Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
Stab-Lok Circuit Breaker Panels
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Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breakers received a lot of bad press because of their failure to meet certain Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) test requirements. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) investigated the claims, and determined that it had insufficient data to make a determination. Federal Pacific Electric (which is now out of business) acknowledged that the circuit breakers do not meet all of the UL standards, but stated that the circuit breakers would only fail under conditions considered abusive.
There are a lot of websites that talk about serious hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels. Many are alarmists who exaggerate the CPSC's findings. Some of the websites appear to be electricians trying to create work, while others are home inspectors who exaggerate the claims.
There has been renewed interest in the risks of Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels because of recent news reports of fires. What is not included in the news stories is a comparison with electrical fires caused by non-Federal Pacific Electric circuit breakers. Electrical fires happen every day, and they are not all caused by Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breakers. It is the history of false test reports that condemns Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breakers.
As Licensed Engineers, it is our responsibility to help protect the public. In addition, a Licensed Engineer has the responsibility not to be an alarmist or overstate a hazard. Given this need for balance, it is our recommendation that an old Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breaker panel be treated as old electric wiring.
Old circuit breaker panels in homes, buildings, condos, and co-ops are outdated by today's standards. Circuit breakers can deteriorate over time. The fact that the panel was manufactured by a Federal Pacific Electric, along with other aspects of the electrical system, should be taken into account when deciding if a circuit breaker panel needs to be replaced.
Old circuit breaker panels are
outdated by today's standards
Unfortunately, some home inspectors have decided that all Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breaker panel needs to be replaced, and have ignored other old circuit breaker panels. These home inspectors accuse the now-defunct manufacturer of these panels of wrongdoing, and recommend panel replacement based only on that accusation.
Many home inspectors fail to look at the age of the circuit breaker panel as the cause of recent fires attributed to Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels. It is vital that the age and not just the manufacturer of the circuit breaker panels be assessed in determining the risk. Be careful of any home inspector who only looks only at the manufacturer when assessing a circuit breaker panel. A hazardous condition could be missed.
Only a Licensed Electrician should open a circuit breaker because of the risks. A Licensed Electrician can correct hazards created by opening electrical panels. Someone who is not a Licensed Electrician lacks the experience to deal with hazards. If a problem develops because of opening the panel, the Inspector is not in a position to resolve the problem. A responsible Home Inspector will not open electrical panels.
Communities require electricians to be licensed, and prohibit anyone other than a Licensed Electrician from performing electrical work. (Exceptions are made for homeowners wiring their own home.)
Heimer Engineering's℠ Licensed Engineers can determine the condition of the wiring by visual examination. The question is why do some Home Inspectors insist on opening the circuit breaker panel when it creates a hazard. Can't these Home Inspectors see the risks and hazards on the outside? Are these Home Inspectors missing wiring problems because of their narrow focus?
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Heimer Engineering℠ performs home inspections, building inspections, condominium inspections, and co-op inspections in the State of New York. We do not perform inspections or recommend Inspectors or Engineers outside of the State of New York. We provide Licensed Professional Engineer consultation services including hurricane and storm damage and damage from adjoining construction. Expert witness services are provided regarding playground injuries, parking lot, walkway, and stairway slip, trip, and fall.
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