Sunday, January 18, 2015

30 amp Zinsco breaker on 15 amp circuit makes for hidden dangerous situation in an apartment complex. and all to familar problem with replacement breakers that are no longer made.

Friend and customer of mine purchased some apartment buildings couple years back   in South Hills of Pittsburgh and recently discovered a very dangerous situation when one of the apartments caught fire built in the 1950's each apartment had in it a small Zinsco Breaker panel  with 30 amp breaker for  a small electric range and 2 15 1mp and 1 20 amp breakers to provide power to the apartment.

Back when these apartments where first built that was plenty of power. But as people started adding more items to there apartments like  Hair Dryers, Window Air Conditioners  and Microwave ovens etc. this can lead to strain on the electrical services.
So careful balancing of items is required.

It has not been a problem for my customer as he and his brothers have done a good job on educating there tenants about safely plugging in items in there apartments.

How ever a recent cold snap revealed a rather dangerous situation in one of the apartments which has now caused each and every apartment in the multi building  complex to be checked and if the problem exists be eliminated .
As one of the tenants was enjoying his evening watching TV  and had a fake Fireplace heater plugged in to warm the apartment he noticed his apartment ceiling to have its paint bubbling and walls where hot .
He immediately called 911  the fire dept arrived cut off power then opened up the ceiling where a fire had developed. and would have spread across the attic and possibly destroyed the building and could have easily killed  the tenants had this occurred during the middle of the night.

Fire Investigators determined a romex wire had heated up  and its movement under a staple designed to hold it in place is where the fire started. as you can see in the picture above where romex ire is missing its insulatiion.

But what really caused the fire was the fact at some point in the 50plus year the apartments have existed  and before my customers bought them .Some one either a tenant or a  very sloppy property handy man tired of constantly tripping the 15 amp breaker installed a 30 amp can be seen in the picture below.

We know by its age and date code  it was not original and they stopped making Zinsco Breakers over 30 years ago .  So it was done some time in the 70's . Zinsco breakers themselves have a bad reputation for not tripping properly to begin with and to have such an idiot put such a 30 amp  breaker
on a 14 gauge wire  is criminal. This is double what the wire is capable of handling and as you can see the end results. because this has happened each and every breaker panel in the complex is now being check. 

The 30 amp breaker has since been replaced with a proper Zinsco replacement only breaker.
As these panels are no longer allowed to have circuits added to them. Because the Zinsco company is out of business it is very hard to acquire these breakers original condition  you must be careful where you are sourcing them from as some are rebuilds or old stock with questionable quality  issues .  There was one company in Canada still making them for replacement duty only  which now cost $25.00 a breaker compared to $2.00 when they where on the market and as time goes on it will get even harder to get proper breakers and require panel replacement some some what easily done other near impossible  to do  which creates major issues as building s age. 


  1. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?


  2. It is never a good thing when electrical issues cause house fires like this. That is why more people need to be getting check ups and services from an electrical contractor to check on these certain things. It would make it so a lot fewer people would have these issues or would have to worry about these accidents happening. Electrical contractors know exactly what it is they are doing to deal with these issues on their own.