Questions & answers about Federal Noark electrical panels.
Is a Federal Noark panel safe? Is a Federal Noark electrical panel different in design, reliability, safety from its newer FP and FPE Stab-Lok siblings? Should I replace my NoArk panel?
This article series describes how to identify Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels in buildings with special focus on the Federal NOARK Stab-Lok® Panelboard and the Federal NOARK Load Center. This is safety 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.
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.
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Federal NoArk™ electrical panels (synonyms Federal NoArk, Federal NoArc, FPE No-Ark) or FPE no-arc electrical panel labels identify older versions of the Stab-Lok® circuit breaker design discussed beginning
at FEDERAL PACIFIC FPE HAZARDS
summarized at FEDERAL PACIFIC FPE HAZARD SUMMARY.
Because the product design, materials, and history are all of a piece and share the same company and production, Federal noark Stab-Lok panelboards and circuit breakers
are of the same design and have the same hazards as other Stab-Lok ™electrical panel buses and circuit breakers.
Therefore this article focuses on how to identify Federal Noark panelboards. At left we show a Federal Noark Stab-Lok® Panelboard Model NS412.
My electrical panel does not say "Federal Pacific," though it looks like the Federal Pacific panels. It says "Federal NoArk Stab lok panel". Is it safe? Thank you for your help. Best wishes, M.H. 7/8/2013
[The Federal Noark electrical panel and circuit breaker product line] has the same design and same hazards. Search InspectAPedia for Federal Noark and you should find our article on that name brand.
Thank you, I searched InspectAPedia, but the only "article" I found was a series of pictures. It did not contain any information about the testing of Federal NoArk stab lok panels. It did not say what the years of manufacture were, nor did it say where these panels were made. Were the Federal Pacific panels made in New Jersey? It seems incongruous to name a company on the east coast "Pacific".
Thank you for this feedback. I will review that article with your comments in mind [and will make more clear that we are talking about the same product design, materials, producing company, and hazards as are discussed under related names for this product line such as Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok.
Basically, (and presuming you were looking
at FEDERAL NOARK PANELS) the key point is that the Federal Noark panel and circuit breaker product is unambiguously and unequivocally the widely-discussed FPE Stab-Lok design, made by the same company and even generally the same people, using the same materials, with the same design flaws, the same hazards, but marketed under an earlier name, one of several synonyms for Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok circuit breakers and electrical panels that have been used over decades of production.
A look through
FPE STAB-LOK HISTORY for the list of company names, dates, locations and history helps clarify that Federal Noark and Federal Electric and Federal Pacific Electric are the same product line and company. Or if you prefer to go directly to an example source document that ties these company names together see U.S. Patent No. 3,093,773.
Your question about the relationship between product name and factory location is an interesting one. The use of the word "Pacific" in Federal Pacific Electric does not relate to the geographic origin of those products and none were manufactured on the Paciffic or west coast of the U.S. as you queried. In fact the principal production facility was at Albemarle, North Carolina. In 1952, Federal Electric Products Company, a U.S. company that was later merged into FPE. FPE adopted the trademark "Stab-Lok® " .
The Federal Noark, Federal Electric, Federal Pacific Electric breaker design and panel bus design are unique in the electrical industry, and the rate of product failure stunning rates (as high as 60% fail to trip on an overcurrent, and 100% fail to trip on subsequent overcurrent events) in in industry where generally the failure of a circuit breaker to trip when it should occurs at a fraction of 1%.
A careful read of the Federal NOARK article and its illustrations shows that in fact a variety of "names" appear on the product line together, including the key words "Stab Lok" (that do not appear on all the stab-lok products), also Federal Noark, Federal Electric Products Company (a predecessor name for Federal Pacific Electric), and Newark New Jersey. If you use the More Reading link near the page top you can find the complete collection of product history, testing, fraud charges, etc. that pertain.
Watch out: beware that there are other contemporary users of the name "Federal Pacific" such as a Federal Pacific company producing and selling electrical transformers. Searching for the history of Federal Noark or history of Federal Pacific names can thus be confusing.
There are also companies selling replacement breakers (that will fit in both your Federal NoArk panel and in Federal Pacific Electric panels) for which inspection and limited testing confirm no design changes from the original failing units. In fact some replacement FPE breakers are in fact "new old stock" purchased by an individual when the original comany stopped production.
It would be prudent to recognize that swapping in these breakers is unlikely to reduce the FPE, FP, Federal Electric, or Federal Noark hazard one iota.
The number of Federal Noark panels available for testing has been miniscule; but the history of their production, the company, the product, and its design are unambiguous. The variety of names on the product line reflects the history of names used by the company producing the product, not differences in product design nor performance. Because the breaker performance problems are traced to the circuit breaker design, bus design, and a history of dishonest test procedures, product labeling violations, as well as actual field failures, there should be no question remaining about the product.
