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Field reports of FPE Stab-Lok® failures: This document provides anecdotal field reports of Federal Pacific FPE Stab-Lok® equipment fires, overheating, trip-failures, burnups and other dangerous failures as they have been sent to InspectApedia or to Daniel Friedman.Consumer Note: replacement circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment.
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FPE Stab-Lok® Breaker or Panel FAILURE REPORTS - Federal No-Trips: Anecdotal FPE Failure Email Reports from Electricians, Home Inspectors, Building Owners, Others
Readers are cautioned that these are anecdotal field comments and while some of the reports are from electricians or home inspectors, the expertise of people reporting and their ability to know for sure just what went wrong in their electrical panels varies. To add your own report an electrical problem with this equipment see REPORT YOUR FAILURE.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Readers of this article should also see Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panel Fires and Failure Photos (Separate Document) Photos involving FPE Stab-Lok® Equipment, and FPE Stab-Lok® HAZARDS & REPAIRS WEBSITE - the main FPE Hazard Website.
Below are excerpts from email received by the author, indicating FPE equipment failures in various locations.
Accuracy Warning: the reports below include observations from people with a wide range of expertise, from none to expert. No on-site confirmation of these reports was made except that some correspondents contributed FPE Stab-Lok® equipment for further testing by Dr. Aronstein.
An example of the importance of using an expert to determine the cause of electrical failures is illustrated by Roger Hankey's picture of a failed FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker shown at left. Unlike the FPE breaker failure shown at page top (Aronstein), the breaker at left is demonstrates what was most likely a breaker-connection overheat, not a breaker no-trip failure. Notice that the red wire connected to the breaker overheated close to the breaker but is not so overheated at its top-most portion. Here we provide field reports from licensed electricians, inspectors, and homeowners who report problems attributed to FPE Stab-Lok® equipment. At FPE FIRE & FAILURE PHOTOS we include significant fire reports involving FPE Stab-Lok® equipment.
People who have FPE field failure cases to report and other professionals and inspectors who can contribute text descriptions, photographs or actual failed equipment are invited to contact the author.
"The woman, identified as Karla Guajardo-Salazar, 27, died of smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. The child has not been identified. The fire broke out about 7 p.m. Thursday in a house in the 900 block of West Bolt Street. The neighborhood is on Fort Worth’s south side between La Gran Plaza shopping center and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The fire was blamed on 'an electrical malfunction - ... investigators have reported that the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction near an outlet behind the couch in the living room, Crow said. Investigators found no smoke detectors ... " - [NOTICE: we have not established with certainty that FPE equipment was invovled in this fire - further citation needed - this is currently the only fire or electrical failure case in this list for which an FPE connection has not been documented - Ed. ]
San Francisco CA, 2779 Mcallister circuit breaker panel did not trip causing short circuit that spread to 2781 Mcallister garage. electrical had to be fixed at 2779 Mcallister outside lights and 2781 mcallister garage. Your photographs says 2779, 2781, and 2783 mcallister are federal pacific electric circuit breaker panels. am physically senior 63 disabled low income request pro bono help to fix electrical. thanks. Had to turn off 2779 mcallister main circuit breaker panel when 2779 mcallister outside light gave off a awful smell and a light white moving cloud. - L.L. San Francisco CA 3/17/2014
Note for this reader: We're not clear what you mean by "your photograph says" as our photos don't "say" anything, though they do illustrate how to identify FPE Stab-Lok electrical equipoment. About your need for financial assistance, please see: CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL?
Homeowner Anna Lunz reported to D Friedman that her homeowner's insurance from Mutual Benefit Insurance, a Pennsylvania insurer, had just been cancelled (April 2010) following the observation by the insurance company's inspector that the home was served by an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel.
In discussing this concern (we recommended immediate installation of smoke detectors and replacement of the electrical panel as soon as possible), Ms. Lunz reported that in 1980 this modular home suffered a major fire, including loss of two thirds of the front of the home, due to an electrical fire that began in a dining room ceiling light fixture. The fire began while the home was unoccupied - the family were out skiing. According to the owner, electrical wiring for the ceiling light circuit was found to have fused (apparently a dead short) without having tripped the FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker in the home's electrical panel.
Lunz added her personal observation that following the fire, workers and neighbors inspecting the home believed that the electrical power had been shut down by switching "off" the main circuit breaker in the FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel. According to Lunz, when an inspector attempted to examine the electrical panel,
"... he just touched the turned-off electrical panel with a screwdriver when we all observed a huge bright flash of light."
While the loss from the 1980 fire, whose origin was attributed to an electrical failure, was mostly covered by the owner's fire insurance policy, when the same electrical panel, still in the home, was observed in 2010 the insurance company declined coverage - presumably until the electrical panel was replaced. -- D Friedman, by telephone with Anna Lunz, 4/6/2010
Finally, this case underscores the added value that would accrue if fire investigators would regularly record the brand of electrical panel and the presence or absence of aluminum wiring whenever a fire appears to involve or include electrical components in its origin.
