Imagine that it’s a typical day at home, and as you lean against the wall near your electrical panel, you notice it feels unusually warm. A warm electrical panel should not be overlooked. What causes this, and what are the safety implications for your home’s electrical system?
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2021, residential building electrical malfunctions in the United States led to 24,200 fires, 295 deaths, 900 injuries, and property losses amounting to approximately $1.2 billion.
While vital for our day-to-day lives, electrical systems are complex and difficult to understand, but one thing that should be easy to understand is that a hot electrical panel is not a normal occurrence. It indicates a potential issue within the system and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are overloading it, but that can definitely be one potential cause.
There are a host of possible reasons why an electrical panel might heat up, and conducting a thorough assessment when you feel heat radiating from your electrical panel should be anyone’s first step in tackling the problem.
Reason #1: Overcrowding in the Electrical Panel
An electrical panel can become overcrowded when there are more circuits than it is designed to handle. This overcrowding leads to an increase in heat as the circuits compete for space and capacity, similar to how a room becomes warmer when filled with people.
Reason #2: Aging Components in the Electrical Panel
As with any system, the components of an electrical panel age over time. Worn-out components, such as circuit breakers, may become less efficient at handling the electrical load, leading to an increase in heat. This is often a sign that these components need to be inspected or replaced.
Reason #3: Loose Connections in the Electrical Panel
Loose connections within an electrical panel pose a significant safety hazard. These can lead to electrical arcing, where electricity jumps across gaps between conductors, creating excess heat and potentially dangerous conditions. Addressing loose connections promptly is crucial for the safety and efficiency of your electrical system.
Forensic investigators identified poor electrical connections as one of the top three causes of electrical panel heat. They can generate high wattage over a small area for an extended period, leading to glowing connections and increased resistance, which in turn causes power dissipation. Heat, in other words.
Reason #4: Faulty Breakers
A common issue that can cause an electrical panel to overheat is a faulty breaker. When circuit breakers malfunction, they may not effectively regulate the electrical load, leading to excessive heat and reduced protection against overloads. When breakers begin to wear out, it’s time to get an inspection and have them replaced by qualified professionals.
Reason #5: Inadequate Size of the Electrical Panel
An electrical panel that is too small for a home’s current electrical demands can lead to overheating. This is particularly common in older homes that may not be equipped to handle the electrical load required by modern appliances and electronics. Upgrading to a larger panel that can accommodate the increased demand is necessary to prevent overheating and ensure safety.
Reason #6: Poor or Outdated Wiring
Inefficient or antiquated wiring is a common reason for an electrical panel to overheat. Outdated wiring is not only inefficient, but it also poses the risk of causing excessive heat buildup and potentially even fire. Addressing issues with wiring requires professional intervention to ensure that the home’s electrical system is rewired safely and meets current standards.
Reason #7: Insulation Breakdown and Arc Tracking
Insulation breakdown is another often overlooked cause for overheating. It can lead to parallel short circuits and arcs that may ignite nearby combustibles. A specific form of this is wet arc tracking, where a conductive liquid makes contact with an electrical circuit, leading to leakage current across an insulator. This can grow into arc tracking, which may be hot enough to ignite combustibles. Examples include salt water on aquarium electrical devices or rinse aid in a dishwasher leaking onto internal wiring.
Ignoring a hot electrical panel, even if it seems minor, is not an option. Similar to overlooking a car’s check engine light, neglecting this issue can escalate into more severe and costly problems. More importantly, it presents a significant safety risk. Regardless of the root cause, a hot electrical panel can potentially result in an electrical fire.
Professional Assistance for Electrical Panel Issues
Professional electricians like ours at HR Phoenix play a crucial role not only in addressing but also in preventing issues. Regular maintenance and inspections by qualified technicians can help you avoid expensive repairs and ensure the continued safety of your electrical system.
It is important to remember that addressing issues with an electrical panel should never be a DIY project. The complexity and potential dangers associated with electrical work make professional expertise a requirement on this type of job. Our professionals at HR Phoenix have the necessary skills and tools to safely and effectively resolve these issues without putting themselves or your home at risk.
That said, understanding the reasons behind an overheating electrical panel can be a great learning experience for homeowners. Below, are a few more potential reasons why your electrical panel might be getting hot.
Check the Load
Begin by assessing what is plugged into the outlet. An outlet that is heating up due to powering numerous appliances simultaneously is likely overloaded. Redistributing the electrical load by unplugging some appliances can alleviate the issue. However, if the outlet remains hot even when minimally loaded, this indicates a deeper problem that requires professional attention.
Inspect for Damage
Visually inspect the outlet for any signs of damage such as scorch marks or a distorted appearance. These signs often point to a history of electrical stress and the potential for hazardous conditions. If such damage is observed, it’s crucial to refrain from using the outlet and contact a qualified electrician immediately.
Mind the Smell
A noticeable odor resembling burning plastic is a common indicator of an overheated outlet. This distinct smell is a clear warning sign of potential electrical danger and should prompt a call for professional electrical services.
Watch the Breaker Box
Keep an eye on the performance of your circuit breakers. Breakers that frequently trip or fail to remain in the ‘On’ position could indicate an issue with your electrical panel overheating. This could be due to an excessive load on a particular circuit or a fault in the breaker itself. Also, if you notice labels fading, refresh them. Clearly and accurately labelled circuit breakers can save your electrician time and frustration when trying to diagnose electrical issues.
Rely on the Local Experts
If you’ve noticed that your outlet cover or electrical panel has been getting hot, it’s an unmistakable sign that something is wrong. As you’ve seen, the specific cause can be anything ranging from overloaded circuits to insulation breakdown or wet arc tracking. It’s always safer and more prudent to seek the expertise of licensed professionals like ours at HR Phoenix to address these kinds of electrical issues. You can count on our team for assistance with the complete spectrum of electrical or plumbing concerns in the Richland Hills area.
Contact us at HR Phoenix for a comprehensive evaluation and expert solutions to all of your electrical needs. Remember, early intervention can prevent more serious problems down the line.