What Are Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes?

FPE panel safety

What Are Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes?

Definition of Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes

Federal Pacific Electrical panels are a type of electrical pane that were manufactured by the Federal Pacific Electrical Company. They were installed in millions of American homes between the 1950s and the 1980s. A Federal Pacific Electrical panel is also sometimes called a FPE Stab-Lok breaker or Federal Pacific Electrical breaker box.

How Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes Work

Like other electrical panels, a FPE breaker box connects to the main electrical supply line of your home. Within the panel are individual circuit breakers, which carrying electricity to various parts of your home via electrical wiring. Breakers are specially designed to trip in the event of an electrical overload. This helps to prevent the wiring in your home from overheating and causing a fire. It also helps to prevent surges that could result in electrocution or other personal injury.

The two main types of Federal Pacific Electrical panels/breaker boxes installed in homes are the FPE Stab-Lok single-pole breakers and FPE two-pole Stab-Lok breakers. Another frequently installed unit is the combination breaker/GFI.

While home inspectors, electricians, and others in the construction industry have known about the risks associated with FPE breaker boxes for many years now, the average homeowner is probably unfamiliar with the safety hazard that these electrical panels pose.

Why Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes Are a Problem

After approximately three decades of installation and use, it eventually came to light that the Federal Pacific Electrical had falsified the testing data that it had submitted to Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) in order to obtain safety certification. This meant that FPE electrical panels and breaker boxes did not meet the rigid safety requirements of the National Electrical Code, even though they carried the UL listing. As a result, and after much investigation, the UL delisted almost every FPE breaker for a while. However, the damage was already done as these potentially dangerous panels were (and still are) now in many American homes.

While the UL was unable to definitively prove the defects in the panels due to budgetary and political limitations, the Consumer Product Safety Commision tested many of these FPE breaker boxes and found unacceptably high failure rates. Almost every FPE panel ever tested has shown a defect, and 1 in 3 have some sort of potentially dangerous breaker defect. This means that if a short circuit or surge occurs, the breaker does not trip as it is designed to, which can result in wires that overheat and lead to a fire or some other personal injury.

You can easily tell if you have a defective Federal Pacific Electrical panel if there are burn or scorch marks on the box or if you have loose breaker switches. Sometimes it is difficult even for professionals to adequately test if a FPE panel is defective. While the odds are small that you’ll have a circuit short or overload and cause a breaker to trip, it is essential that your electrical panel is working correctly in order to keep everyone safe.

Estimates have found that approximately 2-3% of all residential fires, or around 2,800 fires every year, are a direct result of faulty FPE panels and breakers. This leads to approximately 116 injuries, 13 deaths, and $40-million in property damages each and every year. To this day, faulty Federal Pacific Electrical panels are in use in many American homes, and lead to a 20% increased risk of house fire versus homes with properly working breaker boxes.

Because of the resulting fires and personal injuries, a class action lawsuit was brought against the company in New Jersey. The judge ruled that based on the NJ Consumer Protection Act, FPE had committed fraud when they claimed that their electrical panels and breakers met UL safety standards, when the company knew that they did not.

What to Do With Your Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes

In the past, professionals advised testing FPE panels and breakers for reliability before replacing, but in recent years the advice has changed to simply replace the unit immediately. While some homeowners believe that their electrical panels are fine because they have not experienced a problem, this is not the case. An Federal Pacific Electrical breaker box is a potential ticking time bomb for a fire hazard and it is better to be proactive about switching it than to find out too late you have a defective unit. It is also cheaper for homeowners to replace the entire electrical panel rather than to individually test each breaker. There’s also no price that can be put on your family’s safety.

Some FPE panels that were manufactured after the scandal may in fact meet UL safety standards and are identified by a pink UL label and a white dot on the breaker handles. A qualified professional is the best person to evaluate your electrical panel.

If you’re unsure if your panel was manufactured by FPE or is up to code, do not hesitate to contact a trusted, qualified electrician in your area who can check and replace your electrical panel.

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