us to Provide Pushmatic or Bulldog Electrical Equipment Field Failures & Observations

We would be very grateful if readers, owners, home inspectors encountering this equipment CONTACT Us by EMAIL with any field observations of apparent failures, overheating, damage, product photos. We will continue to collect data, credit contributors, and report the results.

Report ITE Pushmatic or Bulldog Electrical Panel Failures to the US CPSC

In addition to informing us of an ITE Pushmatic or Bulldog electrical panel or breaker event so that we can add this incident report to the data base we maintain, we encourage readers to report such events also to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission - it's easy: you can use a simple form at the CPSC's website: https://www.cpsc.gov/incident.html or you can send the CPSC email on incidents to: info@cpsc.gov

And we would appreciate hearing from professionals, home inspectors, electricians, engineers, regarding their opinion on what is sound, professional, unbiased advice that protects consumers without making unsupportable claims in this matter.

 

Reader Discussion of & Comments on Bulldog Pushmatic Circuit Breakers

In addition to the most recent comments shown at the end of this article we post here some useful remarks from earlier readers.

Question / Comment: How do I determine total panel ampacity?

(Oct 20, 2012) Jan Gates said:

Our home was built in the late 60's. There is a Bulldog Push-matic, Electri-Center panel. How do i find the total ampage. My insurance company wants to know. There are two switches that say 30amp on both sides, then there are 6 more that say 20.

Reply:

Re Jan Gates question

How do i find the total ampage. My insurance company wants to know.

Please see our article titled AMPS VOLTS DETERMINATION - How to find out the electrical service ampacity & voltage level entering a building where we provide those details.

From just your note it sounds as if the panel you describe is obsolete. You will also want to review the safety and performance questions discussed above. If you elect to replace the panel, we ask you to consider preserving the old one intact and to contribute it for testing. You can contact me for shipping information to D. Carrier, and independent electrical engineer who is conducting circuit breaker testing if you decide to do so.

Question / Comment: buzzing ITE Pushmatic circuit breaker and Aluminum wiring

(Dec 22, 2012) Rick said:

Condo I own, built in the mid-1970's has aluminum wiring and ITE Pushmatic breaker box.
When the water heater cuts in, I can hear a buzzing sound from 30A circuit breaker (?) that feeds the water heater.
In addition, this breaker is difficult to reset if I use it to shut off hot water heating.
I'm thinking I should replace that 30A double pole breaker.
Good idea? Could this be a wire connection that has loosened due to aluminum wire?
Thanks In Advance.

Reply:

Re: Rick's comment

I can hear a buzzing sound from 30A circuit breaker

Since at least in some circumstances a buzzing circuit breaker is one having trouble tripping, the breaker and circuit it protects may be unsafe; I would switch it off pending inspection and repair by a licensed electrician.

If your home has aluminum electrical wiring that is itself a fire hazard that needs proper repair. See

ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS & REPAIRS

to read about that topic.

In the event that failures in the panel are detected please report that to us and to the US CPSC.

Question / Comment: Bulldog Pushmatic Breakers don't tell me if the breaker is tripped, ON, or OFF

(Jan 4, 2013) JACK DOUGLASS said:

I would like to replace the pushmatic breaker for the "throw type" I can never tell which breaker it tripped as the flag stays in one position. Is there a replacement brand that you could suggest
Thanks

Reply:

Re Jack Douglas' comment

I can never tell which breaker it tripped as the flag stays in one position.

That field observation confirms one of the safety defects discussed for this equipment. Just about any contemporary electrical panel brand preferred by your installing electrician should be acceptable and properly installed should be safer than the equipment you have.

We prefer to stay away from specific replacement brand recommendations. My worry is that some replacement breakers may be no safer, or even less safe than the ones we take out of the panel - it depends on the panel brand, model, design. For electrical panels subject to frequent reports of field failures or that have been documented by independent research as having abnormally high failure rates (see FPE and perhaps Zinsco) it makes more sense to replace the panel.

Question / Comment: Has anyone ever been electrocuted just opening a Bulldog Pushmatic electrical panel?

(Feb 17, 2014) Oscar C said:

I recently purchased a home with a Bulldog Pushmatic electrical panel. I've read on other sites that there is potential danger in opening the panel as the "bussing" iis usually energized and you could be electricuted.just from taking off the cover.
How often has this been known to happen with this type of panel?

Reply:

Oscar, it is indeed true that opening ANY electrical panel that is acting strangely can be dangerous; an electrician was killed when he was removing a panel cover (not just opening the door, and though I don't recall for sure I don't think it was a Pushmatic) and internal parts that were faulty formed an electrical connection and caused an arc explosion. And I've rec'd other reports of similar burns and injuries.

Certainly we've not received a large number of fatalities or serious burns, but as Aronstein has pointed out, because only a very small percentage of electrical failures, probably less than 1 or 2%, are ever reported through official channels eg. to the CPSC or to industry associations, the few reports most likely represent a larger number.

Similarly, fire inspectors may be untrained in sufficient depth to correctly identify the root cause of an apparently-electrical-system-related fire or injury or death, as are even people in the medical profession (see citation 2 below).

A related concern with the Pushmatic line is that you can switch a breaker to the "off" position but be unsure that it is really switched off internally.

So while it would normally be reasonable to tell the electrician to just switch off the main breaker before working on the panel (or replacing it) a safer course would be to have the electric company drop power outside - by pulling the meter.

Some useful references include

Question / Comment:

(Feb 18, 2014) Anonymous said:

Just bought a home in Mission Vejo built in 1970 with pushmatic panel breaker system....By reading these posts who do I consider would be the actual manufacturer of pushmatic in 1970 in order to get breakers?

