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Danger - Rust In Electrical Panel Box Components

Home Inspector with Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC 3380-000723

Danger - rust in electrical panel box components.

The percentage of the time would be unknown, but I often see rust in panel box components.

There is debate surrounding how much is too much.

To me there cannot be much debate or room for error.

Corrosion is corrosion; damage is damage; electrical components are electrical components - and you just can't be too careful!

Once after identifying a severely rusty panel box, with the components and connections inside similarly very rusty, an electrician called by the homeowner said "some rust is normal."  Later, that same house had an overheated condition that caused scorching and necessary replacement of the entire box and components.  Normal, you say?

How much rust is "some rust..."?!  Corrosion begins for a reason.  Once started what would slow it?  According to IEEE studies, 66% of moisture in panel boxes comes from service entrance cable defects, 17% from indoor condensation and 17% from surface/roof runoff or leakage.

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is the world's largest collection of electrical experts and has an annual convention.  Each year rusting panel boxes or components inside seem to be on the discussion/education agenda.  And with good reason.

Here is what they say about home inspectors:  Visual examination of the electrical service panel is an important element of the procedure followed by professional home inspectors, whose observations are most often made at the time of sale of a used residence. The inspectors' observations can provide a data base on field performance of residential electrical system components that may be valuable toward the development of improvements in both the components and their associated qualification standards. 

Professional home inspectors offer a unique perspective of field failures: in performing a comprehensive survey of a building's systems and components, an inspector may discover common external or interactive causes of damage or deterioration. Home inspectors regularly observe field deterioration in progress before hazards or malfunctions are so obvious as to come to the attention of the occupants.

The reported observations in electric panels include corroded, burned, and damaged connections and corroded and malfunctioning circuit breakers. Causative factors noted in the service environment include presence of moisture, damage from over current, and poor installation practices. Suggested improvements, including the need for greater resistance to corrosion and other field and environmental conditions, are discussed.

That is pretty descriptive of what home inspectors do!  We possess thousands and thousands of eyes that are in addition to county inspectors, and other electrical investigators.

My recommendation:  electric panel box evaluation is an important part of a home inspection.  Home inspectors are cautioned NOT to go inside a panel box that shows rusting on the cover or breakers.  It is important that the panel box be accessible to the home inspector and it's important that it be investigated when possible.  There is a lot that can go wrong! 



Posted by

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560


Comments (7)

Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Jay! Rust and the electrical box are not good friends! Enjoy your day!

Jun 12, 2016 08:49 PM
Jennifer Mackay
Counts Real Estate Group, Inc. - Panama City, FL
Your Bay County Florida Realtor 850.774.6582

Wow, who would have thought - my box is open to the weather -gotta have my inspector buddy check it out - thanks for the heads up Jay

Jun 12, 2016 09:25 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Wayne - rust and corrosion is a sure sign of damage.  Damage doesn't make itself better.

Jennifer - that would be wise.  Weather does what weather does, and boxes are not exacvtly waterproof.

Jun 13, 2016 07:48 PM
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

I see so many of them outside mounted on the side of the house... I have never liked that.

The way I see it is we are heros... yeah that's it!

Jun 13, 2016 11:28 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Fred - when I take CEU classes with the county guys they always come up to me and say I am another set of eyes.  They like home inspectors.

Jun 14, 2016 05:39 AM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV
Cornerstone Business Group Inc - Winchester, VA
Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro

See it all the time from both sides of the fence. Just changed a main breaker in an older GE panel that has had water before. I would almost guarantee the former moisture shortened the life of the main breaker. Big expense for what was a small problem if fixed early. If you see water dripping from your panel box, call an electrician. NOW!

Jun 19, 2016 09:37 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

You mean it just won't get better by itself, Mike?  Even with a blow dryer?

Jun 20, 2016 05:51 AM