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DIY FPE Breaker Tests: FPE Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Electrical Panel & Circuit Breaker testing in the field: is it a good idea to test the FPE circuit breakers installed in an FPE Stab-Lok Panel right in the building? Are FPE breakers that "pass" an in-situ test then considered safe? Or does testing actually increase the risk of a future failure? What about a do-it-yourself Stab-Lok circuit breaker test to see if the breakers will trip properly? Page top photograph courtesy of Raleigh NC home inspector Steve Smallman.
Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment. We recommend that FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels be replaced entirely or the entire panel bus assembly be replaced, regardless of FPE model number or FPE year of manufacture. We do not sell circuit breakers nor any other products.
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In addition to the explanation offered here of why testing an FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel or circuit breaker in-place by using a meter on the circuit or by applying an overcurrent on the circuit is unsafe and does not assure product safety, we list below additional reasons to avoid fooling yourself about in-situ testing of FPE Stab-Lok breakers.
What about a visual inspection of the FPE Panel to Check its Safety: no electrical tests, just looking
FIGURE 8 - FPE Stab-Lok® ® "RULE-OF-SIX" (SPLIT-BUS) PANEL WITH NO MAIN BREAKER. THE JUMPER CABLES ON THE RIGHT SIDE FEED THE LOWER SECTION.
[Click to enlarge any image]
The following is excerpted from FPE Stab-Lok® TECHNICAL REPORT.
Reader Question: couldn't I individually test (overload) each FPE circuit to be sure the breaker trips?
2/22/2014 erick said:
I have this panel in my 1980 modular home. Couldn't I individually test (overload) each circuit to be sure breaker would trip? Under controlled situation this seems safer and preferable to waiting for an event.
[Originally posted at FPE CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT]
Reply: About a do-it-yourself test of an FPE panel in a home: Four Good Reasons to Stay Away from In-Home FPE Tests
No do not try testing circuits in your home. Doing so, even if you were a trained electrician or electrical engineer involves several very serious errors and misconceptions.
The illustration AT LEFT, excerpted from FPE Stab-Lok® TECHNICAL REPORT illustrates an example of FPE electrical panel failure (bus burn and melt, loss of insulating material) that is not visible when the breakers are plugged-into the panel.
(This view is of the backside of the panel. The damage could not be seen unless the panel is taken out of the enclosure.) [Click for larger picture]
FIGURE 3 - OVERHEATING AT THE CONTACT BETWEEN THE BUSSBAR AND THE STAB SOCKET ASSEMBLY CAUSED THIS DAMAGE TO THE INSULATION.
So sorry, I too would be thrilled if there were a cheap easy fix for this hazard.
The only effective repair is to replace the FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel entirely, or to use Eaton Cutler Hammer's entire panel bus assembly replacement. That allows you to keep the panel enclosure - the steel box, while installing a completely new bus assembly and new CH circuit breakers.
Reader Question: A local electrician advertises for FPE Replacement but I've never had a problem with my panel - I will just have an electrical contractor test it for me instead
I received an advertisement from a local electrician offering to replace this panel in my Williamsburg home. Sounds like a scam. This house is 31 years old and no problem with my Federal Pacific panel. If I want to have my panel checked I would choose an electric contractor with good ratings on Angie's List and not respond to some ad dropped at my door. - Jimmy Jo 4/12/12
Reply: Really? testing an FPE Stab-Lok panel in place, even by a licensed electrician, does not assure its safety and may make it less safe than before
On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to hire an electrician who is familiar with FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel hazards. After all, the risk of hiring an electrician to replace an FPE Stab-Lok® but who is unaware of the hazards involved means you might be hiring someone who is generally not well informed - which means there may be a risk of other mistakes or poor work.
On the other hand, if an electrician is getting business by scaring people inappropriately, s/he may not be someone you want in your home.
On the third hand, an electrician who warns you that FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels are unsafe is not saying anything incorrect nor inappropriate. The hazards are well documented, and we agree that the panel should be replaced.
Watch out: in any case, "testing" or "inspecting" an FPE Stab-Lok® panel on-site by an electrician is a fundamentally bad idea.
Not only will tests not be conclusive unless performed by one of very few experts, using special equipment and under very carefully monitored conditions so as to avoid setting the house on fire) but worse, "tests" of FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers by switching them on and off, or by applying an overcurrent, is at risk of significantly increasing the risk of a future failure - after testing OK the breaker may be at much greater risk of not tripping in response to an overcurrent should one occur, or simply not turning "OFF" internally even when you switch the toggle to the "OFF" position.
Those are very serious hazards made worse by the DIY FPE test process in the first place.
For an example of actual testing of FPE Stab-Lok equipment see FPE HAZARDS - 2012 [PDF] and you'll have a better idea of how this work is performed on a test bench.
All I have to say to Jimmy Jo is "Good luck!" You may need it. How do you know the panel is "fine"? Do you know if any of the breakers have ever been called upon to trip? I am a home inspector, and have seen numerous Stab Lok panels, some looking just as clean and pretty as when they were first installed. What does that mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!! Those panels have been there all that time, and have likely never been overloaded.
Maybe yours have functioned properly, as I'm sure others have, but with the failure rate reported by well-respected electricians and other professionals, I would not want to risk my life or property for $1500. Why do we purchase insurance? For financial protection, even though you may never need it. Think of replacing an FPE panel in the same way. An insurance policy against loss of your house or life. Speaking of that, many insurance companies WILL NOT ISSUE A POLICY if they know an FPE panel is present. - Joe 8/4/12
thanks for the comment, we agree completely. Just because you never noticed a problem with a no-trip circuit breaker that's no promise that everything's fine. My jeep's seat belt is cut to a single thread. Each time I drive to the rifle range in my Jeep I fasten my seat belt. So far, I've never been in a car crash, so it's obvious that the seat belt is working "just fine" - right? - Editor.
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