When a home inspector mentions a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) brand electrical panel, generally there are two responses.  Either a blank stare or “oh no!”  If you find yourself in the “blank stare” category read on.

The Hazard

A recent story by NBC 4 New York highlighted the problems with these panels.  Here are some of the important points.

A circuit breaker is designed to trip during an overload or short circuit, thereby cutting off the flow of electricity and preventing a fire.  But if the breaker doesn’t trip, the increasing current can cause the wires to overheat, and even ignite. Sometimes, Federal Pacific Electric breakers fail to trip.

Engineer Jesse Aronstein has been studying FPE breakers for decades. He has testified in lawsuits against the company and published reports about the failures.  According to his research, Federal Pacific Electric breakers may be associated with as many as 2,800 electrical fires each year in the U.S.

“People should know that these have a high defect rate and should be advised to have them replaced,” said Aronstein.
He said Federal Pacific Electric cheated on testing and inspections decades ago to achieve approval from Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit product safety testing and certification organization.  

How to Identify

Look for a label that says either Federal Pacific, Federal Pacific Electric, or just FPE.  Many, but not all, of the breaker handles will have a bright red coloring around the breaker rating.  If the panel manufacturer cannot be found, it would be good to call an electrician for more information.  

It should be noted however, that not all electricians are familiar with the problems associated with Federal Pacific panels.  Ask the electrician what they know about these panels and if all you get is a blank stare in return, that would be a pretty good sign to find a more knowledgable electician.

 

JMC Inspections: Service, Experience, Professionalism since 1982