The Mystery of Federal Pacific electrical panels

The story behind Federal Pacific electrical panels.

Federal Pacific panels, also known as FPE panels were a popular residential electrical panel choice in the mid to late 20th century. The panel was well known in the building community as a cheaper alternative to some of the more recognizable panel companies such as General Electric/I-T-E and Square D.

Because of the cost and ease of installation, the FPE panel was widely adopted in suburban developments. Millions of homes throughout the United States and Canada had this particular panel installed.

The main panel Federal Pacific sold was the “Stab-Lok” named after its breaker functionality. The breakers would “stab” into slots in the bus bar and “lock” into place.

Stab Lok electrical panel
Stab Lok electrical panel

However, although the panel had benefits, issues began to emerge as some officials suspected that the panel was causing house fires. This triggered an investigation by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) which was ultimately closed without a full verdict of panel problems.

From these investigations, independent companies began testing the panels to determine their safety. From this testing, it was found that the breakers themselves had a dangerous and potentially life-threatening flaw.

The breakers themselves had a high rate of failure. When a breaker is overloaded, the unit should trip on its own to prevent electrical hazards. However, FPE breakers simply failed to trip when these electrical issues occurred. Some reports even found that over half of the breakers tested did not trip when overloaded, including brand new units.

An overloaded circuit that does not have its power cut off will lead to overheated wiring. If the wiring heats past a certain point, it can melt the sheathing off the wire or overheat the surrounding areas, all of which can lead to house fires.

Although FPE and its parent company still deny that their panels have a higher rate of failure if used under normal conditions, in 2005 a New Jersey court ruled that the company was guilty of fraud in a class action lawsuit settlement.

The court found that the FPE company “…knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards”. This document summarizes the FPE class action lawsuit settlement procedure for affected homeowners. –Inspectapedia

While there is no federal mandate that these panels should be removed from homes, there has been quite a bit of evidence that the original breakers can be a hazard. Because of this, when we see the Stab Lok logo, we call for immediate panel replacement during our home inspections.

Federal Pacific Stab Lok electrical panel
Federal pacific Stab Lok electrical panel

So if you have one… better check to be sure watch out and for sure don’t overload. Knife related only in the words’Stab-Lock “

And the new box a Mueller and thankfully everything works

12 thoughts on “The Mystery of Federal Pacific electrical panels

  1. Hi there Steve! Wishing you the very best and safest festive season! A truly informative share. I wonder if breakers will become obsolete when solar energy becomes more popular…

    Liked by 2 people

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