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FPE Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Electrical Panel & Circuit Breaker Hazards Home Page: here we explain the fire and shock hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels, provides a complete history of the FPE Hazard, and we provide and cite independent, unbiased research on FPE failures, and recommends replacement of the panels.
Photographs are provided to aid in identification of Federal Pacific FPE Stab-Lok® equipment. The current status of FPE Stab-Lok®equipment hazards, recalls, product safety research, and consumer warnings can be found here.
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 2014 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Circuit Breaker Hazard Current Status, Failures, Research, & History
For information on FPE Stab-Lok® equipment that can be copied to any website, see FPE Stab-Lok® Hazard Summary Page for Public Use
Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok® " service panels and breakers are a latent hazard and FPE circuit breakers can fail to trip in response to overcurrent, leading to electrical fires. The breakers may also fail to shut off internally even if the toggle is switched to "off." Some double-pole (240-Volt) FPE circuit breakers and single-pole FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers simply do not work safely.
There are other FPE panel-defects independent of the breaker problems, panel and panel-bus fires and arcing failures in some equipment. The failure rates for these circuit breakers were and still are significant. In some cases failure to trip occurs 60% of the time - a serious fire and electrical shock hazard.
Failures are documented in the CPSC study and by independent research. Additional independent testing and research are on-going and are reported here. FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels should be replaced. Do not simply swap in some replacement breakers. (Details are at FPE REPLACEMENT BREAKERS).
Please see SUMMARY OF PROBLEM for the full detail of this FPE topic.
Having reviewed documentation regarding this issue, and having discussed the issue with forensic experts in the field, we are convinced that a latent hazard exists where FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers continue in use. The hazard is worst for double-pole breakers. Published reports of actual tests that were performed indicate that under certain conditions it is possible for one leg of these circuits to attempt to trip the breaker, resulting in a jammed breaker which will afterward not trip under any load condition. A reader might infer from the CPSC 1983 press release that the manufacturer and some Commission members were of the opinion that these conditions would not occur in the field.
This is an erroneous conclusion. Some very common household appliances operate are powered by a two-pole 240V circuit (protected by the type of breaker under discussion) but use two or more independent 120V sub-circuits inside the appliance. Two obvious cases are electric clothes dryers and ranges. If, for example, the low-heat (110V) heater in a dryer were to short to the dryer case, a serious overcurrent would occur on one "leg" of the circuit.
Another wiring practice, using a single two-pole breaker to power a split circuit which uses a shared neutral, such as may be installed in kitchens in some areas, is nearly certain to have each leg of the circuit loaded independently and thus subject to single-leg overloading and subsequent breaker jamming. A breaker which jams and then fails to trip under this condition is, in our opinion, a serious fire hazard.
A more careful reading of the CPSC press release of March 3, 1984 suggests that the authors were careful NOT to conclude that there is no hazard, but simply that the information at hand did not prove the hazard, and that the Commission did not have funds to pursue testing. In this document, the representation that no real hazard exists is made by the manufacturer of the device - not exactly a neutral party, and even that wording is cautious in tone: "FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels." Readers should see the failure rates cited in the IAEI letter below.
It's the exceptions that cause fires. An FPE circuit breaker will appear to "work just fine" in passing along current to the circuit it feeds, until there is an overcurrent, short circuit, or similar condition. When those exceptional conditions occur, this equipment fails to protect the circuit and the building from overheating and fires, in some cases at a failure rate around 60% of the time. I estimate that the normal industry failure rate on circuit breakers is less than .01%.
Consumers should read and follow the Commission's advice regarding circuit breakers. But this advice is insufficient. The Commission's admonition to avoid overloading circuits and to turn off and have examined devices which seem to be creating a problem is a poor substitute for reliable, automatic, overcurrent protection. It is precisely because dangerous conditions can and do occur without adequate recognition and action by a consumer that circuit breakers and fuses are installed to provide overcurrent protection in the first place.
Therefore it is hardly an adequate "fix" for FPE breakers to just tell consumers to handle these cases manually.
It is possible that some individual FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers may perform with adequate reliability, possibly those manufactured after the companies discovered safety defects and improper practices in listing the product, and possibly those manufactured in Canada.
However, in absence of an explicit statement from the manufacturer and/or the US CPSC indicating that newer stock equipment is defect free, and considering that defects occur in both breakers and the panels themselves, and finally, that testing showed failures in both in-use equipment and new off-the-shelf devices, our advice to consumers and electricians is that these panels be replaced with newer equipment, particularly those which use 240-volt double-pole breakers described in the literature. In our opinion, if a fire or other hazard occurs with this device, neither the manufacturer nor the Commission, who have suggested in the press release that data was inconclusive or inadequate to establish a hazard, will accept responsibility for losses that may ensue.
