What Makes Federal Pacific Breaker Panels a Home Inspection Defect?

Home inspection

Although many of them have long since been removed, Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) breaker panels with Stab-Lok breakers still exist in homes across America. What’s so dangerous about them and how can you identify a problem even if there’s no evidence of arcing, sparking or charring?

If the panel was manufactured before 1982 and has Stab-Lok breakers, as virtually all of them do, it’s a potential fire hazard and should be replaced without delay. There is no such thing as a safe FPE breaker panel that fits into that category. Here’s why.

Federal Pacific Electric Put Homeowners at Risk Through Falsified UL Information

According to Inspectapedia, as well as what is now considered common electrical industry knowledge, Federal Pacific Electric conducted fraudulent testing and falsified information, leading to meritless UL labeling for their product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission closed their investigation in March of 1983 but didn’t reach a conclusion about whether or not FPE Stab-Lok breakers were safe.

In 2002, a class action lawsuit resulted in a ruling against FPE, which was found guilty of consumer fraud. The company intentionally sold breakers that were known to be defective, the Court said, and that did not meet UL standards as the labeling indicated. In one test, 70 percent of 2-pole breakers failed to trip. What’s worse, 80 percent of GFCI breakers failed to trip and 100 percent of “jammed two-pole breakers experiencing a second overcurrent event” failed, as well, says Inspectapedia.

Watch as a Louisville electrician discusses the risks involved with buying a home where an FPE Stab-Lok panel is installed:

If a Breaker Doesn’t Trip, Homeowners Have No Protection

The whole purpose of a tripped breaker is to stop the current, preventing electrocution and fire. Stab-Lok breakers fail more often than not. Even when manually switched to the “off” position, jammed Stab-Lok breakers stay “on.”

Homeowners rely on the protection afforded by functional circuit breakers. But in an overcurrent condition without protection from a tripped breaker, electrocution is possible. Wires may heat up and can eventually catch fire. Unfortunately, unless there has been a fire or shock in the past, there is no secondary indicator that the breakers are defective.

No FPE Recall Exists so Many Homeowners Have No Knowledge of the Problem

Although FPE Stab-Lok breakers are now notoriously defective, many homeowners have no idea that their safety and home are at risk. The initial inquiry was inconclusive. There was no safety recall and no alert for homeowners to remove the defective equipment.

Inspectapedia explains:

“. . . an owner’s failure to observe a problem “up to now” is absolutely no assurance that the panel is safe. It may simply be that an overcurrent has not previously occurred and the circuit breakers have not been called-on to do their job.”

Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok panels have a proprietary design. They’re not compatible with common universal breakers. Where an FPE panel exists, it is considered a home inspection defect – a dangerous one that merits an explanation for your customer. Although there’s a possibility of aftermarket Stab-Lok breakers that meet safety standards, electricians agree that the risk of failure is too great to take. FPE Stab-Lok panels are never safe. They should always be removed and replaced.

The job of a certified home inspector sometimes goes beyond identifying defects and preparing a report. In cases such as FPE electrical panels, inspectors can take an active role in educating customers about serious dangers to safety and property. ICA School can teach you all about this and more, so enroll now and start learning today.

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