Challenger Electrical Panels
Electrical panels are designed to keep you and your family safe. But there are a few brands of panels that are known to be unsafe yet are still used in many homes today. Challenger is one brand that makes this list.
Read on to learn the issues related to Challenger electrical panels and what to do if you have one in your home.
What is a Challenger electrical panel?
In 1973, GTE-Sylvania (the same owners of Zinsco) introduced their own panel and breaker design and named the product Challenger, but some Challenger panels were also labeled as GTE-Sylvania or Zinsco.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Challenger panels were installed in hundreds of thousands of homes before it was found that many experienced an overheating malfunction which posed a fire risk.
These faulty breakers were eventually sold to other brands, and specific models were recalled in 1988, but they are still present in many homes today.
When were Challenger panels installed?
Challenger panels were mostly installed in homes built between 1986 and 1995. It was one of the most popular electrical panel brands during that period.
Are Challenger panels still in use today?
Challenger panels are no longer manufactured and installed today. But the hundreds of thousands installed throughout the 1980s and 1990s still exist in many homes, despite its safety issues and product recalls.
What are the potential issues with Challenger panels?
The problem with Challenger breakers is that they overheat under normal conditions, not due to overuse of the electrical panel’s power.
The overheating happens at the connection point to the bus bar. This causes it to expand and contract, which then causes arcing between the circuit breaker and the bus bar, damaging both. As this cycle continues over time, these components melt down completely, which causes a severe fire hazard.
Which Challenger electrical panels are unsafe?
In 1988, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall for Challenger Type HAGF-15 and Type HAGF-20 circuit breakers. But as Challenger-branded breakers have a reputation for overheating, any type of Challenger breaker should be replaced immediately.
How can I identify a Challenger panel in my home?
Open the panel cover, and if there are black circuit breakers labeled with Challenger, that’s one indication. But remember, some Challenger panels were also labeled as GTE-Sylvania or Zinsco. So it’s best to have an electrician inspect the panel to determine if replacement is necessary.
Can a Challenger panel be repaired, or must it be replaced entirely?
Not only are Challenger electrical panels outdated, but their potential issues, including melting and overheating circuit breakers pose a fire hazard. Even if your Challenger panel seems to be working as it should, the risks remain, so a replacement is highly recommended.
Can I still find replacement parts for Challenger electric panels?
Yes, you can replace your outdated Challenger breakers, but you should not buy just any breaker the same size as your old ones. Only UL-listed and UL-classified circuit breakers are legally allowed with challenger panels.
Challenger Type C breakers can be replaced with Cutler-Hammer Type BR/C breakers, or Connecticut Electric (CE) breakers that fit with UBITBC and UBITBA types of Challenger panels.
A replacement for Challenger Type A circuit breakers can be harder to find because of their low compatibility rates. CE exclusively manufactures the Challenger Type A series and is ETL-listed for the UL standard, so that is a good option.
It’s always best to consult a licensed electrician to confirm which type of breaker replacement you need and how to install it safely.
Are there any safety precautions I should take if I have a Challenger panel?
The best precaution to take with any outdated electrical panel, especially one with known safety risks like Challenger, is to replace it with a more modern panel.
Are Challenger panels eligible for insurance coverage?
Many insurance companies have identified Challenger electrical panels as fire hazards and will not insure a home if it has a Challenger panel present. If you find a company that will cover it, you will likely have to pay a higher insurance premium.
Can I sell a house with a Challenger electrical panel?
You can sell a house with a Challenger panel, but it could turn off potential buyers. Even homeowners unaware that they have a Challenger panel and/or are unfamiliar with its fire risks, the panel will be discovered during the home inspection, and its risks will be brought to the buyer's attention. Therefore, if you don't replace it, the buyer may try to negotiate a lower purchase price to cover its replacement cost.
Can a Challenger panel be upgraded to meet current safety standards?
The issues with Challenger panels are with their breakers, not their bus bars, which tend to hold their strength for the long term. So replacing the breakers with legally compatible replacement breakers (see above) can upgrade your Challenger panel to meet current safety standards.
Are there any legal, regulatory, or recall actions against Challenger panels?
The CPSC recalled Challenger’s Type HAGF-15 and Type HAGF-20 circuit breakers in 1988.
After Challenger went out of business, it was bought by Eaton/Cutler-Hammer, and in 2014, they had to recall even more breakers, as parts of the panel were easily exposed, making it even more of a shock hazard.
How can I find a qualified electrician to inspect or replace my Challenger panel?
You can find a licensed electrician in your area by using a site like Angi, where you can also compare quotes and read reviews.
How much does it cost to replace a Challenger panel?
The cost to replace a Challenger panel can vary between $1600 and $4000, depending on where you live, the size of your home, and if degraded, ungrounded, or aluminum wiring is present.
You can use this electrical panel cost calculator to obtain an estimated cost.
If your electrical panel is made by Challenger, you may want to consider replacing it
The safety of the electrical system in your home is paramount. If your home is equipped with a Challenger electrical panel, it's advisable to have a qualified electrician inspect it. Upgrading to a modern electrical panel can provide enhanced safety and peace of mind. Contact us for a free quote on upgrading your Houston area electrical panel here.