HOME 101:  Federal Pacific circuit breakers


    We recently inspected a home and found a

Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker panel,

once one of the most common panels installed in

American homes. Most of these FPE  panels have

been replaced, but we still run across one every

once in a while, and it always puts us in a bit of a

quandary. Here’s the problem.


    Certain FPE products -“Stab-lok” circuit breaker

panels and breakers - manufactured between 1965

and 1980, have been proven  to fail under certain

conditions when overloaded, creating a fire hazard.

The breaker panel itself was poorly designed and

has other problems as well. In some instances, the

breakers have been known to fall out when the

cover is removed, causing arcing.


    While these FPE “Stab-lok” products may perform

satisfactorily forever, under normal conditions, they

have been known to cause electrical fires. The Consumer

Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has conducted testing

of these products and found significant failure rates.

While they stop short of condemning and recalling

the products, the CSPC recommends that the consumer

should avoid overloading circuits and to turn off and

have examined any devices that are causing the the circuit

breakers to trip.


    However, in a 2005 class action lawsuit , the New Jersey State Court ruled that FPE “violated the Consumer Fraud Act because they knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards...” An investigation showed that under UL test conditions, the FPE panels failed to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.


    FPE is no longer in business, but believe it or not, you can still purchase replacement after-market breakers. Confusingly, it appears that there are several newer companies now manufacturing electrical equipment under a Federal Pacific name, but not producing “Stab-lok” products. Concerning the older FPE products, in our experience, the responses from qualified electricians range from - “aw, they aren’t so bad” - to flat out refusal to work on an FPE panel.


    So, you can see our problem. How do we tell a client that the electric panel in the house they are thinking of buying is a safety hazard, when it appears to be working properly as intended, and may be fine forever?


    Our position is this. We urge you to replace any FPE “Stab-lok” products in your home or business, regardless of when they were  manufactured or installed. It has been proven that they are a latent fire hazard. The Federal Pacific and “Stab-lok” names should be visible on the panel. We also urge you to have any FPE panel inspected by a qualified electrician.


    There is a mountain of information online regarding these old FPE products. Check it out.

Campbell and Davies LLC    201 Dey St Suite 211 Ithaca, NY 14850   

607 216 0036    fax 607 216 0402   campbellanddavies@yahoo.com   

                                     www.campbelldaviesllc.com

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