I would never have imagined that it was possible to have a leak behind an electrical panel, but it happened to a close friend of mine a few months ago.
I wanted to find some more information about this, so I took to the internet to see if anyone else has ever had this problem and to my surprise, I found out that this is a common problem for electricians to get called about.
The most common reason for a leak behind the electrical panel begins outside in the meter box from water leaking in.
It should go without saying, but it’s important enough for me to say it anyway, that if you have water leaking behind or anywhere near your electrical panel, you should not attempt to fix the problem yourself. Anytime water and electricity come together; there could be a severe risk of electrocution. Only a licensed electrician should try to go near it.
How Can Water Get in an Electrical Panel?
There are a few different ways that water can end up in your electrical panel. The most common method is for water to enter the electrical meter on the outside of your home when it rains, either through cracks, holes, or an open case itself.
The water that gets into the meter box will end up on the meter box cables inside. Older cables have a protective outer coating that over time begins to deteriorate, which causes them to absorb water. Because these cables run the entire distance from the inside of the meter box, all the way down to your electrical panel, the water has a clear path to travel.
Even newer cables could have a similar problem. Electricians use a tacky putty that acts as a seal between the wire and the meter box. Over time that putty begins to lose its elasticity, or starts to crack, allowing water to get past, and again travel down the cables right into the electrical panel.
A few other common ways for water to get in your electrical panel are:
- A lot of the time, an electrical panel is mounted in the basement on the other side of the wall where the electrical box is located on the exterior of the building. When it rains, or the snow begins to thaw, the water will find it’s way down the foundation and through the hole where the electrical wires come into the home. Causing leaks behind the electrical panel.
- Some DIY home renovation guys have been known to install piping right above an electrical panel. This wouldn’t pass a home inspection, but it has been known to cause some problems for the homeowners down the road.
- Condensation that is due to a high humidity level in the home.
What Happens if a Circuit Breaker Gets Wet?
One thing that you don’t want to get wet is the circuit breaker. Water inside of a circuit breaker could wreak havoc on the electrical components and cause some severe damage. Depending on how long the circuit breaker has been exposed to the water leak, such as weeks, months, or years, corrosion can ruin the connections between meter cable, screw terminals and the branch circuit wiring that begins to go throughout your home.
Corrosion is terrible because it will cause an increase of resistance within the circuits, which will increase the resistance in an electrical circuit. In layman’s terms, more heat is produced, and when more heat is generated, the risk of a fire is there.
If you notice any sign of corrosion, you should immediately contact a licensed electrician and have them come out to inspect the damage. In some cases, the electrician might be able to scrape off any corrosion on screw terminals and wires. The circuit breaker might have to be replaced to avoid any mechanical failure down the road.
Often you might not be able to see any visible damage to the circuit breaker, but the inside could be rusted to the point where it does not function properly. Inside of the circuit breaker is a little piece of metal that will expand when heated. When it expands far enough, it will trip the breaker and shutoff to avoid danger or damaging itself.
When there is enough corrosion inside of the circuit breaker, it could cause the little piece of metal to stick and not trip the breaker. Anytime you think that your circuit breaker might have been exposed to water, it is always a good idea to replace it.
Can a Water Leak Cause a Fire?
A water leak could cause a fire when a water leak comes in contact with a service panel, over time that will begin to create a rusty white look on the metal parts which is corrosion. Corrosion can ruin the connections between the service cable wiring, and the branch circuit wiring, causing them to produce heat, which could lead to starting a fire.
Condensation in Circuit Breaker Box
If you are noticing that your circuit breaker box has condensation in it, whatever you do, do not try touching anything inside. The potential of electrocution is there.
The reason you might have condensation in the circuit breaker box is because of a high level of humidity in the air. I’ve talked to several electricians who told me that they had seen condensation in a circuit breaker box on sweltering hot days.
The hot air will find cracks and make its way down into the circuit breaker where the wires come in. That warm air is meet with cold air which is what causes the condensation to form.
To help stop this, an electrician could take some duct seal and seal off all the penetrations made by the wiring. Make sure to seal off all of the wires including those for the feeder, service wires, and branch wires. Make sure to completely wrap around the wires to prevent any further airflow from passing through.
Another thing, if your basement is not adequately vented and the humidity levels fluctuate, a dehumidifier will help keep the humidity level in check.
Once the problem has still be fixed, you are going to want still to have a licensed electrician take a look at the circuit breaker and make sure that the condensation hasn’t caused any corrosion damage.
Can You Caulk Around Outdoor Meter Box?
I found a thread online where someone was asking if they can caulk all around their meter box to avoid water leakage.
The consensus is that you can seal around the top and the sides of your meter box but not the bottom of it. The reason for this is, if any water does make it past the seal it’ll need a way to escape so by leaving the bottom un-caulked the water has an escape route.
You shouldn’t caulk around the meter box if its build into the siding on your home either. The reason given for this was that you don’t want the water to seep through some bad seals and get caught behind your siding.
Anytime you have water leaking on your electrical box, the best option is for you not to touch it, and call a professional. The professional is trained to deal with this sort of problem, and they know what they are looking for.