It’s not uncommon for me to come across electrical panels that have some corrosion. This is especially common in older panels or panels located in basements or garages (which encompasses most panels in my area) because these panels are typically more exposed to moisture that can lead to oxidation, and time always takes its toll. Oxidation is the loss of electrons due to a chemical reaction with oxygen; and since electricity is composed of electrons, this translates to higher resistance. Simply put, oxidation leads to corrosion (“rust”) which leads to less electrons and higher resistance. The higher the resistance to the electrical current, the greater the risk for an electrical hazard.
I often see corrosion on the surface of panel covers or breakers, but a greater concern is corrosion on the lugs (screws) or the conductors themselves. If these metal parts become corroded – and, therefore, cause greater resistance – the wires have decreased capacity for carrying electrons (current), which can lead to arcing, sparks and other fire or shock hazards.
Corrosion on any electrical panel is never a good sign, but it is particularly concerning when the actual lugs or conductors are corroded. You can’t see these parts without removing the panel cover, and this is something you shouldn’t do if you aren’t experienced and competent.
Before removing a cover, we inspectors quickly tap the cover with the back of our hand and/or test the cover with a voltage pen to ensure it is safe to remove. After unscrewing the cover, we carefully pull the cover straight off to avoid accidentally touching the main disconnect or any breakers since we don’t want to accidentally shut off power to the entire house or any circuits. If you’re doing this on your own, though, it’s a good idea to ensure safety by shutting off the main before even removing the panel.
If you see corrosion on any metal components or fairly substantial corrosion on other parts of the panel, you should call a qualified electrician to have your panel professionally evaluated. A good electrician should be able to tell you with relative ease how great of a risk your panel is in its condition and what steps (if any) should be taken to remedy any corrosion problems.
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