Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® Electrical Panels What if I Can't Afford a New Panel?
CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL? - CONTENTS: What to do if you cannot afford to replace an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel. No financial aid for FPE panel replacement? Steps to increase electrical safety in the home. Planning for FPE Federal Pacific Electric electrical panel replacement
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FPE Panel replacement options:
This document describes steps to take if you are unable to promptly replace an Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panel. Here we address the question raised by some readers about what to do if you can't afford to replace an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel right away.
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.
What to Do if You Cannot Replace an FPE Stab-Lok® Electrical Panel
This is information for home owners, home sellers, building inspectors, home buyers, home owners, and electricians regarding steps to reduce the hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels.
Safety warning: as with any electrical installation or repair, these steps must be performed by a licensed and qualified electrician and must comply with appropriate building codes and regulations. Good workmanship and
an accurate assessment of the condition of the electrical panel enclosure which is to be re-used are important for FPE Electric Panel.
What if Up to Now the FPE Panel Has Seemed Just Fine?
Our breakers have already tripped: Some readers report that some of their FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers have tripped correctly in the past. That was good to hear; we don't assert that the failure rate on these circuit breakers is 100% of the time, but in fact the failure-to-trip rate occurs enormously more often than on other non-problem electrical panels and circuit breakers.
A problem is that we can't predict when an overcurrent or unsafe electrical condition is going to occur in a building, and we cannot predict exactly when an individual circuit breaker is going to fail to protect the circuit and thus the building from an overcurrent or electrical short.
But reporting that "up to now the panel has been fine" or "up to now we've never had a problem" or even "up to now the circuit breakers in our FPE panel have tripped off", is not any assurance that such a system is safe. We've seen that if you do trip an FPE Stab-Lok® breaker, that event can actually increase the chances that it will jam and not trip next time.
Our inspector said the panel looked ok to him: visual inspections of the electrical panel or even in-place electrical "tests" of the panel are either unreliable or downright dangerous. You cannot rely on such superficial or inexpert tests, and the very fact that they are offered by some is evidence of a lack of expertise on this topic.
Here's what you can do while waiting to replace your FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel:
Don't panic - panic leads to getting over charged by the electrician. But get bids from at least two electricians experienced in electrical panel replacement. Plan to replace the panel; do not rely on visual inspections or "tests" that might claim that the electrical panel is safe.
Make certain you have working smoke detectors in the home and that they are installed in the locations and in the manner recommended by their manufacturers or in local fire safety codes.
Take steps to reduce the risk of an electrical fire or overcurrent in your home: while we cannot possibly provide a complete list, and while specific electrical hazards vary widely by building, age, usage, and other factors, here are some examples:
Identify heavily loaded electrical circuits: Hire an electrician or ask a qualified expert friend to help you identify just what circuits in the home are fed by which circuit breakers; normally we'd say "turn off the breaker and see what goes off - lights, receptacles, and appliances, etc. but watch out: since sometimes a "switched off" FPE breaker remains "on" internally, this test is not completely reliable.
Reduce the circuit load especially on heavily loaded circuits: for example by unplugging some of the things on that circuit. A typical example would be circuits supplying kitchen electrical receptacles where people plug in toasters, microwaves, electric teapots, etc.
Especially in an older home, there may be only one circuit supplying the kitchen receptacles. Move some of those portable appliances to other circuits or be sure that they are not used at the same time.
Do your best to avoid overloading electrical circuits - overloading a circuit means plugging in too many high-energy devices like heaters. That will reduce the chances of a circuit overload and breaker failure. It won't prevent a dangerous circuit breaker failure should there be an "event" like a short circuit in an electrical appliance however.
Turn off or replace unsafe electrical circuits or equipment: If there are any circuits that are behaving funny - flickering lights, turn off that circuit. But beware: one of the FPE Stab-Lok® defects is that while you might turn off the breaker by flipping the toggle switch, the breaker may not really be "off" - its internal parts may be stuck in the on position. Watch out: make sure the circuit is truly "off" -
An electrician trained in how to use a multimeter or a simple neon tester can check to be sure that the questionable circuit is really "off" by testing for power at an outlet or light fixture on the circuit that is supposedly turned "off".
Also see FLICKERING LIGHT DIAGNOSIS - causes of flickering or dimming lights
Check for and repair or replace any unsafe electrical devices such as lights or appliances that themselves are in poor condition and are at extra risk of causing a short circuit.
