If you’re looking for breakers to fit a Sylvania electric panel, your home must’ve been built before the 1990s.
Some of the electric panels, breakers, and fuses manufactured throughout the years that used to meet regulations at the time of their installations have outlived their lifespan or become unsafe due to regulatory reforms or product deficiencies detected after being in service for some time. Many of those panels would never receive today’s UL listing.
The Sylvania name originated in 1931 with the formation of The Hygrade Sylvania Corporation. After multiple acquisitions and mergers, it finally became GTE Sylvania in 1959 with its Challenger branch manufacturing a line of light commercial and residential products.
When another manufacturer known as Zinsco ceased operations in the 1970s, Sylvania bought the company identifying the production under Zinsco-Sylvania and GTE-Sylvania-Zinsco and produced popular electric panels installed in homes during the 1970s.
Zinsco has since become defunct due to safety issues, leaving many homes failing to meet current safety regulations and at risk.
The GTE-Sylvania electrical equipment product line ceased to exist in the mid-1980s.
Check out Zinsco supplies on Amazon.
The Zinsco Designs & Flaws
A few common issues with the Zinsco concept begins with their use of aluminum wiring in some of its components, which in time will rust and decrease its conductivity causing the affected component to overheat.
A couple more problems would result from the ease of bus bars getting damaged, and also as the instability of the breakers that can slide down the bus bar if the breaker below is missing.
Considering the breaker itself, its tripping mechanism sometimes gets jammed letting you believe that the breaker is off when it is really still on and not providing its intended protection.
The jammed mechanism will also prevent the breaker from tripping thus allowing too much current to flow through generating excessive heat causing it to arc and melt, practically welding it tight to the bus bar.
The overload of current that is drawn through the circuit’s wiring can lead to the wires melting or damaging internal components within the breaker keeping it from operating properly and leading to a significant fire or shock hazard.
The Zinsco electric panels are believed to fail to operate properly as much as 25% of the time leaving you at risk for fire and electric shock.
The fact that those breakers can sometimes be switched in the off position and in fact still be conducting electricity leaves you at high risk for serious electric shock.
Therefore, if you’re in doubt about the identity of your panel, you should never attempt to open it up for servicing or even to replace a breaker yourself—leave it instead to a licensed electrician whose qualifications and experience will let him recognize any of the malfunctions within, even for the internal and imperceptible defects.
Identifying Your Sylvania Panel
There are several ways to identify if you’re dealing with the Zinsco panel.
One of the easiest and most obvious ways is by the vertical line of color-coded circuit breaker toggles running down the center of the electric panel.
Zinsco panels also typically bear their diamond-shaped logo at the top of their panel.
The Zinsco-Sylvania and the GTE-Sylvania-Zinsco labels in Figure 1 also identify the faulty Zinsco panels.
Because of the deficiencies and the adverse effects encountered with these panels, any panel manufactured under those brand names should be replaced.
Finding a Substitute Breaker
Not all Sylvania and GTE-Sylvania brand panels are dangerous. It is strongly suggested, however, that you get it inspected by a reliable certified electrician before attempting to find substitute breakers—don’t forget also that just because it fits doesn’t make it right, since it has to be tested and listed for that panel in order to be compliant.
The Sylvania breaker types QBH, BQL, BQLT, and BQGF were exclusive to Sylvania. When Sylvania was turned over to Challenger in the late 1950s and later rolled over to the Cutler-Hammer division at Eaton, they were not carried over.
If your circuit panel uses bolt-in breakers, you could maybe try the Cutler-Hammer Type BAB bolt-in breaker and see if it's the same. Cutler-Hammer also has a Type QBHW that may work.
The 3/4-inch QBH type is suitable at 120/240 Vac and is designed to fit the classic CEB, Sylvania, or Commander Electric design bolt-on load centers.
GTE-Sylvania has now been gone for over 35 years, so if you’re buying an older home or looking at electrical modifications in your 35 year-old-plus house, you can now make sure of what you’re dealing with and make a sound educated decision.
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