The electricity in a house comes and goes. It arrives, happily flows around the house, and is continually connected to the distribution facility nearest the house via a closed circuit. It likes to flow freely (don't we all?) and energize every spot in a house it is supposed to. Anything that interrupts or slows down that flow causes resistance, and its path is impeded. One thing that can cause resistance is rust. Electricity is resistant to rust.
Water or rust in a panel box is a WARNING SIGN. If the box or circuit breakers are rusting, unseen corrosion could be causing high-resistance electrical connections.
These "poor" connections often cause excessive voltage drop that may shorten the life of motor-driven appliances like vacuums, air conditioners, washing machines, etc.
And oxidation of aluminum wiring is especially dangerous. I have seen houses, where water had infested the panel box, demonstrate 40 volts on one side and 165 volts on the other as the aluminum neutral conductors in the box slowly turned to powder and did not provide proper connections.
This box showed a lot of moisture and rust on certain breakers. Inside the box had lots of stains where previous water had actually dripped and run. We never did find the source of this moisture, which maybe came from outdoors before they sealed the entry point years ago. What we see here is not recent moisture.
The washing machine breaker is rusty, on the top. And that receptacle was nearby, so I tested it.
The lights on the left indicate voltage, which jumped between <100 and 105, too low. The resistance, the light on the right, was well above 15%, too high.
So obviously this circuit was affected.
I found other branch circuits with even lower voltage around the house. These are apparently similarly affected by this panel box rust.
All in all, an electrician is needed, and perhaps a new box!
I did mention to everyone that the breakers in the box had been altered, but the labeling was not so legible and I could not tell what.
When we went to the kitchen, before I tested the GFI, the Realtor, one Cindy Jones, said, "And the fridge should not be on the GFI!" I think she said it jokingly.
WELL, IT WAS! Good call! And so was the dining room! So, yes, that was confirmation that the box had been altered!
My recommendation: when the signs point in a certain direction, follow them! Sometimes they are full of information!
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560