Unfortunately, and quite transparently, out of a wish to avoid liability, there has also been a long history of counter-PR released from the company, its successors, and even today, its remains. That misinformation has been the chief source of confusion among consumers about the hazards of the product.
Equally unfortunately, at the time of the original CPSC testing of FPE Stab-Lok breakers, the company's lawyers avoided a product recall by using the incorrect argument that the unsafe conditions that caused breaker no-trips would not actually occur in the field). That argument that convinced CPSC management to override the views its own engineers, and despite compelling and long-standing evidence of product testing fraud, product mis-labeling, high product failure rates under independent testing, and product failiures in the field, misinformation about the product safety remains in the public forum.
While FPE and its interests made much of the CPSC's dropping of its original investigation of the Stab-Lok product failure history, the CPSC never said that it found the product to be safe. The US CPSC, in an effort to correct the record and to warn consumers, issued FPE INVESTIGATION CPSC Revised 2011.
Some of that disinformation was paid for by interested parties while other has arisen for other reasons. For example a PDF from homeinspectormark asserting that the panels are safe if the consumer avoids overloading them.
The publisher of that PDF file cloaks his own risky advice "talk with your electrician and decide what is right for you and your family" with data copied (without permission) from InspectaPedia.com.
Unfortunately most electricians are not familiar with FPE hazards, are accustomed to relying on electrical codes and government recalls as the sole source of product hazard information, and many make the further mistake of thinking that a visual inspection can determine that the installation is "safe" or worse, that in-situ testing should be performed (a step that can actually increase the risk of a subsequent failure of the breaker to trip).
Such advice is incorrect and can be dangerous. While we agree that it always makes sense to avoid overloading any electrical circuit, overcurrents and short circuits can still occur on any electrical circuit, even one into which nothing is plugged-in whatsoever! Should an overcurrent or short circuit occur on an electrical circuit, the consumer is relying on the circuit breaker to trip in time to prevent a fire.
No. Avoiding an overload may reduce but will not eliminate risk on an inadquately protected electrical circuit.
Avoiding an FPE-failure and its concomitant risks of a building fire by advising the consumer to "avoid overloading the circuit" is therefore as incoherent as telling occpuants in a car whose seat belts have been cut through to a mere single thread that the seatbelts are quite safe - as long as the vehicle avoids getting in an accident. Such misinformation, or in some cases deliberate disinformation, arise from a melange of conflicting interests (avoid liability, or in the case of some home inspectors, please real estate agents who are a source of referrals) or perhaps in a few cases out of simple ignorance.
In sum, because the prduct about which you inquire is made by the same company, using the same design, and same materials, and because the product hazards accure from the breaker and bus designs and materials, you can reliably assume that the no-trip hazards of the circuit breakers and the bus-burn-up hazards of the connecting bus in your Federal No-Ark panel is the same as its sister Federal Pacific Electric electrical panels in that product series.
If your home is served by a Federal No-Ark panel it should be replaced. See FPE PANEL ADVICE for HOME BUYERS https://InspectAPedia.com/fpe/FPE_Panel_Home_Buyer_Advice.php
Other articles in the "Related Links" section discuss panel replacement options, costs, and measures to minimize risk while waiting to replace the panel. But beware, even simple advice like "turn off the breakers to an electrical circuit that is acting strangely like causing flickering lights" is inadequate. An FPE-Stab-Lok design breaker may have its toggle switched to the "off" position but the breaker may remain "on" and thus the circuit "live".
We would much appreciate hearing any comments, critique, suggestions, or further questions that you may have after you've taken another look at this article as well as at the very long, documented, and well-tested information about the FP, FE, FPE, Federal Noark, product line.
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28 July 2012 Anon said
Do they still make FPE circuit breakers and electrical panels?
Anon, one needs to be careful using "they" since "they" can sometimes be a surprise.
Yes there are companies that sell stab-lok circuit breakers; it appears that some of these may be original stock purchased when the company itself dissolved, others may be made to what appears to be the same original specifications, but in Canada (Federal Pioneer), and it is possible that there is a third source as several replacement brreaker types have been somewhat replicated in China.
You should be warned that there is as yet no independent expert test that has found any improvement or difference in design nor performance of replacement circuit breakers for this electrical panel and also that in addition to the no-trip hazards in the breakers themselves there are other safety concerns with the panel bus assembly itself.
11/11/2014 Federal NoArc electric box said:
I have a federal noarc electric box in my house we just moved into. Is it of the Stab-loc family of no trip breakers? We live in Los Angeles County. I have images to share also.
Yes Jason, the FPE Stab-Lok design with the safety issues discussed in this article series were produced over quite a few years and sold under more than one brand mark, including the Federal Noarc. Thanks for the photos - I'll post them in the article above and comment further (your photos show rust on the panel raising additional safety and no-trip worries independent of the FPE concerns.
You should replace the panel.
