Your circuit breakers are an extremely important part of your home’s electrical system because they protect your home from short circuits, circuit overloads, outside power surges, and more. They do this by cutting off power from outside of the circuit if too much power starts coming through your wiring. If your breaker fails to stop this influx of power within enough time, the risk of an electrical fire is high.
Hazards Created by Faulty Electrical Breakers
When your home’s electrical breakers do not work correctly and too much power comes through your electrical circuit, this excess power will melt the wiring and anything in the vicinity. Your entire electrical panel can also overheat, making it likely that this part of your system will catch fire.
What to Know About Federal Pacific Electrical Panels
Between 1950 and 1980, Reliance Electric (Federal Pacific Electric Company’s parent company) manufactured breakers that were used in many homes built up until the year 2000. One of the most popular panels used was the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok breaker panel. Although installed in millions of homes, experts later found that these breaker panels were unsafe because they did not meet industry safety standards.
Are These Breaker Panels Unsafe?
If you have a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breaker panel in your home, it is unsafe, and you should consider having electrical panel upgrades performed right away. These panels have a high likelihood for catching fire unexpectedly and have been linked to thousands of house fires to date. More specifically, experts estimate that Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel failures have resulted in approximately 2,800 house fires, 13 deaths, and $40 million in property damage. The accepted stance among insured and licensed electricians (including us) is that these breaker panels need to be replaced.
Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok Breaker Failure Rates
The main reason why Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breaker panels are hazardous is because their circuits may not trip when they should. One official report discovered that when these breakers experience a 135% overload at both poles, they failed approximately 1/4 of the time. When energized on individual poles at the same rate of overload, this failure rate jumped to over 1/2 of the time.
On top of these high failure rates, reports of lock-up have also been identified. A breaker lock-up occurs when a switch trips once and then never trips again in the future, regardless of the electrical overload. This is why most electricians today will recommend complete electrical panel upgrades instead of repairing these panels.
If you have a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breaker in your home, a qualified electrician may identify any of the following issues:
- Crowded wires inside of the panel box
- Arcing at the bus
- Breakers that do not stay connected to the bus part
- Breakers that stay active even when flipped to the “off” position
- Breakers that trip unexpectedly when the electrical front cover is removed
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Official Stance
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) started an investigation into the safety of the Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breaker panel in the early 1980s, but halted the investigation after less than two years. The CPSC was unable to come to a clear conclusion and did not issue a formal product recall for these panels. However, in 2012, the IEEE published a study that confirmed the hazards of this electrical equipment and urged the CPSC to take appropriate action to caution the industry and consumers of the dangers of these breaker panels.
The Federal Pacific Electric Class Action Lawsuit
In 2005, consumers filed a class action lawsuit against Federal Pacific Electric. The New Jersey State Court eventually ruled that these panels violated the Consumer Fraud Act because they knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers that did not meet industry safety standards. They also ruled that Federal Pacific Electric covered up the fact that their breakers were unsafe. Today, Federal Pacific Electric is no longer a functioning entity and has officially stopped their operations.
Does Your Home Have a Federal Pacific Electric Panel?
If you bought a home that was built before the year 2000, there is a good chance that you have a Federal Pacific Electric panel. Look for the label inside the panel door. In the bottom quarter of the label, you will see the company name “FEDERAL PACIFIC ELECTRIC COMPANY” in large letters as seen in the image below.
Sometimes this label is no longer legible, so there are a couple of other ways you can tell if you have a Federal Pacific Panel.
First, look at the breakers themselves, usually with a black or grey body and red on the tip of the switch face. They are easily recognizable, as this configuration is not used by any other breaker manufacturer. See image below.
The last thing to check is in the middle of the panel between the breaker numbers at the top—if it says “STAB-LOK LOAD CENTER” in white lettering (as seen in picture below), that means you have a Federal Pacific Panel.
If you have looked and are still unsure if your panel is a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel feel free to give Dunlow Mechanical Services, Inc. a call at 252-375-4006 and schedule a free consultation about your electrical system and find out how we can help you make your electrical system safer.
What Should You Do if You Have a Federal Pacific Panel?
If your home has a Federal Pacific Electric panel and Stab-Lok breakers, you should call us at Dunlow Mechanical right away. As you wait for one of our qualified electricians to arrive, we recommend taking the following safety precautions:
- Check your smoke detectors and make sure they all work properly.
- Reduce the load on your home’s heaviest-loaded electrical circuits by unplugging some of your devices connected to that circuit.
- Avoid overloading your electrical circuits by not using too many appliances at one time.
- Repair or replace any electrical equipment in your home that is in poor condition or working incorrectly.
- If you experience a problem with your breaker, disconnect all your home’s electrical appliances immediately.
Should You Replace Your Federal Pacific Panel?
If you have a Federal Pacific Electric panel in your home, you may wonder if you can do electrical panel upgrades to protect your home’s safety and prevent hazards or if you should completely replace the panel. Even just replacing your individual breakers cannot improve the fire risk your home faces, so in most cases, we suggest replacing your panel to prevent meltdowns, bus bar damage, and the risk of a house fire.
When we replace your electrical panel, we will make sure the equipment we use is safe, up to current electrical standards and codes, and installed properly for your ongoing safety. Call us today if you have a Federal Pacific Electrical panel in your home to discuss the next steps you should take.