Is your Federal Pacific circuit breaker panel safe?

You can spot a Stab-Lok breaker by Federal Pacific Electric from the red strip across the switch. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Garrett R. of Columbus, Ohio)

You can spot a Stab-Lok breaker by Federal Pacific Electric from the red strip across the switch. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Garrett R. of Columbus, Ohio)

Your electric panel ensures your home’s electrical safety, but is it safe? If your home was built between 1950 and 1990 and is equipped with a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panel with Stab-Lok circuit breakers, you run a significant risk of breaker malfunction and fire.

The breakers inside the panel are designed to guard your home’s electrical system against circuit overload, short circuits and outside power surges coming into the panel. When an overload occurs, a breaker protects you by tripping, thus shutting down the power to the circuit. However, if a breaker is defective or not operating properly, the risk of fire to the panel and consequently to your home becomes imminent.

Multiple tests done on the breakers since the 1980s have proven that one in four Stab-Lok breakers will be defective and not properly trip off. Unfortunately, when the testing began in the early 1980s, a New Jersey court later ruled that FPE committed testing fraud and a cover-up, labeling the breakers as meeting the standards set by the UL when in reality, they were defective.

In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) closed its two-year investigation and felt it impossible to create a product recall at the time because of budget issues, even as Federal Pacific panels and breakers continued to be installed in millions of homes that to this day still run the risk of an electrical fire. An estimated 2,800 fires each year directly result from Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunction. Federal Pacific Electric has been out of business for many years, but the danger and damage caused by their negligence continues.

Many electrical panels have Federal Pacific or its logo on the front cover.

Do you have a Federal Pacific panel?

If you own a home between 23 and 63 years old, check your breaker box. A Federal Pacific panel will usually have its name or logo on the front cover. Inside, you will find the name Stab-Lok printed near the center or side of the panel. The intact breakers will have the signature red strip that runs across the front.

If you find you do have a Federal Pacific panel or Stab-Lok breakers, call a licensed electrician in your area for further information regarding replacement.


About this Angie's List Expert: Jodi Wells has been with Wells Electric for 37 years. She is a published writer and takes great interest in health, well-being and safety. She is a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in education.

As of March 18, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


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What does it cost to replace a circuit breaker box?

electrician_working.jpg

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.

If you discover that you have an old Federal Pacific breaker box, a faulty circuit breaker or an outdated fuse box, how much can you expect to pay to have a qualified electrician replace it?

Comments

am told that I have to replace the box before I can sell my house. It was remodeled in 1986 and a new GE box is right beside it with breakers. As far as I can tell the new box has only the A/C unit and some lights in it. the Fed, Pacific has the rest like the electric stove and dryer. Does anyone know if I will be able to just get the lines moved to the GE box and that would be a fix? Any idea of cost. Interesting that it passed code the way it is now when the house had a major remodel in 86.

My husband and I recently listed our home for sale. We have one of these stabloc boxes that is original to the home since 1962. Once a realtor brought to our attention there was concern we started investigating. We have actually read the statement from the consumer protection agency and what's written in the above article is misrepresented and inflammatory IMO, no pun intended. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH ON THIS ISSUE. THESE BOXES ARE IN MILLIONS OF HOMES TO THIS DAY. Fires have dropped 50% across the board since these "fire hazard's" were installed. The Consumer Protection Agency conducted their own studies and could NOT find evidence that these boxes are an inherent danger to bodily harm or a risk to property. They closed their case in 1983. Without any NEW EVIDENCE they sited that they would not RE-OPEN the case due to a lack of funding. Fire departments are being stripped down to bare bones because statistically fires are down...how dangerous are these REALLY??? I'd put FPE record up against some kangaroo court in NJ any day. ALSO KEEP IN MIND THIS HAS BEEN NOTED AS AN ISSUE WITH MANY DIFFERENT BRANDS OF THE stabloc boxes, not JUST Fed. Pacific!!!

Expect to pay approx $1,000.00 for an average 2,300 sq ft home. By the way--your homeowners insurance won't pay to "upgrade"!

