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This document explains the latent electric shock and fire hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® electric panels and circuit breakers. Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok® " service panels and breakers are dangerous and can fail, leading to electrical fires. The problem is that some 240-Volt FPE circuit breakers and possibly also some 120-Volt units simply may not work.
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.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.FPE FIRES: Failure Reports and The Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panel Hazard Website.
It has been suggested that there are as many as 28 million of these FPE Stab-Lok® breakers in use in the U.S. which means that in some conditions as many as one million of them may fail to provide proper fire protection. This includes "new old stock" and appears to include "substitute" FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers, none of which have shown an improvement in reliability in independent testing. So the right "repair" is to replace the FPE Stab-Lok® electric panel.
But where are they? Most homeowners whose houses are served by these panels are unaware of the hazards. So too are some inspectors and contractors. Because most homeowners do not order periodic electrical safety inspections, the presence of these panels is often undiscovered until an inspection made in the course of renovating or selling a property. Our field experience indicates that even when problems occur with this equipment, often it is simply removed or replaced with little publicity. Neither manufacturers nor some electricians are inclined to frighten consumers.
See How to Identify FPE Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels - is yours one of these? ALSO: A History of the FPE Stab-Lok® Issue. But come back and finish this article too!
FPE Stab-Lok® or Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers can fail to trip at an alarming rate. In the original testing, at a modest overload (135% of rating) switches that had never been touched (never mechanically switched) were energized on both poles. These failed 25% of the time, followed by a lockup that meant the switch would never trip in the future at any overload. Once these switches had been flipped on and off (mechanically energized), failures increased to 36%!
Worse, when individual poles on these switches were energized under the same conditions, 51% of the "virgin" switches failed, and for switches that had been mechanically energized, a whopping 65% of them failed!1
In the most recent independent tests of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment, using a larger pool of FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers than the older CPSC and Wright Malta tests found significantly higher failure rates of FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers, including a look at critical safety failures (breaker failed to trip at 200% of rated current or jammed) which found up to 80% failure rate for FPE Stab-Lok® GFCI circuit breakers (n=4), 12% failure rate for double pole FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers (n=120), and a 1% failure rate for FPE Stab-Lok® single pole circuit breakers (n=345). (To download this article see "Technical Reports" below.)
When a circuit breaker will not trip in response to an overload there is a serious risk of fire.
Homeowners and renovators who encounter these panels should replace the entire panel and circuit breaker set with new equipment. Panel replacement, can involve significant expense, typically $800 to $1200 depending on service size and other factors.
Do not simply replace individual FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers: first of all, there is no data suggesting that new stock, replacement FPE breakers, or "new old stock" FPE breakers found in storage somewhere perform any better than the ones already in the FPE Stab-Lok® panel. Second, there are other functional and safety concerns in the panel besides the breakers themselves. We've seen panel bus damage, panel bus meltdowns, and failure of breakers to remain secured in or onto the connecting bus itself.
For several reasons I do not recommend attempting to "repair" an individual failed Stab-Lok® breaker by buying a replacement either from used stock, new stock, or "compatible" stock:
A few other warnings:
In sum, if you could replace all the FPE Stab-Lok® equipment with (somehow magically obtained) all "new" FPE Stab-Lok® equipment (found in a used-or new-old-stock warehouse for example) the risk level for the building would not be sufficiently different from before the replacement and would remain high: there remains a latent risk of fire from failure of these breakers to trip in response to overcurrent.
Replacement Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok® Panels is Recommended
For some cost and method alternatives when replacing an Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Panel or "load center" see REPLACEMENT PANELS which describes conventional Option#1 - "remove and replace" the electrical panel and Option#2 - FPE Load Center Replacement using Cutler Hammer (CH) Adjustable Retrofit Kit
See FPE REPLACEMENT BREAKERS for details about and advice against replacement circuit breakers sold for retrofit or installation into Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® electrical panels.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Questions & answers or comments about the latent nature of fire and shock hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric FPE StabLok panels and breakers.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.