Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) manufactured circuit breaker panels in North America from the 1950s to the 1980s. The panel was well known in the building community as a cheaper alternative to some of the more recognizable panel companies such as General Electric/I-T-E and Square D. Millions of homes throughout the United States and Canada had the FPE panel installed.
Most Federal Pacific panels sold were “Stab-Lok” named after its breaker functionality. The breakers would “stab” into slots in the bus bar and “lock” into place.
However, issues began to emerge as some experts suspected that the panel was causing fires. An investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission was conducted and ultimately closed without a full verdict of panel problems.
Investigations by independent companies began testing the panels to determine their safety. It was found that the breakers had a dangerous and potentially life-threatening flaw. The breakers had a high rate of failure with multiple reports of overloaded breakers failing to trip.
In 2005 a New Jersey court ruled that the company was guilty of fraud in a class action lawsuit settlement. The court found that the FPE company “…knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards”.
While there are no federal mandates these panels should be removed from homes, there has been quite a bit of evidence that the original breakers can be a hazard. Because of this, when we see Federal Pacific, we recommend a qualified electrician follow up and review the panel.
Replacing a main electrical panel can be a difficult job, depending on the home. It can be labor-intensive and costly. If the wiring is in good condition and compatible with newer panels, then an electrician can typically swap the panels without much hassle.
However, Federal Pacific panels overlapped the aluminum wiring years. Aluminum electrical wiring was used from the mid-60s and early 70s as a cheaper alternative to copper. Later, aluminum was found to cause fires. While that is an entirely different topic, having aluminum wiring installed in a home can make a panel replacement even more costly.
Finally, in the earlier days of Federal Pacific panels, the home may have been built without grounded outlets. In the past, a 3rd ground wire was not included with the electrical wiring like it is today. There are several ways to repair ungrounded outlets, but this can also complicate a panel replacement.
Although we can call these panels out, we cannot tell you how easy or difficult it may be to perform a full panel replacement. The above issues can complicate the repair, and home inspectors are not able to give repair estimates.
Consult with a qualified electrician when an FPE panel is installed in your home or future home. Keep yourself and your family safe by removing and upgrading potentially dangerous electrical components in your home.
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