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IAEI International Association of Electrical Inspectors ran an "infomercial" placed by an FPE attorney that claimed there are no FPE hazards. How did that nonsensical article appear and what did it signify? This website explains the fire and shock hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels, provides a history of the issue, recounts research on FPE failures, and recommends replacement of the panels.panel replacement or repair. The web author has no business, financial, or other connection with FPE products nor with their replacement.
Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment. We recommend that residential 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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Letter to IAEI International Association of Electrical Inspectors News Magazine re: FPE Public Relations Article asserts Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® panels are OK
InspectAPedia is an independent publisher of building, environmental, and forensic inspection, diagnosis, and repair information provided free to the public - we have no business nor financial connection with any manufacturer or service provider discussed at our website. We are dedicated to making our information as accurate, complete, useful, and unbiased as possible: we very much welcome critique, questions, or content suggestions for our web articles. Working together and exchanging information makes us better informed than any individual can be working alone.
International Association of Electrical Inspectors
Dear Mr. Cox:
The May/June '99 IAEI News article by an unidentified FPE consultant asserts that Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Loks are UL-Listed and thus without any concern. The article fails to address a record of failures to trip, actual test results, field reports of failures, and improper UL listing practices. The FPE author and IAEI News failed to report on the actual website content, failed to contact the author, and failed to give the correct website address so that readers could judge for themselves. I am an IAEI member and the author of the informational website for home inspectors which was referred-to in the FPE article. The correct Internet website address is http://InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
Publicly available information is compelling and sufficient to warrant warning contractors, inspectors, and consumers. The best data available substantiates that the 2-pole breakers cannot be relied upon to trip. CPSC found that was the case. FPE agreed that was the case. Field reports confirm that is still the case. Inspectors should work towards replacing breakers that won't trip, not towards whitewashing the problem.
The problem with FPE breakers is that a significant portion of them will not trip on overload or short circuit conditions in order to protect a building from fire ignition. Testing done by the CPSC showed that at a modest overload on both poles these failed 25% of the time, followed by a lockup. The breaker would never trip in the future at any overload. (See Table 1, Summary of Failures, CPSC-C-81-1429 December 30, 1982, attached.) There are other types of failures known to occur in FPE panels at lower probability and not as well documented as the 2-pole no-trip problem.
FPE did not refute the CPSC's test data. The no-trip problems with 2-pole Stab-Lok® breakers were acknowledged by FPE. FPE claims that when their circuit breakers do not trip it does not constitute a hazard. The article in IAEI News by FPE is asking us to agree with FPE's position that breakers that won't trip are OK because they are "listed and labeled." Let's keep in mind that a breaker that will not trip on certain overcurrent conditions is electrically the same as an Edison-base fuse with a penny behind it. No inspector should be encouraged to condone or whitewash the continued use of breakers that cannot be depended on to trip properly.
These problems were known. Reliance Electric Co. had bought FPE in 1979 when they discovered problems with FPE breakers. They sued the company they had bought FPE from, claiming undisclosed potential liability made FPE not what they had bargained for and citing evidence that "improper and deceptive practices were employed for many years to secure UL listings for Federal Pacific's circuit protective products? They wanted their money back. Reliance eventually settled the suit, kept FPE, and got back $41.85 million in return for which they agreed to indemnify the company they'd bought FPE from for product liability claims arising from products made by FPE before the purchase.
Continuing problems can't be ruled out. For example, see the Federal Pacific/Federal Pioneer circuit breaker warranty alert issued by the Ontario New Home Warranty Program in 1997 (copy attached). These products are still present in the field! Reports from consumers and electricians indicate failures to trip, overheating, and fires.
Note also that the author of the FPE article did not want to have his or her name associated with it and that the FPE contact listed is an attorney retained (presumably) by FPE. The information address given in the article would have been more accurate if given as: Howard B. Abramoff Law Offices, 25700 Science Park Dr. Suite 260, Cleveland OH 44122. This is a law firm, not a circuit-breaker manufacturer. This confirms that the article is biased towards the defense of FPE rather than providing information on "?the safe installation and use of electricity" (IAEI's mission statement in the magazine's masthead).
As a neutral professional, I'd be pleased to receive reliable information shedding new light on the situation. But a public relations article written by someone whose aim is to protect FPE's interests and which fails to address legitimate concerns and the known failures and problems occurring around the country is not something I'd rely upon. Based on my experience and numerous reports from people with no axes to grind, it appears that FPE circuit breakers frequently fail to perform their function. A circuit breaker may sit in a building for twenty years, and as long as it never sees an overload or short circuit it may seem to work fine. But if it cannot perform its function to interrupt current when overloaded or short circuited, that circuit breaker is a latent fire hazard. Such equipment should be replaced.
Dan Friedman, IAEI #195930
1. "Calibration and Condition Tests of Molded Case Circuit Breakers, Final Report: Contract CPSC-C-81-1429," December 30, 1982, Wright Malta Corporation, Summary Pages 1-3.
2. Reliance Electric Co. Press Release, July 7, 1980, stating that "Underwriters Laboratories labels for most of FPE's circuit breakers were obtained through improper practices,?
3. Schneider Electric Canada Warranty Alert, recalling Federal Pioneer (Federal Pacific Canadian) circuit breakers NC015/NC015P, October 14, 1997
4. My resume/background (Since the article indicates the author did not know who I am)
5. WEB FaqS: Website author, credibility
6. "Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panels, a Summary," website page from http://InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm (This is the root page of a collection of public documents and articles regarding this topic.)
03/27/2012 follow-up note: IAEI never responded to this correspondence.
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The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises consumers to take certain safety precautions with all circuit breakers and fuses. Consumers should:
-Know your electrical circuit. Know which outlets and products are connected to each circuit.
-Never overload any electrical circuit by connecting too many products to the circuit. Be particularly careful not to connect several products that demand high current (such as heating appliances) to a low amperage circuit.
-Comply with local building codes in wiring or adding electrical circuits. Make sure the wiring and devices used in the circuit are connected to a circuit breaker or fuse of the
-Immediately disconnect any electrical product if problems develop. Have the product examined by a competent repair person.
-Investigate to determine why a fuse blows or circuit breaker trips. Do not simply replace the fuse or reset the breaker. If a fuse blows or breaker trips, it is often a warning that the circuit is overloaded. Check the circuit for causes of overloading (for example, too many appliances plugged in, a malfunctioning product, a short circuit). When in doubt, consult a licensed electrician.
Consumers who have questions concerning circuit breakers, or who wish to report information relating to their safety, may call the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's toll-free safety hotline at 800-638-CPSC, teletypewriter for the hearing impaired at 800-638-8270 (Maryland only 800-492-8104).