The notes below are transcribed (by DF) excerpts from a copy of a 1/1/2009 fire report provided by Mitch Clothier, father of a renter of the subject apartment. >
The fire investigator's (Lt.Joe Evans, Wichita KS) observations included:
- an examination of the structure exterior and interior
- heavy smoke damage in living room;
- heavy smoke damage in kitchen with no direct fire damage
- heavy smoke damage in bathroom and laundry with no direct fire damage
- Living room:
"... I observed direct fire damage to the wall, and to several items located approximately five feet directly in front of the couch. I examined this area, and located an LCD television, and two metal boxwe in this area. The television was still intact, and had received direct fire damage, particularly to the right side. The television was a Vizo,LCD flat panel television. I was able to rule out the television as a caues of the fire.
"I then looked at the breaker panel located directly above where the LCD television and the two metal boxes were located. The breaker panel had received direct fire damage, and the switches were melted. I was not able to determine if any of the breakers were in the tripped position.
"I then examined the two metal boxes located to the left of the television. Both of these boxes had received direct fire damage. Both of the metal boxes were later identified as an Xbox 360, and a home stereo system. I began to trace the wires of both units, and found that the television, home stereo system, and Xbox 360 were all plugged into a power strip. The power strip was located along the south wall between a windo, and a very small portion of the wall that extended outward. I examined the power stripo, and found it to be plugged into an outlet on the south wall. The power strip had received direct fire damage and was severely damaged. I then examined the outlet that the power strip was plugged into. The outlet had received direct fire damage, and was also severely damaged. As I examined the power strip, the pattern started at the floor level, and continued upward. The baseboard in the area of th epower strip had received extensive direct fire damage, and showed heavy char. The v-pattern started from this point, and continued upward. As I examined this area further, I noted tha tthe table that the LCD television, XBox 360, and the home stereo system all sat on was primarily composed of compressed wood. As I examined this table, I observed that the table had received direct fire damage, with the most severe damage being to the right side in the area of the power strip. The left side of the table was still partially intact and standing, although this portion of the table had also received direct fire damage. I then determined that the area located on the right side of the table was the area of origin.
"We estimated the fire loss to be approximately $20,000. to the structure, and $10,000 to the contents. The property owner, Don Rowson ... "
- the investigator reports from interview with occupant C.L. VonEhrenkrook that .
".. Zach made entry into the residence in an attempt to rescue three dogs that wre inside. Due to smoke conditions this effort was short lived. Ms. VonEhrenkrook stated that the lights in the apartment would either dim or flicker when major appliances were turned on. ..."
The fire investigator concluded that
"The cause of the fire was accidental, and the result of the power strip. Although it cannot be determined the exact event that transpired with the power strip, itis believed that there was an issue with the aforementioned power strip, which resulted in a free burning fire that extended to the taable, and to the items contained on, and within the area of the table. There was extensive damage to the power strip,and to the wall and table in this area. The occupants' statement as to power fluctuations when major appliances were turned on, possibly may have contributed to the issue with the power strip. All fire patterns, and witness statements support these findings." - Lt. Joe Evans, Fire/Arson Investigator, Wichita KS
News Report: A Wichita man was injured Thursday evening after an accident inside his home sparked a fire. 911 dispatchers received a call about a fire at the home in the 600 block of North Tracy. The first crews arrived and found the house full of smoke and a small fire on the living room floor. The man and his girlfriend were gone when the fire started, but returned home and she called for help. He tried to enter the house to rescue two pets still inside. An ambulance was called to help him recover from smoke inhalation. He was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released. Meanwhile, an investigator says the fire likely started in a power strip in the living room. Damage is estimated at $30,000. The two pets perished in the fire. -- KAKE News firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is ample detail to assist you in deciding if you should make a case. BEFORE you do anything about making a case against your inspector, you should call him/her immediately to express your concern and to find out what the inspector's position will be.
You're asking an important, legitimate, and tough questions. Your query touches on a basic question that troubles home inspectors: when are we liable for knowing or not knowing something?
On one hand, as we inspectors constantly strive to get better and better at our work we are always going to be learning about new hazards, or about old ones that hitherto received narrow public notice. And it would make it impossible for us to provide a service at all if we're to be held retroactively respoinsible for discovery of controversial materials at a house.
On the other hand, if I were making a case regarding a controversial material, and if I wanted to establish whether or not it was reasonable for an inspector to be held to have reported to me on the material (or topic like an FPE panel), I think I'd try to figure out when the information became widely known in the education, training, publication, and documents of the profession, as that's an expanded standard that I MIGHT use to beat up an inspector whom I felt had been derelict.