However a building inspector, home inspector, or contractor who makes any warranty of safety, by virtue of his/her position close to the consumer, is certain bear this very liability.
Please see CANADIAN VERSIONS for the full version of this article.
In May 1999 we learned from Schneider Canada that Federal pioneer circuit breakers sold by that company are re-named from Federal Pacific circuit breakers and that two 15-amp single-pole models NC015 and NC015CP made between August 1, 1996 and June 11, 1997 have been recalled. The Schneider and Federal Pioneer as well as some Square-D recall notices are available here.
We asked the company engineer with whom we spoke if he could determine if Federal Pioneer and Federal Pacific components sold in Canada were made in the U.S. or if tooling used to produce them was identical with that used in the U.S. If this is the case (as one might expect based on economies of production) one should consider the possibility that other defects reported in the U.S. may also appear in Canadian installations.
As we report at FPE HISTORY, quoting information from legal cases from 2005, all Stab-Lok® breakers are essentially identical.
The Federal Pioneer Warranty Alert was issued by the Ontario New Home Warranty program in October 1997 and provides for circuit breaker replacement. Schneider Canada is an electrical supplier whose product lines combine those previously marketed under the names Federal Pacific Electric, Federal Pioneer, Square-D, Tele Mechanique, Modicon, and Merlin Gerin.
Carl Grasso, an attorney who researched FPE failures for the New Jersey class action suit explains that since a portion of the safety defect with FPE breakers may be due to variations during manufacture, and since Canadian breakers may be manufactured in a different plant from those made in the U.S., it is possible that the field performance of Canadian breakers may be different than the U.S. design. Schneider Canada, the Federal Pioneer parent company, has not provided information regarding design or manufacture changes over the U.S. design, nor provided test data regarding the product.
As of May 2008 we have had a few reports of failures in the Canadian Federal Pioneer (Stab-Lok® ) equipment and also reports of failures of "replacement" FPE circuit breakers installed in U.S. panels. Having inspected some Canadian FPE (Federal Pioneer-brand) electric panels, we observed two ongoing concerns:
1.) the same bus design was used as in the U.S. equipment. I've seen very poor retention of breakers in the bus - in one house the breaker was held in place by duct tape, as the spring design in the contact of the breaker where it plugs into the special opening in the bus appears not to have held the breaker in place. We have also seen breakers modified with their inserting pins bent and modified to fit a breaker into a slot where it did not belong - a step that is impossible with other breaker designs.
2.) A similar or identical panel design may expose consumers to panel arcing and fires regardless of changes in the breakers themselves.
Aronstein/Lowry (2012), estimate that the potential savings from a ten-year replacement program for FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels in the U.S. alone would result in
These figures are difficult to translate into the cost/benefit of FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel replacement for an individual building owner. Worse, some building owners, particularly home sellers, may figure that electrical panel replacement is an avoidable cost that is of more benefit to future owners than to themselves.
The cost to replace an electrical panel is basically the cost of materials and labor: the cost of the new panel and breakers and the labor to remove the old panel and connect existing electrical circuits into the new one. The property owner or an electrician can buy a new electrical panel complete with circuit breakers for a cost ranging from under $100. U.S. to around $200. (depending on panel ampacity and number of circuit breakers) at most building supply stores. The cost of panel installation/replacement varies widely depending on where you live but typically ranges from $1000. to $2,500. .
A expert reviewer pointed out that:
We agree that there is a lot of folly in how individuals approach safety and risk. Here we address viewers who may be open to a more accurate understanding of the risk of fire, shock, etc.
In my OPINION [DF], considering the significant contribution of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment to house fires, replacing the equipment is likely to be less costly than the cost of a fire. If we wanted to make a completely emotionless assessment of the cost-benefit of replacing an unsafe electrical panel that is associated with about 2.5% of all of the annually reported electrical panels in the U.S. and is present in about 17 million homes in the U.S. as well as in many other buildings, or if we wanted to consider that there is about one fire per year for every 6000 FPE Stab-Lok® Panels in homes, let's say that your
To the costs you are avoiding, add
In my OPINION, one might infer that even if we were not willing to pay one cent to reduce the risk of the time, trouble, or even injury or death that might ensue from a house fire caused by an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel or breaker failure, that is, if we just consider the cost of a replacement electrical panel, replacing the panel is a good deal.
