Your circuit breaker panel ensures your home’s electrical safety, but is the panel itself safe?
If your home was built between 1950 and 1990 and is equipped with a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker panel with Stab-Lok circuit breakers, you run a significant risk of breaker malfunction and fire.
The breakers inside the panel are designed to guard your home against serious electrical problems by preventing circuit overload, short circuits and outside power surges coming into the panel. When an overload occurs, a breaker protects you by tripping, thus shutting down the power to the circuit. However, if a breaker is defective or not operating properly, the risk of fire to the panel and consequently to your home becomes imminent.
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Why are Federal Pacific breaker boxes dangerous?
Multiple tests done on the breakers since the 1980s have proven that one in four Stab-Lok breakers are defective and will not properly trip off. Unfortunately, when the testing began in the early 1980s, a New Jersey court later ruled that FPE committed testing fraud and a cover-up, labeling the breakers as meeting the standards set by the UL when in reality, they were defective.
In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission closed its two-year investigation and felt it impossible to create a product recall at the time because of budget issues, even as Federal Pacific panels and breakers continued to be installed in millions of homes that to this day still run the risk of an electrical fire. An estimated 2,800 fires each year directly result from Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunction. Federal Pacific Electric has been out of business for many years, but the danger and damage caused by their negligence continues.
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Federal Pacific circuit breaker boxes include a red strip across the Stab-Lok breakers, making them easy to identify. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Steger, WIN Home Inspection)
Do you have a Federal Pacific panel?
If you own a home between 25 and 65 years old, check your breaker box. A Federal Pacific panel will usually have its name or logo on the front cover. Inside, you will find the name Stab-Lok printed near the center or side of the panel. The intact breakers will have the signature red strip that runs across the front.
If you find you a Federal Pacific panel or Stab-Lok breakers, call a licensed electricianin your area for further information about replacing your circuit breaker panel.