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3 Facts to Know About Corrosion in an Electrical Panel

Electrical Panel
Electrical panels give you easy access to your home's entire electrical system through the circuit breakers. If you accidentally trip a circuit and discover red rust or white corrosion when you open the panel, you need to take immediate action.
Pinpointing the cause of a corroded electrical panel is essential to preventing the problem from returning, but you also need to address the rust with the help of an electrician to keep your electrical panel from breaking down further.
Learn more about what causes corrosion to form in an electrical panel, how the corrosion's location indicates the cause of the corrosion, and what the different repair options are.

1. What Causes Corrosion

Moisture
All forms of corrosion that occur inside of an electrical panel require moisture in some form. A simple roof or wall leak near the panel or the loss of the seal around the incoming feeder line allows rainwater to drip directly into the breaker box. If a panel stays dry, no way for corrosion to form exists, regardless of the age of the equipment.
Humidity
You don't need an actual leak to cause rust in an electrical panel if you live in a humid environment. Seasonal changes that bring humid conditions may leave the exterior and interior of the electrical panel covered in rust. Installing the breaker box outdoors is a common cause of corrosion due to dew and air humidity, especially when you use a standard box instead of a weatherproof one.
Aside from causing rust, humid air can cause circuits to trip repetitively. Even if your panel is indoors, ambient humidity may cause rust and corrosion to form if the panel is located in or near a bathroom or kitchen. Laundry rooms often double as utility closets and contain electrical panels, but the humidity coming from the hot water and evaporation in the dryer could cause rust issues.
Issues With Sealing
Since the electrical panel inside your home has to connect to a power meter located on the exterior, a chance of moisture traveling in through that connection always exists. Electrical panels sometimes develop rust because of a lack of sealing around this connection. An electrician can easily seal the opening in your wall or roof where the wiring runs so that the corrosion doesn't return.

2. What the Location of Rust Demonstrates

The location of the rust or corrosion is often the biggest indicator of what causes the rust. Rust on the tops, sides, and door of an electrical panel generally forms due to dripping water from a leak or high air humidity. This kind of rust is generally safe to remove and paint over as long as the damage hasn't weakened the electrical panel's structure.
When corrosion develops on the circuit breakers and connector bars instead, the rust is usually white and crusty instead of red and flaky.
White corrosion still indicates a source of moisture entering the box, but unlike red surface rust, an electrician can't simply brush the corrosion away and paint over it. The electrician must replace any circuits or bars that corrode because the corrosion has impaired their ability to conduct electricity. This impairment poses a fire risk.

3. What Your Options for Repair Are

Small patches of surface rust on the metal electrical panel box itself are safe to cover with a durable paint. You should still let an electrician handle the painting to ensure no other damage happens since paint on the breakers or bus bars interferes with safe electrical operation. The best option is to replace the breaker box, along with the connector bars and circuits inside.
Arrange for an inspection of your electrical panel from us here at Richardson Ready Electric Incorporated. We'll make sure you have no rust or corrosion damaging your electrical system.