* GE PowerMark Gold 125 Amp 12-Space 24-Circuit Main Breaker Load Center Contractor Kit, Model # TM1212RCU1K, Internet # 100182490, Store SKU # 393844, retrieved 10/2/2012
For people who are unable to promptly replace an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel we recommend that you should be sure you have working smoke detectors properly installed and at least you will be able to sleep at night. Also see CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL?
How to report your FPE Stab-Lok® panel or circuit breaker Failure - Reporting Federal Pacific and Federal Pioneer Equipment Problems
Please see FPE INCIDENTS, HOW TO REPORT for full details of reporting FPE Stab-Lok® ™ and other electrical product failures
We invite voluntary field failure reports from readers who are aware of or who experience failures of Federal Pacific and Federal Pioneer equipment order to add to the existing data base.
In addition to informing us of an FPE Stab-Lok® or Federal Pioneer electrical panel or breaker event so that we can add this incident report to the data base we maintain, we encourage readers to report such events also to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission - it's easy: you can use a simple form at the CPSC's website: https://www.cpsc.gov/incident.html or you can send the CPSC email on incidents to: email@example.com
There is no requirement that failures be reported to us for tabulation here. This website is not a government or other official document, nor does it receive nor request funding. Contact the author.
Citation by brief quote or links-to this website are invited,
provided you credit this source website InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
There is no financial recourse, no product recall, no financial help, no warranty claim, no replacement fund currently available for FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels except for a very limited class action result in the state of New Jersey. New Jersey residents can see FPE CLASS ACTION SETTLEMENT for more information.
For more information about the cost of panel replacement, FPE replacement options, electricians, and an approach that can save part of replacement cost in some cases: see the articles listed just below
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: I can't afford to pay for a new electrical panel - where can the money come from?
Thanks alot! 71 yrs old, on social security, everything went up, especially Taxes, food etc. Now I can't sleep worried my house is going to burn down. Where does the money come for this!! I'm sure it's not cheap to replace circuit boards electricians are expensive. Thanks my money was right there for you when we put in Federal Pacific.... - Joann Novotny - 6/23/11
Reply: cost-benefit analysis of replacing an FPE Stab-Lok electrical panel
Joann, please don't blame InspectAPedia for the installation of an unsafe electrical panel in your home. If you are unable to promptly replace the panel, take a look at the advice in the articles listed just above this FAQs section and also linked-to at Related Topics titled:
Finally, in my opinion, considering the significant contribution of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment to house fires, replacing the equipment is likely to be less costly than the cost of a fire. Details are at Cost-benefit analysis of replacing an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel.
A lot of Home Insurance company's are helping with paying for the replacement of these panels, especially now that most companies will not insure a home with these panels in them. I would suggest to anyone to contact your insurance company to see what they are or are not helping with. - Gator 7/14/11
Question: are the FPE hazards the same in both main panel and sub panels?
I have my service panel and a main panel. Are the issues the same with both? Do they both need to be replaced? - Don E. 8/11/11
Yes Don E. - the FPE breakers don't know if they are in a main panel or a sub panel. Their performance doesn't vary by that criterion.
Question: Is there a retrofit kit available for FPE Panels?
Is there a retrofit kit available for FPE panels? - David W. Nies 9/19/11
It is my understanding there is a retro fit kit for FPE panels??? If so how do I get one? - Budd 9/4/12
David and Budd
Eaton - Cutler Hammer make replacement bus and breaker assemblies that can fit in some FPE panel steel enclosures. See FPE REPLACEMENT PANELS for details.
Question: is there a similar risk with FPE panels that use fuses
What are the risk associated with domestic cut out fuse - Ajiroghene sunny 1/1/12
No A.S. Fuses are completely different devices. However if your electrical panel uses fuses it may be under-sized and obsolete for modern home usage levels. You should review that question with your electrician.
Question: Electrician Report on FPE Failure - breaker didn't shut off
I’m a licensed 309A electrician in Stoney Creek Ontario with 30 yrs exp.
Pete, thanks so much for the comment. Thank goodness you were not killed by that failing FPE Stab-Lok unit. Indeed it has been shown by independent testing that a scary feature of FPE's is that the breaker toggle may be switched to the OFF position but one or more breaker poles may remain "on" or energized internally. Very dangerous.
Also see SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS
Reader comment from Anonymous:
Pete, sounds like you should start using a voltage tester every time!