Do not use electrical appliances that are old, worn, in poor condition, behaving oddly. Doing so increases the risk of a short circuit or overload that could cause a fire
Unplug and store electrical appliances or components not being used.
Stop using extension cords
Stop using electrical receptacle "multi-way" plugs that allow additional appliances to be plugged into the same receptacle.
Alert occupants to watch for trouble signs: Inform building occupants that the FPE-type electrical panels and circuit breakers are not necessarily reliable in the building and that they should be alert for signs of trouble such as:
Flickering lights or appliances that seem to flicker on and off
Circuits that do not turn off
Odors of burning plastic
Visible smoke, sparks, around electrical switches and receptacles or lighting fixtures
Watch out: these are examples that can help reduce the risk of an electrical fire but they are incomplete, and by no means do these steps guarantee that you won't have an electrical problem, hazard, or fire.
You can reduce the risk of electrical fire or overload in your home, but until the FPE panel is replaced, significant risks remain.
Watch out: visual inspection of the interior of an electrical panel by a licensed electrician can in some (but not all) cases discover visual evidence of unsafe conditions such as overheating, but an FPE panel or circuit breaker may be damaged, jammed, burned, or otherwise unsafe without any external visual evidence: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of trouble.
Watch out: do not ask an electrician or electrical engineer to try to test the circuits and circuit breakers in-place or in-situ. Doing so is improper, unsafe, and risks causing a building fire. Such tests can also increase the chance of a future no-trip failure of the circuit breakers being "tested". Expert testing of FP FPE UBI and similar circuit breakers is indeed possible for breakers that have been removed from the electrical panel for that purpose. The safety of independently-tested circuit breakers and their suitability for return to service needs further expert comment - Ed.
Assess the general level of safety & fire-risk in the building: first there may be other more immediate fire or safety hazards in a home, such as unsafe heating equipment or chimneys, gas leaks, or even tripping and falling hazards that produce injuries at a high rate of occurrence.
The condition of the home and its electrical wiring, the existence of other risk factors such as elderly or otherwise immobile occupants who might have trouble escaping a fire, are examples of factors that increase the level of risk in a home.
Where the risk of an electrical problem is greater (old wiring in poor condition for example), or where the risk to occupants is greater (elderly or immobile occupants), the urgency of correcting these unsafe conditions should also be considered greater.
Be sure that smoke (and CO) detectors are properly installed, located, and tested in the building
Install properly-sized and typed fire extinguishers at building exits
Install fire alarms as appropriate in multi-occupant or other buildings
Read up and become accurately informed about FPE Stab-Lok® equipment: see FPE Stab-Lok® HAZARDS & REPAIRS WEBSITE. Don't be fooled by some of the nonsense articles posted online in which a few folks claim FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers & panels are not a problem - there is ample court record as well as soundly researched evidence about this equipment and its failure rates.
Obtain electrical panel replacement bids from at least two electricians in your area. Once you have an accurate idea of what panel replacement is likely to cost you will know how much you'll need to save or borrow. See FPE REPAIR ELECTRICIANS
Start saving up to replace your FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel as soon as you can. There is no meaningful financial relief available from FPE, nor from anyone else for FPE Stab-Lok® equipment. However there might be general home repair or home safety repair financial aid available in some communities who provide assistance to the elderly, disabled, or people of limited means. Check with your local community support agencies, office for the aging, or churches.
Depending on your financial situation, the condition of the home and its electrical wiring, and the existence of other risk factors such as elderly or otherwise immobile occupants who might have trouble escaping a fire, it may be appropriate to borrow the cost to replace an unsafe electrical panel, or local community welfare agencies may be able to help offset that cost, or an electrician may agree to perform the work at a reduced rate.
Check to assure that your building is properly insured and that your insurance company will not exclude a loss related to the presence of an FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel in building. Some insurance companies or their individual branch offices may exclude coverage for buildings with this equipment installed. Don't play "dumb" and fail to tell your insurance company - doing so could void your insurance coverage.
If you find any other electrical safety suggestions useful for homes with an FPE Stab-Lok® panel, CONTACT us.
The $1000 or so to replace an electrical panel is probably much cheaper than the cost of a fire should one occur.
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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).
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