Just curious as to why would you expect your homeowners insurance to pay for this fix? This is a maintenance issue, not a claim. Would they replace an older water heater that could "potentially" leak, or to clean a dirty furnace that could cause a fire? These types of things come with home ownership and too many people treat their home insurance as a "maintenance plan" and then continue to wonder why insurance costs continue to rise.

We recently purchased a "fixer-upper".. a large older home (1960's) that has been added onto several times, and as a result we have 5 smaller FPE breaker boxes throughout the house. We had no evidence of problems, but have been saving to change them to bring the house up to code. We replaced the first one yesterday...I wish I could post the pics. You couldn't tell anything was wrong just by looking at the panel, but the inside of the box was completely blackened, wires were burnt, a hole had been burned through the back of the box, and there was even scorching on the outside of the box. It is a miracle our home hasn't burned down. Now working to get the rest of them out immediately! We were lucky to have an electrician friend help with the change...parts were only $120. But that was for a small box (12-15 breakers I think, we have 4 other boxes to do to complete the whole house), if you have one box for the whole house I imagine it would be a bit more.

How much does it cost to replace the electrical power. An electrician told me it would take about 2 hours. Surely somebody has had this work done.

The cost can sometimes be more than just the cost of replacing the panel itself. In Lincoln, NE our local electrical company will make you upgrade to a new digital electrical meter if you don't already have one ($300) when replacing your main service panel. They also strongly encourage you to move your overhead entrance cables to underground if they are not already. This is at no cost to the consumer. But, if you are replacing your panel, which is pretty much a one time deal and you currently have a 100 amp service it is suggested to upgrade to 150-200amps. The cost here is about $200.00. Often the location of the old panel doesn't meet current code due to the presence of water pipes or it may now be in a bathroom that wasn't present with the home was constructed. So relocating the panel is another additional cost. As a construction manager what looks to be a simple installation of a new panel often ends up costing $1,800.00 after all the changes take place. If the panel needs to be relocated you can add another $500.00 to that figure.

$850 and done in just over 2 hours

Some of you must have had this electrical panel replaced. How much did it cost?

I would rather use the original breakers before I would put some Chinese "Connecticut Electric" garbage in. Every stablok I have dealt with never had a problem

Exactly right and they give false info in the article.it states the consumer protection agency issued no recall because of budget cuts but what realy happend was that they allready did testing in the 80s and ruled in favor of federal pacific and nothing changed so they issued a statement that said they saw no new reason to open the case again and had a limited budget that is used for things that do show a inherrit risk to public safety.Im wondering has anyone changed there stab loc system out that hasnt been forced to do for a realistate deal?It seems odd they are makeing a stink about it since fires are down 50 percent across the board starting from approximately 50 years ago about the time these things became popular.id put federal pacifics track record up against some new jersey kangaroo courts record anyday.

If they are so fantastic, why do I have to keep replacing the ones in my box, due to overheating and crumbling? They're trash.

What about Federal Pacific main breakers and fuse panels from1920-1950. Have these been an issue as well?

Hello Tim, thank you for your comment. Could you tell me how much it cost to replace this panel? is there a need to do any other replacements other than the panel and breakers? Thanks a mil!

You do not have to replace your entire panel if you have Federal pacific Stab-lok style breakers. There is a company, Connecticut-Electric, Inc that makes brand new, ETL listed, same test as UL, circuit breakers that are safe to use and completely safety agency listed. There seams to be a "red scare' out there about these breakers, yes, there were some issues. Even the federal government couldn't make a decision based upon the facts present to say that Federal Pacific breakers are actually unsafe. Why spend all that money replacing your entire panel, which most electrician love to hear. They just see dollar signs.

My Pool house and garage burned last year due to one of these boxes. I just purchased a condo and its has this box as well. First thing I did after closing was replace the panel. Wish I had known about the problem earlier.

I need to replace mine and I just to know how much did it cost?

It will cost up to 5,000.00 I would try and go thru ur home owners insurance

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