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The Hazards of Federal Pacific Electrical Panels

Mar 17, 2021

Estimates suggest that more than 25 million dangerous electrical panels are in use in homes across the United States. One of the most commonly installed circuit breakers during the mid to late 20th century was the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok. Experts recommend that anyone still using one of these hazardous electrical panels contact a professional to schedule an electrical panel replacement.

Why are Federal Pacific Electrical Panels Dangerous?

Investigations indicate that Federal Pacific Electrical (FPE) panels contain defective circuit breakers that create a substantial risk of fires. Some estimates indicate that these dangerous electrical panels cause around 2,800 fires and more than one dozen deaths each year.

Your circuit breaker panel is an important safety feature that reduces the risk of electrical fires. When a power surge, short circuit, or circuit overload impacts your panel, the breaker should cut the power. If the equipment fails, the wires will potentially overheat, leading to a risk of fires.

Suppose you lose power to a part of your home because of breaker trips. The reason for this is that the electrical power is overloading the system. The loss of power might seem irritating, but it is vital for fire prevention.

False Test Reports Left Hazardous Electrical Panels in Homes

Electrical products need to pass certifications. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) carried out these certifications and approved the FPE panels. When Reliance Electric took over FPE in the late 1970s, the company discovered that the Stab-Lok does not meet UL’s standards, but the FPE found ways to trick the tests. The new owners sued the former owners and fired many of the officials who worked with FPE. UL retracted its certification of the dangerous electrical panels.

While reports covered the revelations about the panels, the company never issued a recall. Reliance Electric even stated that the breakers contain a potential defect and that the process to approve the systems was not proper but claimed that the risks did not necessitate a recall.

The CPSC Investigated FPE Panels

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigated FPE panels in the 1980s and found that many breakers failed. In fact, the hazardous electrical panels failed more than half the time. However, the investigation proved extremely costly. CPSC closed down the investigation and indicated that the data failed to support evidence that the panels presented severe threats to the public.

One of the investigators continued to warn about FPE panels’ risks and now urges consumers who have these systems in their homes to consider panel replacement.

Testing for Dangerous Electrical Panels in Your Home

Many consumers may not even know that they have an FPE panel in their home. If you learn that you do have one of these systems, you can call a professional to inspect the panel for potential dangers. Remember that just one failure on the part of a breaker will put you and your family at risk. While the system may work fine for many years, it can suddenly fail without any warning.

Replacing FPE Panels

According to safety experts, you do not need to panic if you have an FPE panel in your home. While the situation is not an emergency, it is a safety concern, and you should address the situation sooner rather than later. 

A circuit breaker serves as emergency safety equipment. Many breakers never have to trip, so you might never find out that yours was not functioning correctly. If your wiring and equipment are in good shape, there is less chance of an overload in the first place. The problem is that if something does go wrong, and your FPE panel needs to do its job, it might fail. The only way to be confident about the safety of your electrical system is through electrical panel replacement.

Do You Have an FPE Panel?

Many homeowners do not know what kind of panels they have in their houses. Determining whether you have an FPE panel only takes a moment. Check your panel for the following information:

  • The FPE logo, which is often on the outside of the panel
  • The panel says “Federal Pacific”
  • A sticker inside the panel says “Federal Pacific Electric Company”
  • The panel says “Stab-Lok” on the breakers

Some similar models and older FPE panels will not have any of those indicators. Also, sometimes the sticker goes missing. If you cannot determine the manufacturer, you may want to hire a professional to check if you have a potentially dangerous electrical panel.

Never try to take apart your breaker or open the panel to look for information about who made your system. If you start investigating your panel, you could damage the wiring leading to a greater risk of fires, or you may electrocute yourself.

Replacing the Entire Panel is the Best Option

If you have an FPE panel, an electrician might suggest that you can save money by replacing just the breakers. It is possible to install aftermarket breakers into an existing system. However, this is not the best option. The defects in the FPE systems involve not only the breakers but also the central unit. Additionally, a savvy home inspector will identify the FPE panel as a hazard if you ever choose to put your home on the market.

A total panel replacement will better protect your family and will comply will all relevant electrical codes. Also, by investing in panel upgrades, you can reduce the chance of power outages and fires. A Riverside, Connecticut electrician can provide details regarding replacing your panel.

Other Defective Panels

FPE electrical panels are not the only defective ones that might be lurking in American homes. Zinsco breakers, which many home builders installed in the 1970s, also create fire risks and dangers of shocks. Like FPE panels, these systems caused thousands of house fires. The problems with these breakers led to them becoming obsolete.

A similar problem exists with GTE Corporation’s “Challenger” panel. Thousands of homes have these panels, especially structures built between 1970 and 1990.

Another problem is that other companies continued manufacturing FPE Stab-Lok breakers even after FPE no longer made them. The other manufacturers obtained the rights to the product and produced them under their own names. The defective devices stayed in production until around 1990.

Why Even Good Panels Need Attention

Defective panels are a significant problem, but even panels that experts consider safe can suffer from degradation over time. It is vital to perform maintenance on these systems. Also, never leave a panel open, as this will create more risks of damage. Dust can get into the system, as can small animals. Experts recommend annual inspections of your panel.

Inspections and Insurance Issues

Although most people do not think much about their circuit breakers, an inspector will identify a dangerous electrical panel as a problem when someone is looking to purchase a home. In fact, an FPE panel can impact insurance coverage as well.

Insurance companies will often deny homeowner insurance to individuals who have FPE panels in their homes. These denials are because insurers run the numbers, and if something is too big of a risk, they will not offer coverage. With so many FPE panels leading to fires, insurance companies tend to opt out of coverage for these homes because they believe there is a good chance that they may have to cover fire-related damage for that homeowner in the future.

Hire a Professional

If you have questions about your electrical panel or electrical panel replacements, contact Safe and Sound Electric. A professional can advise you about the best way to keep your home safe.