There has been and continues to be a lot of discussion about the safety of Federal Pacific (FPE) “Stab-Lok” circuit breaker panels and the fact that they may have inherent defects. The result of the defect has linked them to numerous electrical fires.
There is no supporting evidence from any government agency or regulatory authority stating that these FPE panels are unsafe and should be replaced. There has not been a recall by the consumer product safety commission. If you have one of these FPE panels or intend to purchase a home that has one of these FPE panels, we suggest that you talk with your electrician and decide what is right for you and your family.
As a Home Inspector, this information puts us in a very difficult situation when we perform a whole house Home Inspection. These FPE breaker panels do “perform their intended function” when performing a visual inspection. The panel does not “initiate” an unsafe condition, which leaves us in the precarious position of knowing that a latent problem may exist in a breaker panel that we check off as “performing intended function”.
The following has been said about Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” panels:
That these panels pose a latent threat and could be a hazard. The circuit breakers may fail to trip in the case of an overload or short-circuit. A circuit breaker that fails to trip could cause a fire or personal injury.
The problem with Federal pacific breaker panels is that some of the double pole 220 volt circuit breakers and some of the single pole 120 volt circuit breakers may not operate as intended if overloaded. A good breaker trips turning off the power to that circuit if it is overloaded. Federal Pacific breakers appear not to trip every time which could result in a fire.
Published reports of tests conducted on FPE two pole 220 volt circuit breakers indicate that under certain conditions one leg/pole may attempt to trip the breaker. The result is a circuit that stays live, and a circuit breaker that has been compromised and when reset, will not trip the next time it is under any excessive load.
In many instances the breakers are loose and fall out when the cover is removed. Loose contacts can also be the cause of arcing which is a spark that can result in a fire. Unfortunately these panels appear to work perfectly during normal operation allowing electricity to flow without any problems or symptoms giving a false sense of security.
The real question for you is, what will your panel do if it is overloaded or there is a short in the wiring?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) did conduct product testing of these FPE breakers and found that their failure rates were significant. The CPSC’s advice concerning these panels is for consumers to avoid overloading circuits as well as to turn off and have examined any devices that are causing the circuit breakers to trip. (This is easier said than done and defeats the whole point for having the breaker.)
Federal Pacific Electric’s statement in response to this problem is cautious in tone:
“FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels“.
It should be noted that Federal Pacific is no longer in business.
Aftermarket breakers are available for these panels. Most of these panels are large and had a lot of circuits and the cost of replacing all the breakers is often more than the cost of installing a new panel and to anyone buying your property at a later stage, it still has a Federal Pacific (defective) panel.
There was a class action lawsuit initiated. We believe that the lawsuit has been discontinued. The attorney’s phone number is no longer in service.
Based on the above information and in the interests of safety,
we recommend that our clients consult with a qualified electrician and discuss the replacement of these panels.