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How Much Rust In An Electric Panel Box And Its Components Is Too Much?

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

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 33 commentsJay Markanich • February 19 2014 01:09AM

Comments

Good morning, Jay. I believe in the Golden rule as well. And to answer your question directly, no, I would not want to have water in my panel box.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) almost 5 years ago

No kidding Michael.  I was a bit shocked that an electrician would say not to worry!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

Hi Jay,

As you know from my pictures that I see a lot of panels that are rusted. Some rusted so bad the breakers fall out. Even with these panels and the rusty ones. I have in the report to have a electrician inspect the panel for safety issues.

A lot of times I get the same result. "Safe and no issues". I then tell the buyers that they have my concerns in the report. It's now up to them to get the panel back to safe condition. The seller will not after the statement by the electrician, that they never leave in writing. BTW, FYI THE LEAK FIRST.

Have a good day in Bristow.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) almost 5 years ago

I know Jay lets make contact with that electrician.  Go to his house and pour a gallon of water on his breaker box every year for 5 years.  Lets see if that is normal for him afterwards. 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) almost 5 years ago

'SPOIL SPORT...Making those little drops from nature out to be the "scape drops"  once again !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) almost 5 years ago

Who said what???

That's the question.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 5 years ago

Jay, Any electrician that would imply that this inundation of moisture into this "DRY LOCATION ONLY" panel is inconsequential must have also been the electrician that installed this in the first place. Although, the original installation was likely designed properly back when the shed WAS a dry location. The installation conditions have changed. If the owner is not going to change the integrity of the shed, then a rain tight enclosure should be installed with new interior and reworking of the wiring to fit the wet location circumstances. Period.

To the homeowner that hired that electrician..... Just like in medicine...... the patient is sick..... get a second opinion.

Posted by Brad Rachielles, REALTOR, CDPE, Upland, CA (CENTURY 21 Peak, Ca BRE# 01489453) almost 5 years ago

Great write up, having lived both out west and the midwest it's amazing how many different places people will put a electric panel box. Luckly out in Las Vegas where it's just outside next to no rain, was still a shock to find it there.

Posted by Stefan Winter, Owner - Winter Group & Real Estate Web Tech (Real Estate in IL & NV | Owner of Real Estate Web Tech | Daily Vlogger) almost 5 years ago

Jay, any water in the panel box is too much in my opinion. Water conducts electricity. Not good! Rust is oxidation which will more than likely cause a short sooner or later, or worse.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 5 years ago

Fortunately, in almost all of the homes in Oklahoma City I have been involved with the breaker box is in the garage. Where I see them outdoors is because you have old 40 amp boxes from a long time back and when the install an HVAC for the first time they do an exterior box. On this I would not argue with you and would err on the side of safety. Why should i say this is okay when i wouldn't tolerate it in my own home?

Posted by Joe Pryor, REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties (The Virtual Real Estate Team) almost 5 years ago

Yes to this post and point...Rusty where electricity comes and goes? Whoa

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) almost 5 years ago

a little rust, MAYBE, but water running through an electrical box- NOT a good thing! heck, think of the water damage to the rest of the structure - some how that has to stop

Posted by Robert Rauf (HomeBridge Financial Services (NJ)) almost 5 years ago

Somehow it seems illogical to even think rust is normal. Rust comes from water...water and electricity is not a good thing, right? Perhaps rust from salt air along a coast? Nahh...

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) almost 5 years ago

Good afternoon Jay,

And it is amazing how many homeowners think the fire won't happen in their home.

Make yourself  agreat day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) almost 5 years ago

Any water inside an electrical panel would be too much for me - that should be dry and not wet or rusty.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) almost 5 years ago

It's only your house burning down. What's the big deal?  I see this a lot and agree that something should be done to correct it. 

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) almost 5 years ago

Jay, I know you must get that, "Let's shoot the messenger" all the time! In this case let's see: Water + Electricity = A big problem!

Posted by Tom White, Franklin Homes Realty LLC, Franklin TN (Franklin Homes Realty LLC (615) 495-0752 or www.FranklinHomesRealty.com) almost 5 years ago

Have a farm with seven out buildings. Each with a new entrance subpanel. And nice, shiny, watertight. Now working on the drop lines from Main home, barn because thoselines weather. Wear out like anything, everyone.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) almost 5 years ago

This is like a no brainer here. An accident waiting to happen. If I saw that as a buyer I would not want to buy the home unless that was fixed.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) almost 5 years ago

Every inspector I have ever seen has said that water inside the electrical panel is not a good thing!  I would want my clients to get that safety problem repaired.

