There has been much debate and varying opinions – will a Federal Pacific panel pass inspection? While Federal Pacific Stab-Lok breaker panels are legal under the grandfather law into the electrical code, home inspectors consider more than just the building code when inspecting a home.
Most Federal Pacific panels won’t pass inspection. The Federal Pacific electrical panel has been proven through independent studies not to meet safety standards, with breakers having a 65% failure rate under a 135% electricity overload.
The Federal Pacific breakers may not trip correctly in the event of an overload or short circuit, a serious fire hazard for your home. You should replace any Federal Pacific panels with modern ones meeting current safety codes and regulations.
Can a Federal Pacific Panel Pass Inspection (Explained)
Unfortunately, if your home has a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok panel, it’s not likely to pass a modern inspection. There are safety issues with the Stab-Lok breakers, especially the double-pole 30amp or higher circuit breakers.
That being said, there are some exceptions where an FPE panel may pass an electrical inspection.
For example, some of the later Federal Pacific panels with retrofit Federal Pacific breakers and branch copper electrical wiring may pass an inspection. Later versions from the late 1970s through the 1980s were somewhat better as manufacturers tried to correct some of the problems with Federal Pacific electrical panels.
Federal Pacific panels don’t pass inspection because of their safety concerns. Most home insurance companies no longer insure homes with a Federal Pacific breaker panel.
Therefore, consider electrical panel replacement before obtaining a new homeowners insurance policy.
What is a Federal Pacific Panel?
A Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) is a circuit breaker panel commonly found in homes built between the mid-1950s and the late-1980s. It was one of the most popular brands of its time. Still, it has since been discontinued due to its unreliable performance. Up to 70% of FPE Stab-Lok panels are estimated to contain defective breakers that can cause fires or electric shock.
Unfortunately, these panels are still common in older homes today. According to national fire data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Federal Pacific panels are responsible for about 2,800 house fires yearly and millions in property damage claims.
Federal Pacific Electrical Panel Issues
According to electricians and home inspectors, Federal Pacific Electric panels have a notoriously poor reputation for reliability and safety. As these panels continue to age, the potential for safety hazards and operational problems increases.
Breakers not Tripping from Overcurrent
FPE breakers may not trip or may not trip when an overcurrent or power surge is present. Various factors, such as corrosion on the breaker parts, worn or insufficient contact surfaces, loose wire connections, improper installation or faulty wiring, and incorrect sizing for the circuit load, can cause this.
When FPE breakers do not trip from an overcurrent condition, the risk of damage to electrical components and appliances connected to the overload situation circuit increases.
They pose a significant fire hazard due to excess heat buildup that can cause electrical fires. In extreme cases, failure of a breaker can lead to home fires that result in injury and loss of life.
Age of the Panel
The first thing to consider when assessing whether your Federal Pacific Panel needs replacing is age. It’s important to note that these panels are more than 40 years old and may not meet today’s safety standards.
One of the primary problems with Federal Pacific panels, especially in the early years, is that they were made with inferior materials. The aluminum bus bars would heat up and cause the faulty breakers to fuse to the bus and not trip properly.
In addition, the Stab-Lok double-pole 30 amp breakers had as much as a 65% failure rate or higher when under a 135% electrical load. In many cases, the breakers could not adequately protect the electrical system.
Breakers can fuse to the bus bar or fall out when the electrical panel box cover is removed for inspection.
Inspecting Federal Pacific Electric Panel and Stab-Lok Breakers
When it comes to FPE Stab-Lok breakers and panels, they can only be visually inspected by either a home inspector or a licensed electrician. The only method to accurately assess an FPE Stab-Lok breaker’s condition and whether defective is by performing a live-current functional test on every breaker in the panel, which requires specialized equipment.
The only way to locate a defective circuit breaker is additional testing by a circuit overload to see if it trips. Another problem stems from performing such tests is usually very expensive and would probably cost more than changing the whole panel.
