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This document provides recommended home inspection report language to be used when the inspector
observes the presence of a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® electric panel in a building. Building inspectors are
permitted to use the suggested reporting language described above in printed reports.
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.
FPE Stab-Lok® Breaker or Panel Inspection Reports - Recommended Language
In building inspection reports of the condition of the electrical service panel I inform my clients as follows:
*** Safety Warning*** I have observed a Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok® " service panel in the
house. This panel is a latent fire hazard: it's circuit breakers may fail to
trip in response to an overcurrent or a short circuit. Failure of a circuit
breaker to trip can result in a fire, property damage, or personal injury.
circuit breaker that may not trip does not afford the protection that is
intended and required. Simply replacing the circuit breakers is not a reliable
repair. The panel should be replaced, and significant expense may be involved.
Additional information about the fire and shock hazards associated with this
equipment can be read on the internet at
Latent fire/shock hazard: Properly described, the presence of an
FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel in a building is a latent fire or shock
hazard. The panel does not "initiate" an unsafe condition. Rather, when an
unsafe condition such as a short circuit or current overload on a circuit
occurs, the equipment may not provide the protection expected. The result can be
an overheated wire and an electrical fire and/or personal injury.
If you are not sure how to identify an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel,
see FPE & FP IDENTIFICATION, HOW TO.
While we have had fewer reports of failures in the Canadian version of this equipment (Labeled Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok® )
we have had field failure reports from Canada, and there has been one Canadian product recall.
See CANADIAN VERSIONS of FPE Stab-Lok®.
Past "performance" does not mean "safe":
The fact that a problem has not occurred in a building is absolutely no
assurance that questionable equipment is "safe." A circuit breaker has normally
little to do except pass current onwards until there is an unsafe condition. If
an unsafe condition has not occurred in a building the fact that a breaker may
not trip is not discovered. If an overcurrent or short circuit subsequently
occurs it's a bit late to discover that the circuit breaker did not do its
job. For an in-depth technical report explaining the hazards of this equipment
see FPE Technical Report - Independent Research 2011
Panel replacement is required: There is no safe alternative to complete replacement of the FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel.
Replacement circuit breakers do not reduce the hazard, both because the breakers themselves
have not been shown to be a safety improvement and because there are multiple hazards involving
the breakers, the panel bus design, and the panel itself.
Financial impact: The presence of an unsafe electrical panel and the need to replace it is not, by itself,
a reason not to buy a property any more than needing to replace an unsafe tire on an automobile
would be, itself, a reason not to buy the car. The cost of a new electrical panel is not a
significant percentage of the value of a property.
Real hazard: The safety problems with this equipment are real, not theoretical.
In addition to the information on-line, I have received a number of reports
of panel overheating instances and related fires. It really happens. Some
electricians have written to me that they call these "federal no-trip" panels.
See FPE FAILURE FIRE PHOTOS.
with conflicts of interest in this matter, including FPE, and some building sellers, and even IAEI have offered
inaccurate "opinions" which have confused other consumers, inspectors, and realtors. For our response
to an egregious example which the FPE attorney placed in a national magazine,
see FPE HAZARD IAEI LETTER INACCURATE
see FPE Stab-Lok® TECHNICAL REPORT UPDATES
Class action status: At least one attorney has brought a successful class action suit (in New Jersey).
Information in the court documents (available at the FPE information website)
also confirmed the hazards and history of this safety problem. If/when there is
some suitable public action and announcement I'll post it at the website and
submit it to the appropriate publications such as the ASHI Reporter as well.
Ongoing research: For research purposes we are quite interested in obtaining actual field
samples of these panels, both when overheating or fires have occurred and when
they are replaced before such an unfortunate event. When you come across one of
these that's to be replaced I'd be grateful to hear about it; we can arrange
shipment of the old panel to the appropriate expert at no cost to the homeowner.
The panels are tested by an independent forensic engineer in order to develop
additional competent data for CPSC and industry. To submit an FPE Stab-Lok® panel for research use the "Contact Us" link on any of our web pages.
Accurate reporting: In all cases it is appropriate to report the risk to the consumer
in clear, calm, unambiguous language. Inspectors who are vague about hazardous
conditions are liable to charge of failure to exercise due
diligence, malpractice, or worse, criminal negligence.
Inappropriately vague language which does not
make clear the hazards is negligent.
Inspectors must be clear in reporting the hazards of and need for action concerning this defect.
