Federal Pacific (FPE) “Stab-Lok” circuit breaker panels continue to raise concerns about the characteristic defects they may have. 


Numerous electrical fires have also been linked to the result of the defects.


While no government agency or regulatory authority has offered any supporting evidence that FPE panels are unsafe, if the home you live in or are considering buying has one you should discuss it with a certified electrician.  The consumer product safety commission has not recalled the panels so you may not even be aware that a home has one without an inspection.


Home inspectors have the difficult task of informing a home owner or potential buyer of the dangers an FPE panel may impose.  While they do fulfill their intended functions and do not cause an unsafe environment when working properly, allowing that an FPE is “performing intended function” on an inspection report doesn’t tell the whole story.


The Problem


FPE “Stab-Loc” panels have been shown to pose a threat under circumstances that require them to trip leaving the possibility of a fire or injury unprotected against.  A circuit breaker is meant to trip in the case of an overload or short circuit and Federal Pacific Panels may not. 


Some panels, specifically double pole 220volt and single pole 120volt circuit breakers, are compromised when overloaded.


Two pole 220 volt FPE circuit breakers have had published reports of tests conducted which reveal that in certain instances only one pole may attempt to trip the breaker leaving the other live.  The result of this is that the circuit breaker that has been reset is now compromised and will not trip again under any excessive load.


In addition, breakers have been shown to fall out when the cover is removed because of a loose connection.  This can cause arcing which is another fire hazard.  There are no problems or systems that will raise red flags from these panels, they appear to work just fine during day to day operations.  FPESs allow electricity to flow effectively most of the time but when something happens, they may fail at that most important job, preventing the loss of personal property and possibly life in a fire.


Failure rates for FPEs were significant during product testing conducted by The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSP).  They suggested that consumers avoid overloading circuits and having the devices that cause circuit breakers to trip examined.  Each of these suggestions are not only difficult to implement but also defeat the purpose of having circuit breakers to begin with.


According to a statement made by Federal Pacific, who is no longer in business, “FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels.”


The large panels have a lot of circuit breakers, and while aftermarket breakers are available, it is usually less expensive to have a new panel installed than replacing each of the breakers.