FPE REPLACEMENT BREAKERS - CONTENTS: Advice about replacing FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers. Why is replacement of the FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panel recommended instead of just installing replacement circuit breakers? Performance of replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers
POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the purchase of replacement FPE Stab Lok circuit breakers: where they are obtained, where they are made, are they tested, how they may be expected to perform, whether or not you should use them
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FPE Circuit Breaker Replacements:
This article gives expert advice about replacing FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers - Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® breakers and
discusses how to repair FPE StabLok Panels and circuit breakers for actual improvements in electrical safety.
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 is the Proper Repair for FPE Stab-Lok® Panels and Circuit Breakers?
Homeowners and renovators who encounter these panels should replace the entire panel and circuit breaker set with new equipment. Panel replacement, can involve significant expense, typically $800 to $1800 depending on service size and other factors.
Do not simply replace individual FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers:
1. No Evidence of Improved FPE Stag-Lok Replacement Circuit Breaker Performance
First of all, there is no data suggesting that new stock, replacement FPE breakers,
or "new old stock" FPE breakers found in storage somewhere perform any better than the ones already in the FPE Stab-Lok® panel.
In fact, limited testing of replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers also detected failures to trip in response to overcurrent conditions.
In at least some cases, replacement circuit breakers are manufactured in Asia as copies of the original, problematic breaker design, as we discuss at #3 below.
The photo of gray circuit breakers shown here illustrate UBI-brand replacement circuit breakers, provided by reader E.K. (2014) who included this image in an FPE UBI breaker field failure report described at FPE FAILURE FIELD REPORTS. [Click to enlarge any image]
2. Other FPE problems besides circuit breakers
FPE Second, there are other functional and safety concerns in the panel besides the breakers themselves. We've seen panel bus damage, panel bus
meltdowns, and failure of breakers to remain secured in or onto the connecting bus itself.
See REPLACEMENT PANELS for some panel replacement
alternatives that might reduce the repair cost.
3. Replacement Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok® Circuit Breakers
For several reasons We do not recommend attempting to
"repair" an individual failed Stab-Lok® breaker by buying a replacement either from used stock, new stock,
or "compatible" stock:
The replacement equipment has not been independently tested and demonstrated to perform any better than the original materials
Engineers involved in this research have explained that a good part of the source of product failure for FPE Stab-Loks was in the original design and its specifications.
It appears that while there were some "on the fly" (and unapproved) changes from time to time on the manufacturing line for this product, there was never a redesign suitable to attempt to "design out" the product failure.
One expert opined to us privately that he believed that the original product's price point in the electrical equipment market was at the low end, and that had Federal Pacific attempted a redesign they'd not have had a product they could sell at their price point.
There are other hazards in the equipment besides the breakers, including bus and bus insulation meltdowns and shorts.
A discussion of the sale of replacement FPE circuit breakers including comments and the opinion of a sales representative from a company selling replacement FPE circuit breakers along with a test report for those breakers is found
at FPE Stab-Lok® : FIRES WAITING TO HAPPEN
UBI (Unique Breakers Inc) FPE Replacement Circuit Breakers provided by Connecticut Electric have been the subject of limited independent testing and field failure reports as well as online discussion (and disagreement) with the manufacturer. See
UBI FPE CIRCUIT BREAKER TEST RESULTS (January 2017) reports on independent test results of a modest sample of replacements for FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers. Overall the failure rate for this sample was over 50%.
This article also reports on UBI FPE Stab-Lok replacement breaker tests completed up to 3 December 2014 - a small sample size with a high failure rate.
FPE replacement circuit breakers (UBI) were tested and are reported on in a small sample size in Aronstein's FPE HAZARDS - 2012 [PDF] Page 10, Table 3, for test data on replacement breakers for Stab-Lok panels. Two failures out of 12 for the 2-pole breakers, one of which jammed were UBI products. Also note in this report the U.S. CPSC note added to press release (Section 10, page 21).