Reader comment from George Campbell 1/17/2012
Pete Vann - An experienced 309A electrician should be smart enough to us a volt meter to make sure the line does not have a voltage potential EVERY TIME. Not just for Stab Lok breakers. I've been an electronics tech and engineer for 28 years and I know enough to test an AC or DC line at work or at home before I trust there is on voltage. I also have a breaker panel full of STAB LOK. I have done extensive work in my house (AC, Water Heater, additional outlets, etc.). So far I have found that they do turn off. And in a few cases I know they do trip. Guess I am lucky so far but I'll be changing the panel out soon.
Reply from DF:
Question: Electrician Report on FPE failures to trip
Being an electrician a few years now have ran into a few of these panels. They were common in trailers from the smaller 100amp mini trailer version to the industrial 40 space commercial which uses challenger style breakers. I've seen many times the breakers do not shut off entirely causing electrocution risk. As a man of safety you always check for voltage even if the panel is well known QO ,homeline, ge, etc. I've seen I-line breakers on 480 not kill a pole causing an electrocution risk. Although very rare it does happen.
I can't stress enough to get the dangerous fpe's replaced. Once the breakers trip, they do not shut off or trip again due to arching welding the trip mechanism. I've seen outlets burned clean out of the wall causing fires many times. They had a huge run of these failed products here in the late 60's and 70's.
Also, do not think buying an aftermarket fpe replacement is going to magically fix the problem as the whole design was flawed. These panels buss system uses the stab-lok interface which doesn't make good enough contact(although used copper buss) and causes deterioration of the insulator board behind the buss making a serious arch condition to the panels enclosure.
I've been called out after the utility co pulled the meter out of an FPE firework show and the main never tripped. - Eric 1/26/2012
Thank you Eric for this field report on FPE - I invite you to also report your experience to the US CPSC. See FPE INCIDENTS, HOW TO REPORT
Question: Electrician in Hospital questions FPE Hazard in non-residential installations
I am an electrician in a hospital. The hospital was originally built in 1974 and alot of the branch circuit panels are FPE. These panels use type NA,NC,or NAGF breakers. Should I have the same concerns as a home owner? Are the panels I have the same as the residential panels? - Brett 3/8/12
Please take a look at HOW TO IDENTIFY FPE & FP (article link at Related Topics ) - if your breakers and panel bus are the same FPE Stab-Lok design, as I imagine they are, then the same FPE hazard concerns apply to your building.
Certainly FPE Stab-Lok equipment was installed in both residential and many non-residential buildings. Aronstein/Lowry (2002) report that the product defects extended across the product line and across its manufacturing history, including the product's use in both residential and non-residential installations.
Question: A local electrician advertises for FPE Replacement but I've never had a problem with my panel
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
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.
In sum, there is no need for FPE testing in your home, we already know that the equipment is hazardous, and such tests are unreliable and dangerous.
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.
Question: I want to add two circuits to my StabLOK panel - can I do it myself?
I have a Stab Lok panel and want to add two 240 V 20A and 2 110V 20A circuits. Should i consider replacing the panel? Can i do it myself? - @John, 4/26/12
From Tom 4/30/12
@ John (four days ago) - YES - change the panel out. The Federal Pacific panels are defective and dangerous.
Tom, very well said. Thank you for your comments. 4/30/12 Daniel Friedman
Question: FPE Stab-Lok failure leads to apartment fire
We had a Federal Pacific panel in an apartment we were renting. On Friday, a bathroom fan jammed and failed to run. The fan got very hot and melted the motor. As the motor melted, the plastic fan cover melted into the melting metal motor, and the wall caught fire. After the wall caught fire the entire apartment caught fire, burning us out of our home.
Tom, thank you for this important FPE fire report. We are of course so sorry to read that the fire occurred and that you had a serious house fire. I encourage you to report the fire to the U.S. CPSC - FPE INCIDENTS, HOW TO REPORT. And help me out as topic editor -
Question: Electronics Engineer opted to replace FPE equipment, expresses hazard opinion
I'm a well experienced electronics engineer for over 40 yrs. After seeing a report in February 2012 by WFTV 9 (a local central Florida TV station) about these panels, I knew (by sheer luck of the draw) my 1985 built home just had to have one of these "defunct" FPE Stab-Lock panels---of course IT DID! I just replaced the entire panel with a Square-D. I checked my next door neighbor's panel and they also have the FPE Stab-Lock. I advised them of replacing it---they haven't! After follow-up investigating on many web sites about these FPE panels---ANYBODY who has one in their home is at HIGH risk of fire hazard! Take my well intended advice: DEFINITELY replace the panel whether it currently works and /or has never had a problem! This is a VERY insidious problem and VERY high risk! - Kurt 5/16/12
thank you for your helpful comments. Part of the difficulty of the FPE hazard is that although the hazard has been demonstrated as real by compelling independent evidence, both research and actual field reports, the company successfully stopped the CPSC investigation, money held out for a product recall was never used for that purpose, the company is now gone except for a remains left for protection against litigation, and in the absence of an "official U.S. Government recall" some folks who have conflicting interests (including a real estate agent who contacted us today) simply deny the hazard. You are right in your respect for the hazards involved.
