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This article explains the burden of proof that FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker and electrical panels is a real hazard not just a theoretical one.
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.
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.
The FPE safety hazard or "problem" is that some 240-Volt FPE circuit breakers and possibly also some 120-Volt units simply may not work. That is the breaker may fail to trip or even when physically switched "off" manually some breakers may remain "on" internally, continuing to conduct current!
These serious failures have been tested and shown to occur at very high rates - much higher than other circuit breaker failures in general.
But identifying one of these defects can lead to an argument and in some cases, even lawsuits! For example, a knowledgeable inspector or contractor observes one of these panels and recommends replacement. An owner or another inspector, unaware of the background, refuses to cooperate, and insists there is "no problem." Who's right?
There is indeed "a problem." FPE panels and circuit breakers are a "safety-related defect." In some conditions the equipment may not provide the safety protection (against fire) that was intended.
This defect is associated with FPE panels and circuit breakers manufactured in the 1970's and possibly extending to current equipment. Testing was performed in 1982-3 by Wright Malta Corporation for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
What actually happens to cause unsafe conditions? Testing performed on FPE 2-pole (240V) circuit breakers indicated that in some overload conditions, particularly when one pole of the breaker is overloaded, the circuit breaker will not trip. Some tests showed that as many as 65% of the circuit breakers would malfunction.
Once this malfunction has occurred the breaker is "locked" and it will not trip under any circumstances, creating an even more serious fire hazard.
Are there real-world instances in which a current overload occurs on just a single "leg" of a 240-Volt circuit? Sure. At least some clothes dryers, air conditioning circuits, and electric ranges split the 240-V delivered to the appliance to run individual components such as a dryer drum motor or individual heater elements.
Multiwire branch circuits which share a common neutral wire also serve different loads in a building. Main breakers in the panel split power to the two panel buses. We have received many field reports with examples of failures to trip for such equipment.
To get technical depth and citations for proving your case, see:
FPE HAZARDS - 2012 [PDF] provides the latest version of independent test reports on FPE Stab-Lok electrical equipment, including replacement circuit breakers
FPE Technical Report - Independent Research 2011 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 in the original study).
If federal Pioneer and Stab-Lok panels and breakers are so bad that they represent a deadly risk to the public then why have they not been mandated by Canadian federal and or Canadian provincial governments to be removed and replaced. Is such was true, the manufacture would be forced to subsidize the cost or governments would be giving tax breaks to people for replacement costs.
I believe that most of this is hype, perpetrated by the electrical contractors to get more business.
I have wired several panels over the years and the costs being quoted are nothing more than a greedy rip off.
I understand that if you haven't personally seen the FPE ailure data you might make mistake warnings for hype,moreso if like most people you don't enjoy reading technical report.
But with respect, Joe, you're mistaken. In an industry where circuit breakers fail to trip when they are called on - only a fraction of one percent, like 0.01 % of the time, you have double pole FPE breakers that can fail 60% of the time. That is certainly not hype, it's a high failure rate.
To say "why wasn't there a recall" skips over history of money set aside for a recall but not spent, charges of fraud, loss of labeling, and other clear evidence. It's like saying "We have a police force, so why heck, surely there are no robberies in our town"
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Questions & answers or comments about the performance & relative safety of Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers & electrical panels.
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Dan Friedman is a building consultant in Poughkeepsie, NY. He served as chairman of both the Education Committee and the national Technical Committee of the American Society of Home Inspectors. For Content Suggestions, Contact information is at his website. Because of website traffic volume, if you are seeking contact to ask a technical question, please handle it by email, not telephone.
Rex Cauldwell: "Safe Wiring Practice," Rex Cauldwell, Journal of Light Construction, letter March 1995, p.6.
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
Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator.
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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