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What does it cost to replace a circuit breaker box?

Electrical work is extremely dangerous, so make sure you hire a licensed pro for work around the home.

Electrical work is extremely dangerous, so make sure you hire a licensed pro for work around the home.

Most homeowners can sleep soundly knowing their electric panels will protect them by tripping off when a circuit overload occurs.

But many homes built between the 1950s and 1990 still have circuit breakers made by the defunct company Federal Pacific, which may not trip, thus posing a fire hazard. Or maybe you've traipsed down to the basement and discovered you have a faulty circuit breaker or an outdated fuse box. How much can you expect to pay to have a qualified electrician replace it?

We contacted 2012 Angie's List Super Service Award winning electricians in areas that do brisk business replacing circuit breaker panels, especially Federal Pacific's Stab-Lok brand. 

“It depends on how many circuits you have, the existing conditions, whether it’s a single-family dwelling, multi-family dwelling and the amperage of the pane — whether it’s a 100, 150, 200 amp,” says Mike Volpe III, owner and license holder for All City Electrical in Kenilworth, N.J. “It could range from anywhere from $500 to $1,300 depending on site conditions.”

“Our price to replace a breaker panel ranges from $660 all the way up to $2,900,” says licensed master electrician Reed Chambers, who owns Peerless Electric in Euless, Texas.

Angie’s List members who had similar jobs where they've installed, replaced or upgraded breaker boxes in 2013 reported paying an average of $1,720.59 with a general range of $1,558.75 to $1,882.44, not counting discounts many service providers offer to Angie’s List members.

“I don’t tend to take extreme measures using the F-word — fire — when talking to my customers about their breaker panels,” he says. “Personally, I’ve never seen a Federal or really any other breaker panel that actually caught on fire itself, but I do agree that they should be replaced.”

Chambers tells homeowners, “I tend to go with that logic that almost everyone has something electronic in their home with valuable information inside that electronic equipment. Whether you’re a video game person or a stock market trader or you collect family photos, whatever your area of interest, that’s the best reason to have up-to-date, functional electrical equipment protecting your home.”

How prevalent are Stab-Lok breakers?

“I change at least 300 a year,” Volpe reports “We see a lot of them in Jersey because they were actually based in North New Jersey, so they were a local company,” explains Volpe. “Each electrical supplier is going to sell a manufacturer that they support. When you have a company that’s producing them three towns over from where you’re supply houses are, most suppliers sold Federal Pacific electrical panels, and that’s why everybody had them.”

“The Dallas-Fort Worth area is saturated with Federal Pacific panels,” says Chambers. When American Airlines moved its headquarters from New York City to Texas in 1979, the influx of jobs created a housing boom in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “The Federal Pacific breaker panels were cheap and if you were a builder and building homes in a building boom in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, you were trying to make every dollar you could,” Chambers explains. “One way electricians could save a few dollars is instead of installing Square D or Cutler Hammer — which is the best there is — they would install Federal Pacific.”

Both electricians reported customers who stubbornly decline service to replace their old breaker boxes. “I have Federal Pacific panels in customers’ homes who are not willing to replace them…and these are multimillion-dollar homes!” Chambers says, incredulously. 

“When I do a job and a customer doesn’t want to change the panel, I do a signed affidavit because I just don’t want to be responsible for it,” says Volpe.

What to consider when replacing your electric panel

When replacing that circuit breaker box, don’t assume you’ll need to upgrade your capacity. Most modern homes actually use less amperage, so unless you’re planning a big addition to your house, you should be good with the amps you have now. “When they first came out, computers with hard drives were energy hogs,” says Chambers. “New computers and televisions are actually using less energy. An LED wall-mounted flat screen TV uses less energy than a 30-inch tube-type TV from 1980. If you use a laptop, you just charge those things up and off you go.”

If your old 100-amp breaker box goes kaput, Chambers recommends a 100-amp replacement because, for instance, “Your stove is gas-fired, your water heater is gas, your heating is gas, and you really only need electricity for air conditioning and lights and 120-volt outlets, so a 100-amp breaker panel is plenty for a house like that.”