Question: Did FPE Pay for Panel Replacements?
Did FPE pay for the change out? - Alton 6/18/12
Alton, what a great question to bring out a little bit of not-easy-to-find FPE history. When FPE was sold, the buyer, on discovering they'd bought a liability, negotiated a multimillion dollar allowance that was to be used to pay for a panel recall. But no recall was ever issued, they pocketed the money instead. All of that information is in public documents; see FPE Exxon Scandal Article for an example.
Question: Hospital Electrician Asks if he should be concerned about FPE panels in the hospital
I am an electrician in a hospital. The hospital was originally built in 1974 and alot of the branch circuit panels are FPE. These panels use type NA,NC,or NAGF breakers. Should I have the same concerns as a home owner? Are the panels I have the same as the residential panels?
Harvey, thanks for the important question. Indeed FPE made an extensive range of equipment, both residential and commercial. In some instances breakers and parts were reported to have been swapped between the two, as well as swapping breakers among amperage ratings.
Question: Where can I find an electrician qualified to work on FPE Panels ?
Looking for electricians qualified to work on Federal Pacific Panels in the Anderson, SC area. - Terrie Mann 9/10/2012
I may not have understood clearly your use of the words "work on Federal Pacific Panels" but to be clear, "working on" the panel is not a safe approach. The panel should be replaced.
Any licensed electrician should be fully capable of properly replacing any electrical panel of any brand. No special knowledge about FPE Stab-Lok® equipment is necessary simply to replace one of those electrical panels. But ...
Watch out: if you have the bad luck of running into an electrician who is not familiar with the FPE Hazard, s/he could put you and your family and home at extra risk by expressing the opinion that "there is nothing wrong with the FPE panel you have installed so no action is needed". It is in part to avoid that risk that we recommend electricians who are familiar with FPE hazards, just as similarly we do so for aluminum electrical wiring repairs.
At DIRECTORY OF ELECTRICIANS we list licensed electricians who assert that they are familiar with the equipment and the hazards. If you find a local electrician whose work satisfies you and who is familiar with the issue, encourage him/her to contact us to be listed in the directory if s/he does not already appear there. There are no costs or fees involved. InspectApedia has no financial relationship with companies offering products or services that may be discussed at this website.
Question: FPE panel Y95003A-514 in a 20 year old house "does not look like an FPE panel"
We saw a FPE panel Y95003A-514 in a newer home. Are those bad too. It did not look like FPE panel. The house is 20 years old. - Sam Sain 9/14/12
I am writing to see if you have published data from the NJ condo study showing increased failure rate with FPE Stab Lok panels and breakers. - D.H., Washington State
Thank you for asking about updated status on FPE (Federal Pacific Electric) Stab-Lok® ® hazards. Because of publication restrictions and rules imposed by IEEE, we have cited but not published the contents of the most important recent study that contains updated and authoritative research on the FPE hazard. However we do cite and refer readers to the document in our FPE home page where for reader benefit I include this email, keeping your identity private (let me know if you want to be identified). (at http://www.inspectapedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm )
From the IEEE you should be able to obtain this updated report that is current as of 2011:
Jesse Aronstein, Ph.D., P.E., and Richard Lowry, Ph.D., "Estimating Fire Losses Associated with FPE Stab-Lok® ® Circuit Breaker Malfunction", IEEE ESW-2011-29, Industry Applications, IEEE Transactions on, Jan.-Feb. 2012,
An updated version of the original paper, possibly available from Dr. Aronstein, identifies the name of the defective circuit breakers - information that was not identified in the published version due to conference rules. Abstract:
In my OPINION the Aronstein/Lowry IEEE-published study is an important update on the FPE hazard. It establishes the FPE Stab-Lok® hazard to a new higher level of certainty across the entire product line, and concludes that "... there are substantial fire losses due to the defective operation of FPE Stab-Lok® (R) circuit breakers.
The Aronstein/Lowry report found failure rates confirming those documented in earlier FPE Stab-Lok® studies and it cites the considerable body of failure data that has been produced since the CPSC closed its investigation in 1983. Importantly, Aronstein/Lowry also conclude that defects exist across the entire FPE Stab-Lok® ® circuit breaker product line (rather than just the specific breaker types originally investigated by the US CPSC).