Summarizing: while I personally feel that an inspector is derelict if s/he fails to point out the issues with this equipment, a sanguine, neutral review of the matter points to these problems in making a case against an inspector for failing to point the matter out several years ago:
I am a homeowner in Edison, NJ who recently had the displeasure of finding out my townhouse is fitted with a Federal Pacific Electric Panel. The discovery was made by my uncle a Local 3 electrician in NYC, who suggested that I waste little time replacing the panel.
This suggestion was concurred by the Chief Inspector of Edison Township. Although he did cite specific examples of FP failures that he had come accross he wouldn't come out and offically recomend the replacement. However, he did say that it was known to be "unreliable" and that if there were one in his home he would replace it right away.
My A/C & Heating specialist also showed by a melted FP Breaker that he keeps as a souvenier to show his customers why they should consider changing the panel. I have several questions. 1) Is there anyplace I can find info on possible lawsuits against contractors and Federal Pacific? 2) Do I have any recourse against the inpsector who I paid to inspect my home in October of 1995? and 3) Should I press my townhouse association for some assistance in possible finding an electrician who will possible give a group rate if a majority of homeowners want to change their panels? Thank you for any additional insight you may be able to offer on any of these matters. Ernest V to DJF and reply - 3/7/98
It would seem your comments, while they do give reason to be aware of potential dangers, seem too inflamatory without specific facts (unless I'm missing something). The press release of March 3, 1983 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that the circuit breakers that you refer to do not present a serious risk of injury to consumers, but rather offers advice as a precaution. I believe the precaution given would cover all electrical panels and breakers and that homeowners should always be aware.
I would be interested to know if FPE or their subsequent owners have ever offered a recall or caution statement. If not, why not. How did you get interested in this topic and particular manufacturer? I offer a quote from a property inspection 'action item' review on a property I have listed for sale:
"The main service and subpanels were manufactured by Federal Pacific Electric. The equipment produced by this company has been associated with product defects and failure of their 120 vold and 240 volt overcurrent protection devices. Therefore, Federal Pacific Electric equipment must be considered as unreliable and potentially dangerous. Although we observed no evidence of a failure of the breakers, we cannot guarantee their future performance. We recommend consideration be given to upgrading by removing this equipment and installing another UL approved panels and overcurrent devices."
This quote is based entirely upon your Internet posting. Many homes in our community have FPE equipment. Would you have them all replaced? If they are not, are we all in danger of going up in flames?
I have had an Electrical contractor survey this home and the above quote. The boxes and breakers performed normally. Three breakers were replaced as a result of 'over fusing', but were not defective. Replacement breakers were readily available. The electrician's only negative comment was that the boxes were small and a bit difficult to work on, and the 'stab' sometimes were difficult to 'lok'. William S. Elliott to DJF - 4/7/98
An inspector I helped train in the Reading PA area was changing a door frame in his basement. With the jamb removed he gazed into the wall cavity and was dumbfounded when he observed that thewiring within the wall cavity was devoid of any insulation. It had all burned away. He called me to discuss this. My first question was what type of panel did he have? Federal Pacific Stablocks. The fried circuits were for his basement shop where he had always been amazed that he could run so many tools simultaneously and never cause the breakers to trip. Dumb luck saved his loosing his home. He tore out the wiring and replaced the panel the next day. His name is xxx JDG in Silver Spring MD to DJF - 5/13/98
I polished the burned contacts with sandpaper and even filled some of the burned pits on the breaker with solder. I'm trying to find a replacement for that breaker (2 pole 40 amp, ~$47) but haven't yet. After reading the report on FP breakers, I'm wondering if I should just replace the panel.
I have tried adusting the 4 screws to change the pressure but have only gut feeling to go on.
Two of these kinds of failures occurred when I bought the house in 1996. The inspector when I bought the house refused to order replacement of the panel saying that the box was serviceable. He fixed it for a while by adjusting the 4 screws. Since then, failures have been irregular until lately.
The latent hazards due to failure to break is news to me. I may have a case against the inspection company that refused to order replacement when I bought the house in 1996. Virg B to DJF - 7/16/98
Speaking to the firemen they said i could have been electrocuted....The breakers never tripped.They had to physically shut them. I have a federal Pacific panel and such is my connection to you. The electrician I ask also said the samething. What is the problem? Why am I risking my family all these years....The box is being changed in two weeks and I will never buy a house with this material again. $1,500.00
Is ther anyone I should inform of this? What about my neighbors? most of the homes were built in the same time period by the same developer and probably with the same electric contracor and same architect. I think this is an outrageous hazard for people to live in. How and what should I do.
It makes me laugh how we as a society take all sorts of precautions for protection and when we come home we are in danger . If this breaker didn't trip at my fire event then I am convinced that these are never going too and instead of circuit breakers they are killer contacts. Please email me. Manfinger to DJF - 9/5/98
To offer electrical equipment (Aluminnum wiring,FPE, Zinsco, other) field failure reports, text, photos, and offers of discontinued FPE equipment for use in independent research contact us.by email.
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