So we end up in a situation where neither home inspectors nor electricians can with 100% certainty access whether or not a breaker is functioning the way it should. One can visually inspect them for electrical issues and check whether the breakers work.
Home inspectors are limited in what they can or can’t do in an inspection. Electricians have more leeway in removing the breakers to inspect the bus bar and breaker contacts for melting or arcing burns. However, this still will not determine whether or not the breaker will trip when necessary.
What if a Home Inspector finds a Federal Pacific Electrical Panel?
FPE Stab-Lok breaker panels have high rates of inability to protect against overcurrent. Since they have such controversial working reliability upon inspection, they are generally considered a “Safety Defect” on the home inspection checklist.
As a home inspector, I am concerned about the safety of my clients. The FPE Stab-Lok breakers might work fine for years or even decades, but they might not protect one overcurrent or short circuit.
Faulty breakers can appear to function correctly.
Home inspectors alert clients to latent safety hazards and advise an electrical panel upgrade. Some electricians refuse to work on such panels as they can’t guarantee future performance.
When were Federal Pacific Electric Panels Recalled?
Surprisingly, Federal Pacific Electric panels have not been recalled. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned about using such panels in 1983 due to the potential fires caused by arcing. The CSPC didn’t pursue further testing over budget issues.
The Government agency did advise that homeowners replace any Federal Pacific electrical panel with a newer model as soon as possible. However, many are still unaware of the problems with Federal Pacific Panels.
However, in 2005, a group of New Jersey lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against Federal Pacific Electric Company as the circuit breakers they provided to homeowners were failing at alarming rates.
To better understand how these breakers were performing, claimants enlisted an expert who conducted rigorous tests and compared their results with other UL-rated ones. The findings of this evaluation indicated that FPE’s products showed higher failure levels in all trials than any other model available on the market.
The New Jersey State Court ultimately declared that Federal Pacific Electric had broken the Consumer Fraud Act due to their intentional distribution of untested circuit breakers, falsely claiming they conformed to UL standards. This was an apparent act of testing fraud and a cover-up on FPE’s part, as this claim had no credibility.
The CPSC is aware of the mounting evidence of the dangers of some Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels but has not yet established that these circuit breakers pose a severe injury risk to consumers. Read more on the CPSC investigation here.
What Can I Do If My Home Has an FPE Stab-Lok Panel?
If your home does have an FPE Stab-Lok panel, the best course of action is to replace it as soon as possible. This should be done by a licensed electrician who can install a new electrical system that meets current safety standards.
Replacing the old breaker box will help ensure your home passes inspection and your family remains safe from electrical fires and shocks caused by faulty equipment.
The cost to replace Federal Pacific panels can be as high as $4,000 or more, with a National average cost of around $2,730. The actual cost depends on how much electrical work is necessary to meet local electrical codes.
Will a Federal Pacific Electric panel pass an FHA inspection?
No, a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel will not pass an FHA inspection. Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels are considered obsolete and dangerous and do not meet the UL safety requirements for modern safety standards under FHA guidelines. Contrary to popular belief, not all Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels are dangerous. Only the outdated “Stab-Lok” models have proved hazardous and should be replaced immediately.
Are Federal Pacific breaker boxes illegal?
No, Federal Pacific circuit breaker boxes are not illegal under grandfather clauses. They have been known to malfunction and fail to trip when overloaded, resulting in potential fire hazards. Therefore, it is recommended that homeowners replace Federal Pacific panels with a more reliable brand of circuit breakers.
However, home insurance companies aren’t subject to grandfather clauses and reserve the right not to insure a house with FPE Stab-Lok panels.
How can I tell if my Federal Pacific Panel Breaker is unsafe?
You should have a thorough electrical inspection to determine if your Federal Pacific Panel Breaker is unsafe. An electrician can look for any visible signs of damage or corrosion and check the electrical wiring and signs of melting or burning near the panel.