Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panels

The Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) supplied electrical panels to the US and Canada from the 1950s to the 1980s. As the company’s “Stab-Lok” break boxes were relatively inexpensive and easy to install, they were used in many homes during this period. However, FPE panels were eventually discovered to be highly unstable, and they are no longer installed in homes today.

If you suspect that your home may have an FPE panel, here’s what you should know.

Are Federal Pacific Electric panels dangerous?

FPE panels are banned by the National Electric Code due to the myriad of safety issues associated with them. If you have one of these breaker boxes in your home, you should have it replaced with a safer model as soon as possible to keep yourself and your family out of harm’s way.

When did Federal Pacific Electric breaker boxes stop being used?

Federal Pacific Electric stopped making electrical panels in the 1980s. But just because FPE panels are no longer in production doesn’t mean that they aren’t still present in homes. If your house was built prior to 1990, it is entirely possible that it still has an FPE panel that was installed several decades ago.

Were Federal Pacific Electric panels recalled?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) carried out an investigation on FPE panels in the 1980s. They ended up closing it after two years and did not ultimately order a recall.
However, it should be noted that the CPSC only stopped their research on FPE panels because they lacked the budget for it; the decision not to recall the panels was not because they were proven to be safe, but because the evidence of them being dangerous was inconclusive at the time.

Are all Federal Pacific panels bad?

While not every FPE panel will lead to disaster, the failure rate of these breaker boxes is extremely high: The CPSC’s tests found that on average, nearly one third of FPE panels were defective. It’s also important to note that electrical panels become less safe over time, so the risk of an FPE panel malfunctioning increases with every day.

If you find an FPE panel in your home, it is best to replace it. Leaving it in place would pose a significant risk to your home and its residents.

Is there a class action lawsuit surrounding Federal Pacific breaker boxes?

In a 2000s class action lawsuit, New Jersey State Court found the Federal Pacific Electric Company guilty of fraud. It was discovered that FPE cheated on tests when getting its circuit breakers approved for endorsement by Underwriter Laboratories (UL), and these inaccurate test results gave consumers a false sense of safety.

According to the court, FPE “violated the Consumer Fraud Act because [they] knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards.”

Have there been any studies done on FPE circuit breakers?

Yes. A 2007 study by Jesse Aronstein extensively tested the FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers. The study found a significant portion of these breakers fail to trip under conditions where they should with failure rates far exceeding acceptable industry thresholds for circuit breaker performance. The study (which can be downloaded here) found:

FPE Double Pole Breakers:

  • High failure rates were observed, with around 35% not tripping at 135% of rated current and about 9% completely jamming and not tripping at any overcurrent level.

FPE Single-Pole Breakers:

  • These also showed concerning failure rates, with around 21% for half-width and 8% for full-width breakers not tripping at 135% of rated current.
  • FPE single-pole, GFI breakers exhibited a jam rate of 40% and failed to trip at any overcurrent level.

What type of damage has been caused by Federal Pacific panels?

When FPE panels malfunction, they can cause severe property damage or even injury or death.
Sometimes the wiring in an FPE panel will reach an extremely high temperature and start a fire. Other times, electricity will continue to flow even when the circuit breakers are switched off, and a person can get electrocuted.

Do Federal Pacific Electric fuse boxes cause fires?

Several homeowners with FPE panels have reported house fires caused by their fuse boxes overheating. Some of these fires resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
In many cases, the fires caused by dysfunctional FPE panels come as a complete surprise. A breaker box can work perfectly for decades before suddenly failing and causing extensive damage. Be aware that just because your electrical panel seems fine right now doesn’t mean that it won’t cause problems later on.

In a 2012 article investigating the risks of FPE circuit breakers, Jesse Aronstein, an engineer with 20+ years of experience researching FPE circuit breakers, stated he believed them to be at fault for approximately 2,000 house fires in the United States each year.

Why do Federal Pacific Electric panels malfunction?

FPE panels are prone to malfunctioning due to a variety of poor design features, including weak materials and crowded wiring. Some common problems that occur include:

  • Failing to trip properly under overload or short circuit conditions due to mechanical issues within the breakers
  • Design flaws that make them prone to failure such as issues with the mechanism that causes the breakers to jam instead of trip when an overcurrent occurs
  • Overcrowded breakers overwhelming the panel
  • Breakers tripping unexpectedly when the panel cover is removed
  • Breakers not being properly connected to bus bars
  • Breakers splitting apart when placed into sockets

Are Federal Pacific panels illegal?

Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker boxes cannot be installed in new homes or businesses by licensed electricians because they don't meet the National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements. The NEC has banned new installations FPE breaker panels because they're considered a safety hazard by modern standards. However, it is not illegal for a pre-existing FPE breaker panel to remain if it was installed prior to the ban, though replacement of existing FPE breaker panels is highly encouraged.

How do you know if you have a Federal Pacific Electric breaker box?

If your fuse box was made by FPE, you will most likely see “Federal Pacific” or “FPE” written on the front cover of the panel. There should also be a label reading “Stab-Lok” on the inside of the box.

If the lettering for these labels has faded, you can also identify an FPE panel by the red stripes on its switches.

How do you find Federal Pacific Electric panel replacement breakers?

If you discover that your home has an FPE panel, you may be tempted to save money by replacing any broken circuit breakers while leaving the breaker box itself in place. However, replacement breakers alone are not enough to guarantee your safety.

The only proper course of action when dealing with an FPE panel is to fully replace it with a new electrical panel.

Will a Federal Pacific Electric panel pass a home inspection?

A home inspector’s documents will often ask whether a breaker box is “functioning as intended.” Because this wording is vague, some inspectors may give a passing grade to an FPE panel as long as it is working properly. Stricter inspectors, however, may require that an FPE panel be replaced.

At the very least, almost any home inspector who finds an FPE panel will strongly advise that you get rid of it, and following this advice is the best course of action.

Will homeowners insurance companies insure homes fitted with Federal Pacific Electric panels?

If your home has an FPE panel, there is a good chance it will not qualify for homeowners insurance.

Insurance companies are aware that FPE panels have a high risk of failure, and they don’t want to get stuck paying for any potential damage that occurs. Therefore, many policies will not offer coverage for homes with these fuse boxes, and as a result, a house fire can end up bankrupting a homeowner.

Where can you find official consumer safety reports surrounding Federal Pacific panels?

You can view the Consumer Safety Institute’s Electrical Panel Safety Alert here.

What is the cost to replace a Federal Pacific Electric panel?

The national average cost to replace an FPE panel ranges between $1,500 and $4,000. The amount you would need to pay is proportional to the amperage of the breaker box being installed, with 100-amp panels costing less than 150-amp or 200-amp panels.

If your electrical panel is made by Federal Pacific Electric, you may want to consider replacing it

The safety of the electrical system in your home is paramount. If your home is equipped with a Federal Pacific Electric electrical panel, it's advisable to have a qualified electrician inspect it. Upgrading to a modern electrical panel can provide enhanced safety and peace of mind. Contact us for a free quote on upgrading your Houston area electrical panel here.