We live in a '61 Eichler in Terra Linda/San Rafael with the original circuit panel. One of our 30amp circuit breakers is on the blink and we're advised by some Eichler owners to just go ahead and spend the ~$1700-$1800 to have the entire panel replaced, complete with permit. We're also told that these Zinsco circuit breakers are not being manufactured anymore. But my uncle has one and is willing to replace it for us(he's a retired electrician.) Can someone weigh in on the pros and cons of replacing the entire panel vs. just switching an individual circuit breaker?
some folks have pointed to zinsco panels as "dangerous" (specific to the brand/design as it relates to a potential equipment fault and fire hazard) and many folks have had them replaced. it's pretty easy to read up on the dangers of the design.
in our models (1963), the individual 15A runs were pretty maxed out (some covering 2+ rooms) and the 100A service was a bit amemic overall. if you're planning on staying in the house and plan to add anything electrical (AC, new kitchen circuits for a remodel, hot tub, etc.) you might think to have the existing 100A service upgraded to 200A and the existing zinsco panel replaced at the same time.
we've also found that -- in our area -- there's only so many upgrades that can be supported by a particular transformer. we were able to upgrade to 200A, but our neighbor was limited by PG+E to a 125A upgrade (lesson = be first in line).
or... pro = cost savings // con = potential/known fire hazard
another way to look at it: "One of our 30amp circuit breakers is on the blink" ... there's a lot of current going through a 30A breaker and if it's failing, that's bad news as it relates to the aforementioned fire hazard. fortunately, this is a failed breaker that you've discovered on your own... how much do you want to press your luck?
Indeed, these old panels are a mess and a safety hazard. We recently had ours replaced with a new 125A panel in conjunction with some electrical upgrades. You can get a number of additional breakers in a new panel (ours is square D combo all-in-one) without upgrading your service entrance, this making it possible to add new dedicated circuits for TV, computers, etc. without a huge PG&E project.
an unsolicited ' 2 Cents Worth'
Low Amperage circuit breakers go bad occasionally and are easy and inexpensive to replace. Your Dad can carefully inspect your main panel and see if there are any problems brewing. Bad connections create lots of heat and problems. Some Cities (such as Palo Alto) make electricians torque each wiring connection right in front of the Inspector. Many contractors complain about this, but City officials are preventing future problems.
The most expensive electrical panel problems are not from wiring, but come from bad connections where the circuit breakers physically connect to the metal 'buss bars' (various spellings). These are the vertical internal metal bars that connect to the big wires that enter through the top of the panel from the roof. To become powered, circuit breakers snap onto these metal bars. A bad connection here easily damages the 'bar', creates a lot of heat and often ruins the whole panel along with some of the wiring.
...now for the two cents worth of opinion....only replace the breaker right now. The most economical method would be to wait until you are remodeling, adding electrical circuits, installing solar and/or doing other electrical work to upgrade the panel. The Modern Eichler should have a 200 amp panel. If you use very little power, install the 200 amp panel anyway....since it costs very little more and affects the value of your Eichler.
Randy from Dura-Foam Roofing and Solar Center
A 200A panel is NOT required to have a "modern Eichler". We added a sauna, outdoor kitchen, and additional lighting simply by upgrading to a larger 125A panel with more breakers. All fully permitted. There's still room reserved for an electric car charger. Going to 200A requires a service upgrade from PG&E, and given many Eichlers (including ours) have underground utilities, you're talking thousands of dollars extra for the pleasure. Don't waste your money.
Individual 15A were pretty maxed out (some covering 2+ rooms) and the 100A service was a bit amemic overall. if you're planning on staying in the house and plan to add anything electrical (AC, new kitchen circuits for a remodel, hot tub, etc.) you might think to have the existing 100A service upgraded to 200A and the existing zinsco panel replaced at the same time. Some folks have pointed to zinsco or cutler hammer panels as "dangerous" and many folks have had them replaced. Westinghouse is solid and it's pretty easy to read up on the dangers of the design. We've also found that there's only so many circuit breakers that can be supported by a particular transformer. we were able to upgrade to 200A, but our neighbor was limited by PG+E to a 125A upgrade (lesson = be first in line).
You really have multiple issues here: First and foremost - the electrical panel IS dangerous, with inherent faults in design and construction, as are the individual breakers. Proven by multiple catastrophic failures. Damage (often hidden) can be done just by removing and inserting breakers. There's no way to "test" a breaker short of destructive testing. Any UL approval on replacement breakers are null and void.
Second, the layout of your home vs. the number of breakers is outdated by multiple revisions of the NEC. You have too many circuits in too many locations on too few breakers. It was marginally allowed back then, it's not now.
Third, you really should upgrade to the latest ground-fault and arc-flash technology.
How much is your family's safety and peace of mind worth?