May Leave Homes Open to Hazards

Challenger panels were installed in hundreds of thousands of homes during the 80’s and 90’s.

Over the years it was discovered that 2 types of circuit breakers manufactured by Challenger are overheating under NORMAL conditions at the connection point to the busbar. This causes expansion and contraction which in turn causes arcing between the circuit breaker and the busbar damaging both. This continues over time until these components actually melt down completely, causing hazardous conditions such as fire and/or shock hazard.

Is your GTE-Sylvania (Challenger) electrical panel safe? Do you have an electrical breaker panel in your home that has the name GTE-Sylvania on it?

At one point GTE-Sylvania purchased the problematic Zinsco electrical panel line. But is your GTE-Sylvania (Challenger) panel really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing! For many people the history part of any home building component is a boring subject. Unfortunately in this case it is important to touch on the history of the GTE-Sylvania electrical breaker panel line, at least some what, to understand how this issue came to be. Especially, when we are discussing Challenger, because of the lack of information about this particular line of panels. If you Google search “GTE-Sylvania & Defect” you will encounter page after page of bulletin board postings, blogs, articles, etc., regarding the problems associated with this line of electrical panel. Many of those WEB references will also make mention of the Zinsco line of electrical panel. This is where the GTE-Sylvania brand name became associated with problems. Unfortunately, there is virtually no information about the Challenger line. I suppose this is because the Challenger line is newer and has only begun to show symptoms over the last few years.

Zinsco was a company that GTE-Sylvania purchased approximately in 1973. Over the years though the companies, and brand lines, were sold off multiple times. As a result the amount of specific information was buried in these transactions. The specific dates of the transactions, who bought what, etc., is not really available in one place. 

The order though went something like this:

  • GTE-Sylvania bought the Zinsco Company in 1973.
  • From 1973 to about the early 1980′s was a very sketchy time for the GTE-Sylvania/Zinsco history. During that time GTE-Sylvania continued to sell the Zinsco line under the Zinsco name. They also were reported to have worked on the flawed Zinsco design (to be talked about shortly) and started manufacturing the panels and breakers under their own name. It was also rumored that at one point they might also have tested and checked the existing Zinsco stock of equipment, pulled labels and re-branded them with their own labels. Remember that is only a rumor, but their own line of equipment (Challenger) did suffer many of the Zinsco design problems as well.
  • At this point the line was then sold on from GTE-Sylvania to Challenger Electrical Equipment Corp., to Westinghouse, to Cutler-Hammer, and the last I can find to Eaton Corp.
  • There is not much (barely any) readily available information about The “Challenger” phase of GTE-Sylvania’s history that I could find. It appears they tried to use the same flawed design from the Zinsco circuit breakers in the manufacturing of the Challenger circuit breakers. Specifically the way the circuit breaker connects to the busbar as the problems are the same for both brands (overheating and arcing on the busbar) causing severe damage and fire hazard.

From the time of its inception at Zinsco, through Challenger, to the Eaton ownership, the line has been modified, re-branded, and eventually discontinued. During that progression the details are buried and lost.

After all who really wants to be associated with such a stigma of a product that was once thought to be groundbreaking but instead has turned into such an problem?

The large gaps between the contact points are the problem with these types of circuit breakers. This large gap prevents a tight connection to the busbar which causes overheating and arcing between the two. Thus damaging the circuit breaker AND the busbar as well as great potential for fire ignition. (See figures 3 and 4)

Damage caused by Challenger Panels

These are pictures of a Challenger, Double Pole 125 amp Breaker being “backfed” and used as a Main Breaker in a residential application. This was common practice in the 1970’s and 80’s.

This almost started a fire in this home! Fortunately, the occupants were there and smelled the odor from the melting breaker and called Harrys Electric We have replaced several of these panels in the same condition

How do I identify a Challenger panel?

A Challenger panel is easy to identify first by the latch on the door front of the cover. It will say Challenger right on it. (See Figure 1)
Also when the panel door is open you will find the Challenger logo on the label. (See Figure 2)

What Should a Homeowner Do?

The circuit breaker panel is one of the most important parts of a home’s electrical system. It constantly distributes and receives electricity. The panel protects homes from power surges and other possible hazards. With regular maintenance by a licensed electrician, experts say that today’s electrical panels can function properly and protect homes for 30 years or more.

If you suspect that you may have a Federal Pacific Electric, Zinsco, Challenger, or an outdated circuit breaker panel in your home, or in any event, you have not had your panel inspected recently, you owe it to yourself and your family to contact Harrys electric  for an inspection.

Contact Harrys electric , a licensed electrical contractor in your community that is familiar with the potential hazards and dangers of Federal Pacific Electric, Zinsco, Challenger, and outdated panels and is willing to provide you with an In-Home Safety Analysis of your circuit breaker panel. (This analysis can be done for FREE in some cases.)