The study also recaps more recent legal history of the FPE Stab-Lok® breaker product, citing the 2002 New Jersey class action lawsuit in which the judge ruled that the manufacturer of FPE Stab-Lok® ® breakers committed fraud over a period of many years by applying UL-labels to circuit breakers that did not meet UL product testing standards. The decision drew principally on the company's own documents, but public documents also indicate that FPE lost their UL listing when deceptive testing and labeling of breakers was discovered (see our citation of press reports - FPE Exxon Scandal Article, published at InspectAPedia.com).
In sum, the recent Aronstein/Lowry study is a call-to-action to the U.S. CPSC to finally make a clear warning to both the electrical trades and the public concerning the FPE Stab-Lok® ® hazard.
Question/Comment: what does "hire a professional mean?"
The common used phrase is "hire an experienced professional". I work for a company that requires two years experience, drug testing, four weeks on the job training, etc., etc. and these guys screw up all the time. Anon, 4/5/13
Anon you make a good point, that it can be tough for people to figure out if their "professional" is one. On the job conduct, workmanship, licensing, are all clues. If you have specific additional tips we'd be happy to publish them here. _ Daniel
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Letter to IAEI International Association of Electrical Inspectors News Magazine re: FPE Public Relations Article asserts Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® panels are OK
Please see FPE HAZARD IAEI LETTER INACCURATE for the full version of this article.
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. We 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 our 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. our resume/background (Since the article indicates the author did not know who we are )
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.)
10-1-00 follow up note: IAEI and Mr. Cox have declined to reply to this correspondence.
Citation by brief quote or links-to this website are invited,
provided you credit this source website FPE Stab-Lok® HAZARDS & REPAIRS WEBSITE found at http://InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm, Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Circuit Breaker & Panel Information Website
Note: the following articles included as addenda are maintained as separate web pages listed above and at Related Topics .
CALIBRATION AND CONDITION TESTS OF MOLDED CASE CIRCUIT BREAKERS - Federal Pacific Stab Lok Breakers - CPSC DataCPSC-C-81-1429 December 30, 1982
Final Report: Contract CPSC-C-81-1429
Date: December 30, 1982
Submitted by: Jesse Aronstein (original contains signature)
WRIGHTVM MALTA CORPORATION. Malta test station, Ballston Spa, New York 12020 518-899-2227
1.0 FPE Stab-Lok® Electric Panel Hazard Summary
Calibration tests have been performed on 122 two-pole Federal Pacific Electric circuit breakers. The calibration tests were performed -in accordance with UL Standard 489 except for or a difference in the sequence of calibrations. UL 489 is the applicable standard that the breakers are presumed to meet. In most cases, the calibration tests were repeated after 500 off-on mechanical operations of the toggle handle..
The circuit breakers tested were supplied by CPSC and came from several sources. Most were provided to CPSC by Federal Pacific Electric, some were purchased new by CPSC staff members at retail outlets, and a few were removed from existing installations. The breaker ratings tested were 30A (30 two-pole breakers tested), 40A (35), 50A(20), 60A(7) and 80A (30). The tests include performance at 100%, 135%, and 200% of ratings, and dielectric tests. More about the galvanic scale and corrosion between dissimilar metals is at GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION.
A substantial number of breakers failed the calibrations testing, both before and after the mechanical toggle operations. Failures were evident with both poles carrying current as well as with one-pole operation. Specifically, the failures are summarized as follows:
The failures appeared. among breakers of all ratings, none were failure-free. Most of the "no-trip' conditions were sustained for four hours well beyond the UL specification. These were not marginal failures with respect to the failure criteria. The data suggests that, on the average, the mechanical operations result in increased failures. This was .'not strictly the case on a sample-to-sample basis.
The failures relate to hazardous conditions in at least two ways. First, a fault in the wiring or utilization equipment which causes excessive- current-can result in fire if the circuit is not opened by the breaker -- this is its principal functional requirement. Secondly, it was determined in these tests that some of the breakers overheat to hazardous levels when subjected to overcurrent conditions (due to their own failure to trip) for sustained periods of time. The overheating can result in incapacitation of the breaker (i.e.: it will no longer open under any condition), and the temperature can be high enough to ignite fire in the vicinity of the breaker, as evidenced by charring of the case on some samples.
NOTE: this text is quoted verbatim from pages 3-5 of "Calibration and Condition Tests of Molded Case Circuit Breakers, Final Report: Contract CPSC-C-81-1429 December 30, 1982," obtained from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission as a FOIA request.
