Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok(FPE Stab-Lok®) panels were in wide use from 1960 until the mid-80s. These electrical panels have a well-documented failure rate. While FPE Stab-Lok®circuit breaker panels may still deliver electricity to branch circuits, their failures are normally limited to the circuit break failing to function during an overload condition. These electrical panels have also been known to have failures where the circuit breaker attaches to the buss bars. Poor attachment at the buss bars can lead to heat and induced resistance that leads to more heat and carbon on the buss bars. One of the best ways to determine if circuit breaker attachment at the buss bars is failing is by use of a thermal imaging cameras and or by removing the breakers from the buss bars for inspection. This should only be performed by a licensed electrician trained to do so. This does not negate the fact that the circuit breakers themselves can and do fail to trip under overload conditions. This means the circuit can be overloaded by plug in devices along the branch circuit that can cause the wiring system of the home to run at temperatures that are higher than recommended. Simply replacing the circuit breaker does not resolve the problem. These breakers are inherently defective. As a professional Certified Master Home Inspector in the state of California we no longer inspect Federal Pacific Electrical Panels because of their latent hazards. These panels are called out as defective and should be replaced.
Generally these panels are easily identified by their orange operator handles. However some breakers have been replaced with overseas replacements that are gray or black in color.
Fraudulent FPE Stab-Lok®: In 2002 in a class-action lawsuit in New Jersey, the court ruled that over many years federal Pacific had violated the New York consumer fraud act. Specifically, the court found that federal Pacific knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards as indicated in their label. This constitutes an unlawful practice prescribed by the act. The Court's decision which was based on extensive evidence that includes federal Pacific's own documents, confirming long-standing allegations of federal Pacific's fraudulent testing practices.
FPE Stab-Lok® fire hazard: In addition to the failure of these circuit breakers to protect a building and its occupants from dangerous overcurrents, switching an FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker to the “off” position may leave the breaker “on” internally, risking serious or fatal electrical shock. Based on failure studies and field reports, experts estimate that FPE Stab-Lok® panels cause significant annual property damage losses, injuries, and deaths each year.
Moreover federal Pacific electrical circuit breaker panels do not meet NEC requirements for protecting the branch circuits against overload. This was proven during multiple test of the circuit breakers that fail to trip during overload conditions. Read More..
The Consumer Products Safety Board also recognizes that to properly test a circuit breaker it must be tested under overload conditions and a wide variety of circuit breakers must be tested. Recently the consumer product safety board closed its investigation against federal Pacific circuit breaker panels.
Article where they conducted limited testing on two pole circuit breakers which are more commonly found in commercial applications. While two pole circuit breakers are used residentially, it is in limited quantities. According to the consumer product safety board and I quote. "The Commission staff estimates that it would cost several million dollars to gather the data necessary to assess fully whether those circuit breakers that are installed in homes but which may fail UL calibration tests present a risk to the public. Based on the Commission's limited budget ($34 million for fiscal year), the known hazards the Commission has identified and must address (involving products of other manufacturers) and the uncertainty of the results of such a costly investigation, the Commission has decided not to commit further resources to its investigation of FPE's circuit breakers. However, despite its decision to close this particular investigation, the Commission will continue its investigation of circuit breakers generally. The Commission can reopen its investigation of FPE circuit breakers if further information warrants."
In closing if you're home inspector has called a federal Pacific electrical panel as being a safety hazard it is in your family's best interest to update the panel.
We hope our findings as a home inspectors helps you understand the value of getting Certified Master Home Inspection.
David Salvato Father of Three, Blogger, Builder and Repairman of stuff my kids break! All round happy person.