Home-buyers ask: What is a “dead-front”?

When reading your inspection report you come across this phrase “the dead-front is missing at the electrical panel; this is a safety hazard”. Well, what is a dead-front cover? An electric panel will generally have two covers; an outer cover which will open to access the breakers and an inner cover, called a “Dead Front” that fits around the breakers enclosing the wiring and breaker connections. The dead front cover acts to protect individuals from coming into contact with the live electrical contacts which would pose a shock or even electrocution hazard to anyone access the breakers. Below is one of the inspectors in my company inspecting an extremely dangerous commercial electrical panel system. We had a licensed electrician on-site to remove and re-install the dead-fronts to these very dangerous panels.

What is a dead-front cover?

Michael Gaurnier, ACI inspector working with an electrician to safely access panels

Why called a “Dead Front”?

When the “Dead Front” is missing, the wiring, breakers and the bus bar is exposed. This is very dangerous. If a person comes into contact with or touches the live bus bar, a serious shock or injury could occur. Even death. That is how the name “Dead Front” came about. In fact, I must add that I know two people personally who in fact died from accidentally touching the electrical contacts inside a panel. So what is a dead-front cover? Something that keeps you from being dead.

Missing dead-front covers

Missing dead-front covers

Dead-front Covers

Dead-front Covers on panels


Dead-front removed from panel

Replacing the “Dead Front”

When the “Dead Front” is missing it is wise to replace it as soon as possible. Also, the main cover should be locked and tagged until the Dead Front is properly in place. A number of manufactures have replacement covers for their panels. Here is a great article on how to work with accessing electrical panels and breakers safely.

Cover All Openings In The “Dead Front” Cover

Dead front covers have rectangular shaped slots where breakers are installed. If the cover has slots that are open but no breaker in it then pests may enter the panel, or children or others may inadvertently stick a metallic item in the open space. If there are a number of slots open next to one another and a person accidentally sticks a finger or hand into the open space, then shock or even death may occur.

Who to consult?

Owners should hire or ask someone qualified to put on a “dead front” cover if the missing cover is laying about; the individual installing the cover should be very careful for safety sake when doing so. Electricians and qualified handymen are normally very good at doing this task. Note at times, the proper cover may need to be ordered from the manufacturer. Make-shift sheet-metal covers customized by uncle Fred should not be installed on the panel. So the final answer to what is a dead-front cover? It is a secondary life-safety cover designed and manufactured by the manufacturer for the specific panel. It is a component that should only by removed and installed by qualified personnel.