Posted by Christine Smith, Exclusive Buyer Agent & Attorney, Canton, MA (Buyers Brokers Only LLC - www.BuyersBrokersOnly.com) almost 5 years ago

We have run into wet boxes in a few buildings that we have purchased.  As far as I am concerned no water should be here, so the first step it so fix the problem, and then we will end up replacing all the breakers as they are a bit rusty and will fail either now or within a year or two.

Posted by Bob Crane, Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671 (Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams fox cities) almost 5 years ago

I'm not sure I understand the "it's okay" thing either Clint, especially when I read things put out by the engineers and such at IEEE.  If 52% of rusted boxes have problems, some catestrophic, where does the thumbs up come from?

That would probably work James!

Yes, but every year the Scape Drop was released to fend for himself in the desert S&D!  I bet he didn't fare well.

Lenn - the electrician said there was no problem with rust inside the box and my clients wrote me a note saying he had "refuted" everything I said.  I said here is where water is getting in, here are the stains on the cables, here is the rust on components and breakers, here is the evidence of puddles in the bottom of the box and here is a link to what the IEEE people say.  You mean to say he refuted all that?  He did not!  But he did say the rust isn't a problem.  I can show him report after report, for years, that disagrees with that from the IEEE.  THAT electrician had nothing to do with the box in this post - that was a different house.  My clients there and their realtor held me in complete contempt later.

Brad - the owners of this house saw my report and are repairing the shed and replacing the box and its components.  The electrician who disagreed with my rust assessment was on a different inspection.

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

Stefan - I would be shocked it is outside for weather reasons and also that it would be vulnerable to mischief.

Precisely Mike.  I would not want any rust in my panel box.  Why say it's okay?  I had no choice but to stick to my guns.

That's what I mean by the Golden Rule, Joe.  What I wouldn't want for me, I wouldn't want for my clients!

Doesn't make sense to me either Richie.

Slight rust from condensation is one thing Robert, I agree.  But not from water and its intrusion!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

No salt in the air here Gary!  This was water pure and simple!

Until it happens Raymond.  And then life experience becomes a cruel, but effective, teacher.

Agreed Kat.  None for me either.  If an electrician thinks it's okay and you buy it, well, have a nice day.

Marc - this water intrusion is pretty evident.  And the fix is certainly outdoors.

For me too Tom.  Why shoot me?  I am only trying to protect.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

All true Andrew.  Keep your powder dry!

Bill - in the case of the house above it is being fixed!

Christine - that's because our CEU classes all say that!  We listen, and see photos, in those classes.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

Fortunately, I have only had one inspection where the inspector reported a rusty box.  The seller took care of this and everyone was happy..

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) almost 5 years ago

You hit it on the head. Would the agent want to move into that home with that panel? Not in a 100 years. But the big bad inspector who notes it is just a deal killer. That's stupid X10. 

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) almost 5 years ago

Jay - My vote is that any rust in an electrical panel is too much... call me a purist, but I still believe that water & electricity shouldn't mix.

Posted by AJ Heidmann ~ CRS, YOUR Alexandria & Arlington, VA Real Estate Expert (McEnearney Associates, Inc.) almost 5 years ago

We all live in different places. Electrical panels outdoors or in detached sheds is very unusual here. Thats still doesen't mean that I don't see rust in them though. Plumbing leaks and condensation are the usual; culprets.

I don't worry too much about rust on panel wall faces but corrosion on the contacts and support points should trigger a call for correction.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 5 years ago

I'm no electrician, but I've always been taught that water and electricity are a dangerous combination!  Just ask Oddjob:

Oddjob electrocuted

Posted by Tg Glazer - The Right Realtor® for the Right Results!, Westfield/Cranford, NJ area (Coldwell Banker, Westfield, NJ) almost 5 years ago

I would agree some rust is normal. My concern is when there is corrosion, oxidation on the terminals, connections. Or the breakers look like they have been repeatedly dunked like a donut. The panel above looks like it was part of water feature. No goodo. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 5 years ago

Bob - replacement is the way to go.  Electricity is unpredictable when components are wet, or have been wet enough to rust over time.

Joan - smart everyone!

Scott - I have never before gotten a note from a buyer telling me that I was inaccurate and tried to jeopardize the sale!  Inaccurate?  When components are rusty they are rusty.

AJ - that seems to be the consensus of the IEEE folks!

And it did in this house Roger!  It had been rented for some time and the owner apparently had no idea.  They did replace the box and fix the shed.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

OddJob was a great character Tg.  That is the perfect scenario for this box!

Jim - it looks a bit like the diverter at the bottom of the zen garden water feature.  Your Spanish is looking good too.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 5 years ago

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