You also want to steer clear of reconditioned breakers that you can find online or in a local supply store. “Say one of your breakers goes bad,” Volpe says. “You can’t go to the store and buy that. You would have to use an original used circuit breaker in order to pass inspection. The reconditioned ones that they sell online won’t even pass inspection.”

Make sure the electrician you hire has good working knowledge of the National Electrical Code and how it varies with the rehab codes in your city and state. “Some electricians — especially those who haven’t been around for a while or who aren’t really savvy with the code — will steer customers in a different direction just for not having the correct knowledge,” says Volpe.

Why you should replace those Stab-Lok breakers

If you do have a Federal Pacific breaker box, you definitely should replace it. Here’s why:

  • They’ve been implicated in more than 2,800 house fires each year.
  • Having Federal Pacific Stab-Lok breakers can nullify your insurance policy or increase your rates. Volpe uses an example of shopping around for a better rate on your homeowner’s insurance. The insurance company will send out an adjuster to your house. “Once they see that Federal Pacific, they’re either going to deny your insurance or they’re going to [make you] pay another $500-800 a year premium just to have that particular panel inside your house because they don’t want the liability.”
  • You’ll have trouble selling your home. “When people go to purchase a home, it’s a red flag for the insurance company,” says Volpe.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 10, 2013. We've updated it with 2013 cost data.


More Like This

Is your Federal Pacific circuit breaker panel safe?

Most circuit breaker panels are safe, but if yours was manufactured by Federal Pacific Electric with Stab-Lok breakers, you're looking at a latent fire hazard that's responsible for 2,800 fires each year.

Comments

Average cost to replace a main circuit breaker box in suburban VA outside Washington DC.

Thanks. Just at a time when I want to move my electric circuit box from the full sized crawl space up into my living area. Now I have an idea of the cost involved. I have a small 806 sq. ft. home. I know, I know. I have had bedrooms bigger than my entire house. I needed to have an idea and this gave it to me.

Great and accurate information. As an Angie's List service provider we always encourage our customers to change out their Federal Pacific Electric panels. While we don't want to "scare" someone into making such a costly decision, neither do we want to fail to make them aware of a danger that could have catastrophic consequences if not addressed. Many people will tell us ," We've never even had to re-set a circuit breaker. So why should we change this?" Well the answer is in the definition of the term "latent fire hazard". While the breakers/panel may never actually catch on fire themselves, they are in fact responsible for fires because they fail to perform the the function they were designed to perform under the conditions they were intended to perform under. In short under conditions of over current,(a circuit using more electricity than it can safely use), or fault current,(typically referred to as a short), these circuit breakers have an unacceptably high percentage of not tripping, resulting in electrical fires at outlets, lighting, or appliances. This is why they are called a "latent fire hazard". We have seen many FPE breakers subjected to direct "shorts" and NEVER trip. Here is an example of how the FPE breaker failure turns a small problem in to a disaster. Let's say a homeowner is using a small space heater to buffer against the cold in an area of the home and this additional electrical load results in an over current condition on that circuit, a reliable circuit breaker recognizes what is happening and turns the power off by "tripping", this allows the homeowner an opportunity to investigate what has happened before any damage is done. On the other hand the FPE breaker does not turn power off by "tripping", allowing the circuit wiring to reach a combustible temperature which ignites the wires, outlet, and surrounding area. As the fire burns it melts other wiring in the structure and since these are also "protected" by FPE circuit breakers they do not trip. When the insulation is burned away, resulting in a direct fault or short, the resulting arcing then spreads the fire more rapidly. This is why the Federal Pacific equipment is a deadly "latent" hazard.

been in home over 34 years. I have FPE circuit breaker box. Has been triggered several times over the years. Installed a 200 line a few years ago. Noone advised me to change box at at that time. I can ill afford to spend on new system. What can I expect when I sell my home in a few more years? I have a large home with a rental unit (3 room apt) downstairs....Why does mine function properly? I am confused,

Is it all of the FPE panels or just the ones that have the Stab-Lok type breakers in them? The example they showed in an investigative video had a big screw in the middle of the panel. Thanks.

How do I know if mine is the one to be replaced?? My condo was built sometime in the 1970's.

very good article

I'm definitely going to replace my breaker panel because of this article. Thanks for the info,

It’s been great to read this article. Great information is given in this article. This is very helpful to the customers who search for good electrician.

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