This paper describes how to identify Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels in buildings. It is information for building inspectors, home buyers, home owners, electricians exploring the background of possible hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels.
To identify the circuit breaker panels and breakers discussed at the FPE information website you should look for the product name "Federal Pacific Stab Lok" or "Federal Pioneer Stab Lok" on the equipment. If all product identification labels have been removed, look at the various photos of FPE panels which you can find at the Federal Pacific Electric Stab Lok Panel website, and at several of the articles at that website, e.g. See Hazardous FPE Circuit Breakers and Panels.
What if there are no labels on our FPE Electric panel? How can we tell if it is a "Stab-Lok® " model?
Watch out: SAFETY WARNING - FATAL SHOCK HAZARD - If it is necessary to remove an electric panel cover to inspect the panel interior, buses, or other components, you should hire a licensed electrician for that purpose. Unless you are a licensed electrician, DO NOT REMOVE ELECTRIC PANEL COVERS, DO NOT INSERT TOOLS INTO ELECTRIC PANELS, DO NOT TOUCH LIVE ELECTRICAL PARTS such as screws, buses, bare wires, or anything that is inside of the electric panel.
This warning does not prohibit unlatching and swinging open the normal hinged panel covers provided for use by the homeowner to permit access to circuit breaker switches themselves. The warning refers to disassembling, unscrewing, or otherwise modifying or operating on an electric panel. Live wires and contacts inside of an electric panel can, if touched, cause fatal shock - death. If you are uncertain of what is safe to touch, do not touch any part of the equipment.
Three Stab-Lok® bus designs were used in these panels and can be identified by an electrician on disassembly of some panel components.
Does the age of Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Electric Panels make a difference in the safety concerns?
The following is a personal opinion by the website author:
However we have test data only for the FPE Stab-Lok® series of residential electrical panels and circuit breakers. The "Stab-Lok® " product involves a specific electrical panel, bus, and circuit breaker design. Therefore the FPE Stab-Lok® Panel Website only includes research and warnings for this specific product line.
People write to ask if their Federal Pacific Electric equipment is "OK" based on a particular age of their house and presumably of the panel. "Year" criteria is not useful in evaluating risk as there is no data that demonstrates that FPE Stab-Lok® equipment is better or worse after specific dates. Furthermore, the age of a piece of equipment installed in a house can be older or newer than the age of the house itself.
Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Historic Dates
The following dates are excerpted from various public documents, all of which can be found at this website:
1979 Reliance Electric acquired the [bankrupt] Federal Pacific Electric Company from UV Industries.
June 1980, Reliance Electric and FPE brought suit against UV Industries [a liquidating trust which previously handled the assets of the bankrupt FPE company.] for damages of $345 million or for rescission of the previous sale by UV of the FPE line to Reliance, referring to deceptive practices which went on for years on obtaining UL listing for FPE products.
5 July 1980: Reliance Electric stopped shipping FPE Stab-Lok® equipment on or about July 5, 1980. Keep in mind that equipment in the pipeline in supply houses was never recalled, so homes built considerably after that date may still have an FPE Stab-Lok® panel installed.
21 July 1980: Business Week magazine reports on FPE/Reliance Electric scandal.
September 1980: Reliance Electric brought legal action against Sharon Steel Company which had assumed the liabilities of UV Liquidation.
17 February 1981: Federal Pacific announced that it would voluntarily replace or field modify certain models of its [predominantly commercial and industrial] molded case circuit breaker line. [No recall, no field repair was offered for residential equipment.] Funds were set aside for this replacement [but may not have been expended.]
31 March 1982: Reliance Electric Financial Statements acknowledge that FPE previously obtained UL Listings by fraudulent means and that at "some point thereafter, lost their UL listing."
(Aronstein) provide report of independent testing and failures of FPE Stab-Lok® breakers.
CPSC management halts testing of FPE Breakers, citing high costs of continuing the project. The announcement does not exonerate the product and includes generic warnings to consumers.
11 October 1995: The FPE Stab-Lok® Website created by DJ Friedman as a consumer information and failure research project.
14 October 1997: Ontario Canada Home Warranty Program issues a warning regarding Canadian Federal Pioneer [Canadian version of FPE Stab-Lok® ] equipment provided by Schneider Electric if made in 1996 and 1997, and announces a recall program for Canadians.
May 1999 :FPE Stab Lok Website author converses with Schneider Electric re: Federal Pioneer Equipment - further data not forthcoming.