Note: while there have been field failure reports of this product as well as failures in independent testing, the total sample size remains too small for high-confidence statistical inference. In our opinion both prudent avoidance (or replacement) as well as further testing are merited. - Editor
4. A few other warnings about things people try to reduce the hazards of FPE Stab-Lok® Breakers:
"Exercising" the circuit breakers by turning them on and off has not been shown to "un-stick" or in any other manner improve the probability of working properly, and conversely, such activity may in fact increase the chances of a future failure
"Testing" circuit breakers by applying a load may give an instantaneous picture of the performance of individual breakers but it does not predict their performance when a real safety problem occurs (overcurrent) later. More important, except if performed by a very expert person, in-place testing is very dangerous, risking fires in the building being tested.
In sum, if you could replace all the FPE Stab-Lok® equipment with (somehow magically obtained) all "new" FPE Stab-Lok® equipment (found in a used-or new-old-stock warehouse for example) the risk level for the building would not be sufficiently different from before the replacement and would remain high: there remains a latent risk of fire from failure of these breakers to trip in response to overcurrent.
5. Replacement Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok® Panels is Recommended
For some cost and method alternatives when replacing an Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® Panel or "load center"
see REPLACEMENT PANELS which describes conventional
Option#1 - "remove and replace" the electrical panel and
Option#2 - FPE Load Center Replacement using Cutler Hammer (CH) Adjustable Retrofit Kit
Reader Question: is my FPE panel part of this FPE warning?
(Nov 2, 2012) Mike H said:
I came across this forum while looking for replacement breakers. I have a Federal Electric Products Company panel Catalog No 108. It does not say Stab Lok anywhere. Is this still part of this FPE warning? I believe the house was built in the late 50's in Wisconsin not New Jersey. I've been in it since 1997.
(Oct 12, 2012) Randy said:
What about the new Connecticut Electric breakers being manufactured and tested?
FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers were marketed under a variety of names and variations on FPE, FP, etc. The design and bus connections are easily recognizable even if labels (which were sometimes swapped by the manufacturer) are confusing.
It's not clear that all replacement circuit breakers are in fact "new", nor have we been able to obtain (despite requests) in-house nor independent test reports focused on just the breakers about which you inquire.
However a limited number of these replacement breakers were included in independent testing reported-on by Aronstein and indeed no-trip circuit breakers were found in that cohort as well.
Some "replacement" FPE circuit breakers in fact are new old stock; others, worse, are used circuit breakers held back by electricians or other suppliers. It's also important to understand that if the same equipment is being used to produce circuit breakers as those that previously performed poorly one would worry about the product produced. It's also important to understand that the design changes contemplated by the successor owners of the FPE product line would have priced the resulting product out of its price point in the marketplace. That's why the successors at one point wanted their money back.
At FPE HISTORY we report on a pertinent court case: Quoting from a 2005 court case American Circuit Breaker Corporation (ACBC) v. Oregon Breakers Inc., we can confirm that despite claims of functional or mechanical differences between U.S. sold and Canadian-Sold FPE or FP Stab-Lok circuit breakers in at least some instances of product source, the products are identical. Quoting [note that ACBC refers to the American Circuit Breaker Company]:
The essential facts are undisputed. ACBC holds the STAB-LOK trademark in the United States. Schneider Canada holds the STAB-LOK trademark in Canada. Federal Pioneer Limited ("Pioneer"), a subsidiary of Schneider Canada, manufactures circuit breakers for itself and ACBC. The circuit breakers sold by the companies are identical except for the casing color. Pioneer manufactures black circuit breakers for ACBC and gray ones for itself.
The parties have stipulated that, except for the casing color, there are no material differences between the products, and that the gray circuit breakers are "genuine" versions of the black ones.
This dispute arose because Oregon Breakers bought gray circuit breakers from a Canadian third-party supplier and, without permission from ACBC, sold them in the United States. - AMERICAN CIRCUIT BREAKER v. Oregon Breakers, 406 F.3d 577 (9th Cir. 2005).
UBI Replacement Circuit Breaker Independent Tests
This research has moved to a separate article. Please see UBI FPE CIRCUIT BREAKER TEST RESULTS - current test results showed a greater than 50% failure-to-trip rate as of January 2017
FPE Fire Report Filed with US CPSC
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2015 Northgate Gardens condo board in Waltham MA opined that UBI Circuit Breakers are Safe & Reliable
[In August 2015] I appeared before the condo Board to convince them that the entire condominium (350 units) are in jeopardy due to our faulty UBI replacements breakers. The Board [leader] insisted that since the new breakers were sold here in the US they must conform to the US safety standards (i.e. have UL approval) and therefore they are "kosher". In his reasoning that five of my seven breakers turned out to be faulty may be because they are several years old by now.
Of course, the board reasoning does not hold water, if five of my seven breakers would not trip because of their "old age" (2004), then since the entire condo has breakers of the same age they must be in the same condition! That alone should have alerted the board to pass a decision to change them.
At this stage all I can do is to inform the units' owners and potential buyers so they will learn about this ticking time bomb and hopefully change their unit panel. Obviously common areas panels in the buildings will not be changed.
... the condominium name[is] "Northgate Gardens" in Waltham, MA.
[Anon, 13 Aug 2015 by email to DF]
It sounds as if your board leadership, quite understandably, wants to avoid a significant electrical repair cost to address this latent safety hazard. But in my opinion you are quite correct that a meaningful hazard exists and that these breakers and panels will not protect the buildings and occupants from electrical hazards anywhere near industry norms.
First, independent tests confirmed failures in these UBI circuit breakers at a failure rate significantly above industry norms in which overall, failure to trip occurs at a fraction of a percent of the time. Important concerns about test sample size are given in the start of this article. However high failure rates in small samples can be compelling evidence of a problem.
Second, circuit breakers are expected to perform reliably for decades, not for just four years.
Third, the board may not understand latent safety hazards. A latent hazard means in this case that an unreliable circuit breaker will not itself initiate a fire, shock or other injury or loss.
Rather the breaker will fail to protect the building and its occupants when an unsafe condition such as an overcurrent or short circuit occurs. Thus the hazard can easily go un-noticed for a long time - until something bad happens. I use the analogy of driving around in your car with the seatbelt cut through to a mere thread. Up to now the seat belt has been just fine. But, then, you've not been in a crash, either.
Finally, you might say to the board leader that his reasoning about "listed products being guaranteed as always safe" is as specious as saying that "because we have laws in our country there is no crime" - a policeman would be expected to understand that example.
I recommend careful and accurate documentation of your presentation and the board's response, as heaven forbid, when there is a fire, loss, injury or death there could be a lot of finger pointing for which it may be helpful to have kept clear and unbiased notes.
Building condo occupants will want to consider electrical repairs (panel replacements) at their own individual expense (see the three links I give just below) and certainly occupants will want to know about the no-trip hazard.
I suggest turning off any circuit that seems to be misbehaving, with the significant caveat that some circuit breakers may remain "ON" internally even when manually switched to the "OFF" position - something an occupant may notice if lights or receptacles don't go "off" when the breaker is switched off.
2016 Northgate Gardens condo board in Waltham MA elects to replace FPE Stab-Lok Panels including replacement UBI Circuit Breakers
In July 2015 the condominium management reported on a plan to have an electrician inspect all of the panels at the property. The reader E.K. cited above questioned, as did other experts, the reliability of a visual inspection to assure safety of circuit breakers that must be tested according to a UL Standard. [Private communication EK to DF et als. 7/29/2015]
In November 2016 the condominium board decided to replace all of the electrical panels in the complex, comprising 351 units plus a commons area. The reader E.K. cited above arranged for provision of the removed-circuit breakers to permit additional testing to the UL standard.
UBI FPE CIRCUIT BREAKER TEST RESULTS - in January 2017 test results of the first set of circuit breakers were provided. Additional tests of more circuit breakers from a range of installations will increase confidence in the test results but preliminary test results were dramatic. Still this small sample (n=29) showed overall a greater than 50% failure-to-trip rate as of January 2017.
FPE - UBI Replacement Circuit Breaker Discussion [with a vendor of replacement breakers]
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Questions & answers or comments about the purchase of replacement FPE Stab Lok circuit breakers: where they are obtained, where they are made, are they tested, how they may be expected to perform, whether or not you should use them.
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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.
Licensed Electricians: FPE FAILURE FIRE PHOTOS includes electricians who have provided cases and photographs of field failures of FPE equipment at this website.
Private opinion: from an electrical engineer involved in government testing of FPE Stab-Lok® equipment, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak for the agency with whom he was employed.
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
William King, US CPSC Director of Electrical Engineering (Ret).
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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