Reply:

Anon, while you might look at the older manufacturers like ITT Pushmatic I think that's not useful. When looking for replacement circuit breakers we're generally limited to the current manufacturers of breakers whose specifications, including not just performance but electrical panel bus connector design, that mean the current, new breakers fit and work properly. This is, of course completely aside from questions of whether one would be smarter to replace the equipment entirely.

Question / Comment: where can I find TCC cures for Bulldog Circuit Breakers?

3/5/2014 David R said:

Does anyone know where to find TCC curves for Bulldog breakers?

Reply:

Great question David - certainly I haven't found that data. Sometimes reviewing for academic studies or patents we can find that data.

Here are a few citations pertinent to Bulldog / Pushmatic circuit breakers. More are in the References section of our article on these breakers.

Reader follow-up:

Thanks for that info Dan. We are currently pricing out a pretty big AF project and when doing a walk through, I found many Bulldog panels installed in the 50s.

I need those breaker curves, but more importantly, I doubt any of these breakers have been exercised. So I might need to time the incident energy calculation at two seconds (per IEEE 1584 and produce an AF label opposed to relying on the curves.

I will continue to do my due-diligence and follow up on your suggestions though.

Thanks!

Reply:

David,

In my experience exercising a breaker does not necessarily improve its performance. In fact for FPE Stab-Lok units exercising the breaker can significantly increase the risk of a future jam-type failure.

Tests showed a still greater concern: testing a breaker - not in general but ones with a problematic design that led to jamming and no-trip failures - could appear to have acceptable results but leave the breaker jammed so that on a future overcurrent the breaker wouldn't trip under any load. This was found with FPE but I would not assume the problem was unique to that marque. In general in-situ testing is considered very dangerous.

Are you considering deciding to leave equipment in place based on visual inspection, testing, or worse, in-situ testing?

If so you might want to consult with Dr. Jess Aronstein.

Question / Comment:

3/6/2014 Anonymous said:

Greetings, JK in VT. Read thru many comments re: Pushmatics. As a lic.electrician and elec.engr. I leave nothing to chance. Just compl. repl. of 1960's Electri-Center with"newer" Gould-ITE-Siemens Pushmatic Load Center(s). 40 space dual-buss in the res. and 8 space PL8 load center subpanel in outbldg. Rem.all AL wire,used THHN copper,etc.

NOTE: All brkrs.from all mfgrs. should be tested,cleaned,lubed prior to svc.Incl.Pushmatics. Dirt,time,environment worst enemy of all things electrical.

Have seen shoddy new installs of non-Pushmatics by inexper. homeowners who perf. DIY rewiring projects courtesy of local big-box stores.

I preferred the Pushmatic for sev. reasons. My own home over 30+ yrs. NEVER had one prob. or failure due to Pushmatic design. I use newest type brkrs avail.10KA I.C. for peace-of-mind. Have doc. 6 diff. configs. of one Pushmatic from Bulldog-ITE-Gould
to Siemens. The newest mfgd. in gray color oval tops have ques.mfg. qual,I won't use them.

About the tandem P1515 breakers insertion to older load centers,most have dedicated spaces to accom. those types.Usually at bottom of ea.buss. The latter have cutout notches to accept the P1515 tandems. Not an issue w. P2020 tandems,BTW.

To-date, I have discarded many high-current Bulldog Pushmatics from 30-60A range. As mentioned before, above,dirt,age,use and environment can be root causes. Overheated contacts,same as old A/C unit, fridge, or sim. hi-amp. applicance. Not a surprise here.

Also dissected a few Pushmatics to verify the thermal-magnetic debates here.

FINDING (IMHO): The newest Pushmatic have both, but earlier Bulldogs do not. I purposely ran a short-ckt. test on newer P115 and P120. Cut-out faster than a SQD unit.

Summary: Perf. cost analysis to convert to rocker-style brkrs. and load center vs. repl.older Pushmatics w. newer types. You might be surprised!

SAFETY: Make certain there's a 100A or 200A main breaker feeding the Pushmatic (sub)panel. Then, "off" is def. OFF. Good Luck and pls. be careful! -JK-

Reply:

Thanks for the comments Anon, I [mostly] agree with your opinions, including that the presence or absence of internal trip mechanism components (magnetic for example) in the product line appears to depend on when the product was made. There are other failure issues that are very serious, including the difficulty with knowing if a breaker is ON or OFF - a dangerous shock risk.

Telling people to lubricate a crictuit breaker is an unreliable approacy. In my opinion it's a poor product design or specification that calls for the installer or homeowner to do something that we know perfectly well nobody ever does and nobody is ever going to do - it's "design to fail" in my book.

Nobody installing circuit breakers disassembles or lubricates them in residential applications and certainly no homeowner would nor should attempt such a task. Worse, perhaps, some people reading the "lubrication" advice for breakers may try (as some readers reported) spraying the panel and interior with an arbitrarily chosen spray lubricant - a product that may make matters worse rather than better.

Also let's keep in mind that absence of evidence [of a product faiilure] is not evidence of absence [proof that failures are not occurring] - more specifically, one person's observation something like "I've never had a problem" is much too small to be statistically valid. Add to that the very low reporting rate of electrical failures - probably less than2% - and we instead need to pay careful attention to the failures that are reported. - DF, Ed.

Bulldog, Pushmatic, ITE Breaker Compatability

This topic has moved to BULLDOG PUSHMATIC COMPATABILITY & FAQs

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