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I'm asking about my parents brick single family home that we are the original owners from around the late 50s. We were planning to sell the house and had the village come in to see what might need to be "updated" or corrected before selling. On the list was to label all breakers in the panel, as some were not labeled. It is the old Pushmatic panel which is said to cause fires and needs to be changed but he said it looked good, so no need now, so on to the question.

I found one 15A breaker was supplying power (lights & outlets) to the Master bedroom, 2nd bedroom, hall light, all 3 bathrooms, basement main lights and a front outside outlet. I had the panel cover off and there was only one 12ga wire going to that breaker which means it is split off to all the other rooms somewhere upstairs in the house. I have no plans on doing anything about it now or before we sell as we never had an issue with the breaker popping in the 50 years we have been there.

The question is, now that everything is labeled, there are 8 stickers next to that one breaker, not sure how much the Buyer's home inspector is going to want a discount on the selling price to have to run home runs for the extra rooms and most likely have to swap out to a new breaker box with more slots, since there are only 8 breakers to use besides the A/C and Dryer double pole ones.

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    I edited to improve formatting, as that tends to make reading and comprehending the question easier. Your 8 labels for the one breaker are most commendable and really shouldn't be considered a problem for a sale. The problem that will possibly trip up a sale is the Pushmatic panel itself. As you noted, they do tend to be problematic, and a new home buyer (or his home inspector) may want a significant discount to replace the panel on his own dime.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:18
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    Does it power both the lights and receptacles in those bathrooms, or just the lights? Aug 12, 2021 at 0:08
  • Freeman thank you for the input with this, the old panel being the bigger issue was my thought too. It wasn't until the village inspector came in and mentioned that many say that panel should be replaced due to faults but he was talking it up on how they were "The Cadillac's" of their time and how he never had a problem with them. Aug 12, 2021 at 2:40
  • ThreePhaseEel the outlets and lights go out in the bedrooms and bathrooms with that breaker and only the outside outlet and downstairs lights too. While another separate breaker (40A) that goes to a sub panel on the other side of the basement into a back room run the basement outlets and some bar lights. My dad did have a few HAM radios set up back there 30 years ago so I guessing he needed extra juice for his "Batcave" setup :) Aug 12, 2021 at 2:46
  • My house from 1940 had the entire upstairs on a single 15A circuit: 3 beds, a full bath, hallway light, and attic lights. It's only an issue if you want to run 2 space heaters or 2-3 window A/C units.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 12, 2021 at 18:51

5 Answers 5

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It is the old Pushmatic panel which is said to cause fires and needs to be changed but he said it looked good

That's the exact opposite of true. Pushmatic is immune to the "bus fire" problem they refer to... and is arguably the finest consumer-tier panel ever made.

There were two panels from that era (Zinsco and Federal Pacific) that had serious design defects where the breaker clips on to the bus. Those defects could not be fixed with a better breaker design, because the clip arrangement itself was faulty. Pushmatics don't have bus clips. They bolt-on — a feature normally reserved for industrial panels.

Unfortunately some sweep Pushmatic into that rogue's gallery. In fact Pushmatics work fine, and the only known problem is the handle action gets stiff due to aging grease. However this does not affect their ability to trip because they "trip free" regardless of handle action (now a requirement of new breakers).

If I were buying the house, I would just install a new main panel (perhaps a meter-main-ranch panel) and make the Pushmatic a subpanel of that.

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This is very typical situation. If you are in a seller's market, it should not be an issue. If you are in one of the few hard to sell areas, they may ask for a credit.

Around Denver, a lot of inspectors write books on everything that is not to current code. My neighbor's house built in 1990 had a 25+ page report on defects. They ended up replacing 2 breakers that had worn labels at the buyer's expense.

My uncle just sold his 1960s house with original everything. The inspector report just said "electrical pre-dates currently adopted code". Buyer's mortgage company asked to have electrician go onsite to determine if electrical was safe. He came out & said it was. Again, this was at buyer's cost.

An older house comes with lots of stuff grand-fathered in. If what the buyer wants is something up to today's code: A) they can have a house built; B) pay a premium for a just-remodeled home; or, C) take it down to the studs and redo it. Real estate agents have to remind their clients of this, a lot...

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TL;DR Totally normal, don't worry about it.

This is typical. My house is very much the same. What actually can be really useful is to draw a diagram of each level of the house with the receptacles and lights numbered to match the breakers. Keep a copy next to the breaker panel for reference.

Most likely you do not have a big junction box somewhere splitting to 8 locations. Far more likely is that you have a daisy-chain of cables from one receptacle/light to the next. This is really quite common and can, if done well, save quite a bit on overall wire cost - which matters to builders - as well as (obviously) breaker cost.

Remember that in the 1950s (your house & mine), there weren't as many high-power plug-in devices. Toaster, vacuum cleaner, etc. are all short-term usage. Plug-in lamps, clocks, radios, TVs, etc. are continuous usage but relatively low power. The big things with continuous usage are portable heaters (which did exist back then, but in a new house with a decent heating system shouldn't be needed) and computers. People weren't printing on laser printers or mining Bitcoin in the 1950s. The one big exception is a home workshop, and my house (and many others) have extra circuits in the basement for exactly that reason.

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That's pretty normal and I would try to de-emphasize when selling. If they let you have one label that says "bed 1,2,3 and bath" then do that. When selling a house don't want to lie to anyone but you don't want to scare buyers away. Let their inspector point out the cost to upgrade and all of that stuff. The point is you want them to get to the point of having it inspected.

If something meets local standards to be sold it is on the buyer to worry about. Often you get bad advice on "fix everything so it is 100% updated code and move-in ready". Well often a buyer will want to do things their way. So you may spend 4k to fix the electric and didn't do something that a buyer wanted and they still see it as an electrical issue - and chances are they could have gotten their things done too at still around that 4k price tag.

Your only concern should be is it a safety issue and will it pass inspection. Otherwise only make repairs where you feel there will for sure be a return on investment. Very typical for older homes to be grand-fathered into compliance for electrical. I buy and sell these. When I buy them I get price reduced based on the work need to be done. When selling I will give the buyer cash/allowance at closing if they think there are upgrades required/needed. Why not just fix most of these things myself? Ha. Opening walls in old houses is like opening a pandora's box. (I only redo electric in houses like yours if it won't pass and I bought on exception - no occupancy - or if I am totally remodeling the house)

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Of course some buyers might try to use it against you ... just as they can use anything at all as a negotiating point. But I think for most buyers meticulous labelling of your breakers will make the house look better. It shows the seller has pride and care and removes one element of the unknown in the purchase. Your negotiating position, if they attempt to use it against you, should be that if a buyer is looking at a 1950s house and wants the wiring to be a specific way, they should buy the house and have at it! No deductions for things that were visible and disclosed during showing.

OTOH ... if you have a buyer for whom this is a sticking point ... if you can find an easy, cheap, way to make minor wiring adjustments that hands the buyer a token negotiating victory, doesn't trigger permit requirements and closes the deal, you should take advantage of that.

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  • This is a slippery slope and definitely speak to your local building dept before something like that. In my area, they would require that entire panel be replaced to add a circuit or move a circuit. Best to stay complaint with permits & codes when selling a property.
    – user140341
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:36
  • @CoHusker do you mean that your town would not allow routine maintenance on an obsolescent panel? IE grandfathering ends even with sensible/required safety improvements? I'm not sure what it is you mean is a slippery slope.
    – jay613
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:42
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    Ok, I should have stuck to "labels good" and not given negotiating advice :O. I changed the answer a bit.
    – jay613
    Aug 11, 2021 at 20:47

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