All homeowners should know where their electrical panel is located. When you open the door to it, there are breakers that have labels corresponding to different rooms or areas of the home. Breakers will sometimes trip due to an outage or power surge, but you can reactivate the affected area by flipping the specific switch. Behind the breakers is the ‘dead front’, and should be removed only by a qualified electrician or inspector.
Before resetting a breaker, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have an escape path in case there’s a spark? For example, if a shovel or extension cord is in the way of your footing, a quick jerk turn can easily turn into a dangerous fall.
- Is the floor wet? Never, under any circumstances, touch any electrical equipment with wet hands or while standing on a wet surface.
- Does the panel look wet? Check on the ceiling for dripping water that may have condensed on a cold water pipe.
- Is the panel rusty? Rust indicates there were previous wet conditions that may still exist.
Here is a list of defective conditions that you may see that may be called out during an electrical inspection:
- Insufficient clearance. According to the 2008 National Electrical Code, most residential electrical panels require at least a 3-foot clearance or working space in front, 30 inches of width, and a minimum headroom clearance of 6 feet, or the height of the equipment, whichever is greater.
- Sharp-tipped panel box screws. Make sure the panel box cover screws have blunt ends so they don’t pierce the wires inside the box.
- Circuit breakers that are not properly sized.
- Oxidation/corrosion to any of the parts. Oxidized/corroded wires will increase the resistance of conductors and create the potential for arcing.
- Damage caused by rodents – Rodents can chew through wire insulation in electrical panels (and other areas), creating an unsafe condition. Rodents have been electrocuted this way, leaving an unsightly mess inside the panel. Make sure to check for rodents inside and around your electric panel every so often.
- Evidence of electrical failures, such as overheated or burned areas.
- Possible water entry inside the electrical panel. Moisture can ruin circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable and the equipment unsafe to touch.