One of the breakers is very wobbly...as if next to nothing is holding it in. This doesn't inspire confidence. I operate power tools on these circuits, and unattended things like battery chargers. I need to be able to trust this panel. The panel cover actually is applying a fair amount of pressure on the breakers themselves. Does this in any way improve the reliability of the connection to the buss bar? - K.K. in New Windsor, Ontario, Canada - by private email, 2015/12/28
Watch out: regarding loose circuit breakers held into an FP or Federal Noark panel by its cover or faceplate: this electrical panel was not designed to rely on the cover to hold the circuit breakers securely in place. Reliance on cover pressure on circuit breakers to keep the breaker seated is inherently dangerous, and in fact some time ago an electrician working in in the U.S. in Atlanta Georgia was killed from just this circumstance. On removing the electrical panel cover one or more circuit breakers moved, causing an electrical arc explosion and the worker died.
I went and took a stroll around Home Depot, estimating materials costs, and had a conversation with an employee who took me to the cabinet of breakers.
New-manufactured (white in colour, with green levers) Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok branded breakers are produced by Schneider Canada, with a magnetic trip mechanism and a revised "stab" component. Supposedly the breakers share nothing whatsoever with the original design, other than compatibility with the same panel.
I have a family friend who is an industrial electrician coming on Saturday to help me plan my next steps, but I'm curious to hear any response you may have to the new-manufactured breakers. Assuming the bus bar shows no evidence of arcing, and new breakers mate with it reliably, does this not address all of the Stab-Lok concerns?
I spoke with my home inspector and he advises that his association instructed them to stop saying Federal panels are universally bad, since in Canada there was never conclusive evidence (or something to that effect), and that the newer Canadian product was superior...but I understand from reading that this point may be contentious.
I appreciate any further feedback you can offer. - K.K. by private email 2015/12/30
I would replace the electrical panel in your photos. It is overcrowded, antiquated, and unreliable. Replacing individual circuit breakers will not correct these conditions.
In the interim I would minimize the use of the panel as you described earlier, and I would not trust that switching a circuit breaker to "OFF" actually turns it off, as sometimes these breakers may remain "ON" internally.
If you cannot afford to replace the electrical panel see the advice
at CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL?
You are correct that we do not have many field failure reports on FPE equipment from Canada. Without more research one cannot determine if that is because of any of a variety of factors such as: differences in wiring installation, differences in usage patterns, differences in age, differences in reporting of failures, differences in total number of installations. Certainly there were no discernable differences between a Canadian FP breaker and panel and the U.S. models of the older equipment, and certainly we have reports of the very same type of failures (no-trips, falling out of panel) as in the U.S.
I asked Schneider to give us data, test reports, *anything*, that would show changes in the performance and reliability of replacement breakers, UL listing, CSA listing etc. The company declined. Which in my opinion tells us something.
I agree that the most troublesome feature in the original FPE design was its failure to trip, combined with a market price point that made redesign unlikely. I also agree that the very long history of deception, label swapping, cheating on qualification tests, etc. cited in the class action litigation and in other court records was not pointing to Schneider Electric who came along later.
Some readers and some experts have opined "If I were a manufacturer who had data supporting the claim that my product performed well in service and that earlier performance problems were not present I would want to make that information public". However I suspect that a manufacturer, even with better performance data, may be reluctant to release it out of fear of opening a liability concerning their earlier products that were sold before such changes. So we are kept in the dark on product testing results. If there are any.
There are other inherent design concerns in an FPE panel including the bus and bus connections that make me nervous about plugging any replacement breaker into an existing FPE panel.
Some data on cost comparisons might also be helpful. You can buy an entire Siemens 200A 30 space 54 circuit panel for under $150. Breakers begin at under $4.00.
Even if we found data supporting the performance of replacement circuit breakers in these residential panels (whose other features may leave some performance and safety concerns still in place), consider that one CE replacement circuit breaker costs between $50. and $75. depending on model and panel brand, the economics even before safety argue for replacing the panel, though one needs to add the cost of the electrician's work to do so. And at least some of these "replacement" breakers are "NOS" - new old stock - or were produced on the exact equipment and process as the bad-performing originals.
An electrical panel and circuit breaker are a safety feature for your home's electrical system. Defective breakers are latent hazards that don't usually initiate a fire or injury. Rather they fail to protect you when they should. If a home never happens to have an over-current on its circuits, if its breakers are never switched on and off during their service (a step that increases the no-trip risk for FPE), in sum if nothing ever goes wrong, the equipment will pass along electrical current happily for decades and will seem to be "just fine".
I fasten my seat belt when driving my car, and in my home I want electrical safety devices I trust. As there are plenty of reliable alternatives I am not motivated to rely on questionable products.
Continue reading at FEDERAL NOARK PANELS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
Or see FPE HAZARD SUMMARY
Or see FPE HAZARD REPORT - 2017 [PDF] independent research article by Jess Aronstein, supercedes older FPE hazard reports by this author - separate file reports independent FPE failure test results
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