Just as vague "soft soaping" language is misleading and negligent,
inappropriately frightening language is not appropriate in a professional
condition of property report.
Which is worse: a nervous buyer who understands that it's a legitimate concern
that needs to be addressed, or a comfortable buyer who doesn't understand that
and who later has an electrical fire that could have been prevented. Just ask:
nervous vs fire, nervous vs fire, and figure out what's the professional
Urgency of action: For some hazards it may be that a reasonable course of action is simply to
be informed that risks are involved, leaving to the consumer the choice to
replace equipment or to correct an unsafe condition. Some unsafe conditions do
not need to be handled as an emergency. Choices regarding of urgency and extent
of action depend on the risks involved, the use of the facility, and the
alternative costs to remedy the condition. However in the case of electrical
equipment which does not perform as intended my opinion is that the risks are
serious enough to require prompt action.
Bias and Financial Gain: we conduct this research and provide this
information as a non-profit project out of personal concern and interest in the
material. Home inspectors and building professionals have a professional
obligation to protect their clients and other consumers
by presenting information in an accurate, informed, and unbiased
manner using clear, unambiguous language which speaks to the point.
Simply reporting an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel as "obsolete" or
"hard to find replacement parts for" is potentially criminally negligent.
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.
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.
Ethical building inspection means not profiting from repair work and
not engaging in conflicting interests. It means not having
any financial connection with properties inspected. (See the ASHI Code of
Ethics.) It means not having hidden relationships with referring
agencies such as real estate firms - known in the home inspection industry
as "the buy-in" or "paid referral" or "referral agreements" (which are
not disclosed to the client ahead of time and perhaps never).
It does NOT mean soft-pedaling the information to keep realtors and
sellers happy at the risk of a loss or injury to the ultimate consumer or
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Questions & answers or comments about how to report on the condition of Federal Pacific Electric Stab Lok - FPE Stab Lok electric panels and breakers.
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Note: as we didn't add this reviewers list until 2007, this list of technical reviewers is incomplete; we have received comments and suggestions regarding this topic, edits and remarks included, from engineers and management from the US CPSC, electricians (many listed at our page on field reports of FPE failures), home inspectors, licensed electricians, and electrical engineers, and even a few attorneys and real estate agents, since 1986. Technical review, critique, content suggestions, questions, or clarifications are invited and where a contributor wishes, credit and links will be provided to that source. Contact us to provide feedback.
Dr. Jess Aronstein, electrical engineer, Poughkeepsie, NY, forensic engineering services, independent laboratory testing for various agencies email@example.com (independent electrical panel testing, including FPE Stab-Lok® panels, to April 2010)
David Carrier, electrical engineer, 53 Henmond Blvd., Poughkeepsie, NY 12603 845-430-7527 firstname.lastname@example.org (independent electrical panel testing, including FPE Stab-Lok® panels, beginning 2010)
Alan Carson, Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto, Ontario. Mr. Carson is a home inspection professional, educator, researcher, writer, and a principal of Carson Dunlop Associates, a Toronto home inspection and education firm. Mr. Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors
Carl Grasso, Esq., Herzfeld & Rubin, New York, NY. Mr. Grasso is an attorney who managed a plaintiff's class action litigation against Federal Pacific Electric in New Jersey.
William King, US CPSC Director of Electrical Engineering (Ret).
Licensed Electricians: FPE FAILURE FIRE PHOTOS includes electricians who have provided cases and photographs of field failures of FPE equipment at this website.
Homeowners, Home Inspectors, Electricians: FPE FAILURE FIELD REPORTS includes anecdotal field reports provided by a range of contributors including electricians (and some home owners or home inspectors) who have provided cases and photographs of field failures of FPE equipment at this website.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Aluminum Wiring Information WebsiteAluminum Electrical Wiring Hazards and Repairs: in-depth authoritative info, photos, documents including selection of proper vs. ineffective repair methods. E.g.: Ideal 65 "Twister" purple connector fails in field and lab testing with aluminum wire.
2007 FPE Stab-Lok® TECHNICAL REPORT - an updated test report of independent testing (a large 1.2MB PDF file) 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).
1982 Reliance Electric Co. SEC Quarterly Report: Note C. reports litigation between Reliance and UV Liquidating Trust and contends that "... improper and deceptive practices were employed for many years to secure UL listings for Federal Pacific's circuit protective products..."
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