December 1999: Ohio FPE Stab-Lok® failure-caused panel-fire documented at the website.
June 1999: IAEI International Association of Electrical Inspectors publishes anonymously and disclaimed, an article [penned by a previous FPE employee] - stating that there have never been failure, safety, or other issues with FPE Stab-Lok® equipment.
21 February 2004: Update of ongoing FPE Failure testing reported to ASHI - American Society of Home Inspectors [this topic has been reported to ASHI previously and has been addressed at ASHI conferences and seminars.
Federal Pacific Electric Equipment issues extend beyond basic design of the Stab Lok Circuit Breaker
But it's more complicated than that. The company actually changed the design from time to time (without necessarily telling anyone). On the other hand, No one has provided any technical or even anecdotal data suggesting that any of these changes corrected basic design flaws. In addition, there was the problem of equipment UL-listing label swapping and therefore mislabeling individual pieces of equipment, therefore incorrectly stating the use to which individual pieces of equipment could be applied.
FPE USA stopped making equipment quite a while ago, but Stab-Lok® (TM) panels and circuit breakers continued to be produced in Canada, under the name Federal Pioneer, a Canadian "FPE" company which was later bought by Schneider Electric, also in Canada. "Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and panels continue to be available even still as "new" today. Some of our Canadian contacts claim that the Canadian product was better than the U.S.-made version but my own first-hand view of some of it in the home of a Canadian Home inspector was that it was just as bad. (The circuit breakers had to be held into the panel using adhesive tape!)
Several years ago we called Schneider Electric and was able to speak with a Schneider engineer about this product. We asked if they had changed the design to fix any of the inherent problems with the product series over the U.S. version. We were promised an answer to this question - the engineer was quite polite. But in follow-up calls no one at the company wanted to provide any information about this product.
If a manufacturer cannot, or will not provide their supporting test or other data for a product home inspectors and electricians are forced to err on the safe side by refusing to endorse it. "Trust me" just doesn't cut it where electrical safety is concerned.
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FOR RELEASE: MARCH 3, 1983
COMMISSION CLOSES INVESTIGATION OF FPE CIRCUIT BREAKERS AND PROVIDES SAFETY INFORMATION FOR CONSUMERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced today that it is closing its two year investigation into Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® type residential circuit breakers. This action was taken because the data currently available to the Commission does not establish that the circuit breakers present a serious risk of injury to consumers.
The Commission investigation into Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breakers began in June, 1980, when Reliance Electric Co., a subsidiary of Exxon Corporation and the parent to FPE, reported to the Commission that many FPE circuit breakers did not fully comply with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) requirements. Commission testing confirmed that these breakers fail under certain UL calibration test requirements. The Commission investigation focused primarily on 2-pole residential circuit breakers manufactured before Reliance acquired FPE in 1979.
To meet UL standards, residential circuit breakers must pass a number of so-called "calibration tests." The purpose of these tests is to determine whether the circuit breakers will hold the current for which they are rated and also automatically open or "trip" (shut off the current) within the specified time limits if over-loading of the circuit breakers causes current levels in excess of the breaker's amperage rating. (Overloading can occur because a consumer plugs too many products into a circuit or due to the failure of a product or component connected to that circuit.) While the Commission is concerned about the failure of these FPE breakers to meet UL calibration requirements, the Commission is unable at this time to link these failures to the development of a hazardous situation.
According to Reliance, failure of these FPE breakers to comply with certain UL calibration requirements do not create a hazard in the household environment. It is Reliance's position that FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels unless the breakers have been operated in a repetitive, abusive manner that should not occur during residential use. Reliance maintains that, at those few overload levels where FPE breakers may fail to trip under realistic use conditions, currents will be too low to generate hazardous temperatures in household wiring. Reliance believes that its position in this regard is supported by test data that is provided to the Commission.
The Commission staff believes that it currently has insufficient data to accept or refute Reliance's position.
The Commission staff estimates that it would cost several million dollars to gather the data necessary to assess fully whether those circuit breakers which are installed in homes but which may fail UL calibration tests present a risk to the public. Based on the Commission's limited budget ($34 million for fiscal year 1983), the known hazards the Commission has identified and must address (involving products of other manufacturers) and the uncertainty of the results of such a costly investigation, the Commission has decided not to commit further resources to its investigation of FPE's circuit breakers. However, despite its decision to close this particular investigation, the Commission will continue its investigation of circuit breakers generally. The Commission can reopen its investigation of FPE breakers if further information warrants.
The 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).
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Citation by brief quote or links-to this website are invited,
provided you credit this source website InspectAPedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm