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Inspecting and evaluating Federal Pacific electrical panels

Millions of electrical panels manufactured by Federal Pacific were sold and installed from the 1950s through the 1980s. Many still exist today, and are still causing problems, according to AmeriSpec Omaha and Lincoln’s inspectors.

This issue was highlighted during a  “7 Can Help” report on KETV in Omaha in September 2016.

Federal Pacific electrical panels have a high rate of failure and have been shown to be a safety hazard. If a breaker fails, AmeriSpec knows that this concern can become a reality extremely quickly, according to experts at Angie’s List.

“Multiple tests done on the breakers since the 1980s have proven that one in four Stab-Lok breakers are defective and will not properly trip off,” according to Angie’s List. “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.”

Some electricians are under the impression that FPE panels are safe if they can turn every breaker on and off, if every breaker is tightly attached, and if there is no evidence of overheating or scorching in the panel – just like any other panel. Most electricians are likely to tell a client that the panel needs to be replaced due to its known history of failure, even though this is a suggestion and not required. Some electricians may be willing to inspect these panels and test them, but fewer electricians are doing so.

Any breaker can fail at any time, and the likelihood increases significantly with an FPE Stab-Lok breaker. This poses challenges for us in the home inspection industry as we decide our course of action to provide information to the client without being aggressive. To simplify the matter, we know our process to be that of a “generalist,” which eliminates us from making the decision on whether or not the panel should be replaced.

If your home was built between 1948 and 1998, 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,” according to Angie’s List.

If AmeriSpec Omaha and Lincoln inspectors find an FPE panel in a home, we will recommend in our inspection comments that the panel should be evaluated and tested by a qualified, licensed electrician. We also will discuss his with the buyer and their broker, if appropriate.