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Inspecting Pushmatic Circuit Breakers

Pushmatic circuit breakers were introduced to the market in the 1950’s. The original Pushmatic breakers were manufactured until the late 1960’s. The Pushmatic breakers are more of a large “button” style instead of the more modern handle style circuit breakers.  Before we address the actual inspection of Pushmatic breakers, let’s examine the way the Pushmatic operates and is constructed. Modern circuit breakers utilize a combination of a magnetic and thermal mechanism to interrupt the circuit. This is a “belt & suspender” fail safe for the circuit. Early Pushmatic breakers only had a thermal mechanism, providing only one method to interrupt the circuit. I am unaware of any fires caused by these early breakers. When inspecting an electric panel employing Pushmatic circuit breakers, here are some of the items we should be looking for:

In addition to everything else we look for in an electric panel, pay close attention to the position of the Pushmatic breaker. Pushmatic breakers are bolted into the Main Service Panel not “snapped in” like modern lever type breakers. Visually ensure that the breaker is not loose and pushed completely down (if in the on position) or is completely up (if in the off position). The early Pushmatic breakers may not be fully engaged because they were lubricated and may be difficult to operate after several years. If you look at the breaker when it is in the on position or pushed fully down, you will see word “on”. If disengaged, or if the breaker is in the up position, the words “off” will be visible. One of the other problems with the early Pushmatic breakers is that they became stuck between off and on. This would pose a quandary and safety issue for the homeowner or electrician working on a circuit. Another problem experienced by the early Pushmatic’s is the ability to reset. The breaker will not stay down or in the “on” position. If you see any of these issues, the breaker should be replaced. Always recommend a qualified electrician evaluate and upgrade as necessary. Newer Pushmatic replacements do not have these problems and are safe. It also should be noted that replacement Pushmatic breakers must be properly matched for the electric panel. Not all replacements will fit all panels.  Newer Pushmatic replacements are quite expensive and it may be wise recommending that your client upgrade the Main Service Panel with new modern style circuit breakers.

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