The hazards of FPE Stab-Lok Panels

FPE Stab Lok Panel

FPE Stab-Lok Panel

FPE Stab Lok Panel
FPE Stab-Lok Panel

If your home was built between 1950 and 1990, it may be equipped with a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker panel with Stab-Lok circuit breakers. If so, your panel runs a significant risk of breaker malfunction and fire. Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) sold millions of panels between this time period.

Over the years, testing has proven that virtually every FPE Stab-Lok panel installed in the United States contained defective breakers. 

So, what is a breaker and why are they important? Breakers inside the panel are designed to guard your home against serious electrical problems by preventing circuit overload, short circuits and outside power surges coming into the panel. When an overload occurs, a breaker protects you by tripping, thus shutting down the power to the circuit. However, if a breaker is defective or not operating properly, the risk of fire to the panel and consequently to your home becomes imminent. If a breaker fails to trip when it should, the wires in the home that are supposed to be protected can start a fire.

FPE Stab Lok Panel Fraud

Multiple tests done on the breakers since the 1980s have proven that one in four Stab-Lok breakers are defective and will not properly trip off. Unfortunately, when the testing began in the early 1980s, a New Jersey court later ruled that FPE committed testing fraud and a cover-up, labeling the breakers as meeting the standards set by the UL when in reality, they were defective.

In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission also had closed its two-year investigation and felt it impossible to create a product recall at the time because of budget issues, even as FPE Stab-Lok panels and breakers continued to be installed in millions of homes; that to this day still run the risk of an electrical fire. 

As a result of inaction, an estimated 2,800 fires each year directly resulted from Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunction. 

How do I identify a FPE Panel?

If you own a home between 25 and 65 years old, check your breaker box. A FPE Stab-Lok panel will usually have its name or logo on the front cover. Inside, you will find the name Stab-Lok printed near the center or side of the panel. The intact breakers will also possess the signature red strip that runs across the front.

If you find you a Federal Pacific panel or Stab-Lok breakers, call a licensed electrician in your area for further information about replacing your circuit breaker panel.

What does it cost to replace the panel? Can an electrician service the panel?

Replacing an old, unsafe electrical panel is not a huge investment. In most cases, the total cost for this project is less than $1,500. Not only does this eliminate the hazards associated with this type of panel, but all newer panels have the requirement to have Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) installed, for added fire safety. AFCI devices are not present in older FPE Stab-Lok panels.

So why not recommend having an electrician evaluate and service the panel?  To answer this question, there’s no point. There is nothing that an electrician can do or say to make an FPE Stab-Lok panel safe. Some electricians may be under the impression that FPE panels are safe if they can turn every breaker on and off, if every breaker is tightly attached, and if there is no evidence of overheating or scorching in the panel. These signs would be dead giveaways that there is a problem, however, to truly know if the breaker would trip when it needs to, each breaker would need to actually be tested. In the long run, the testing would be more expensive than having the entire panel replaced.

FPE Stab Lok Fire Damage
FPE Stab Lok Fire Damage

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