I run into rusty or damaged electric panel boxes very often and have to ask how much rust in an electric panel box and its components is too much?
Sometimes the boxes are indoors. Oftentimes boxes are in a shed connected to, but behind, the house.
This box is outdoors, in such a shed, is receiving too much moisture, and has been for some time.
It is obvious that the problem lies in the roof and siding of the shed. But what to do about this box?
Water is regularly getting into the top of the box and making its way to the bottom.
It soaks its way through the box to collect at the bottom.
Meandering its way through the box the water has no choice but to wet components and connections. The rust seen on the left-side connections in the photo to the left is also found on the components on the right!
How much inundation can these components take?
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has an annual conference where it discusses the latest in electrical technology and issues.
One problem they discuss nearly annually is moisture migration into electric panel boxes and the damage it causes.
They say moisture causes catastrophic failure in 12% of electric panel boxes and other damage in 40%. This damage can result in fires, of course.
One thing they discuss is how to make these boxes more water tight.
But look above! This box is outdoors, in a shed that over time has grown more and more vulnerable to water intrusion. Little by little things have gotten wet, and wetter.
When will failure occur? What will the failure be - a breaker? The main? Will a fire happen? Certainly that is unpredictable.
But look at the box! It is penetrated many times from above. The approved method of connecting a cable to the box is a clamp, and each of these cables is properly clamped! It's all done right!
I found such moisture in a different box recently which was examined later by an electrician who said that moisture and rust in panel boxes is "normal," more or less. I don't know what word he used exactly, but as a result of what he said my fretting over the box was seen as out of line and they, my clients and their realtor, shot the messenger.
I became Persona non Grata!
When I read discussions about wet panel boxes that go on in IEEE conferences I can say categorically that the IEEE members and participants disagree with that electrician!
But, as you know, I am merely a home inspector trying to jeopardize a sale. Who cares about safety or my clients, right?
Obviously I say that with sarcasm dripping from my words. I worry all the time about my clients and their safety!
I happen to believe in the Golden Rule.
My recommendation: think carefully. Would you want moisture migration, rust and damage inside your panel box? I can tell you I would not inside mine. How much is too much? And if your home inspector removes the cover from a panel box you are buying to find moisture damage, and rust, on the components and connections, may I suggest you consider it a safety issue and find out what it would take to curtail the moisture and repair the box! The smart money is on a dry and safe electric panel box!!
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560