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This article explains the burden of proof that FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breaker and electrical panels is a real hazard not just a theoretical one. This document explains the latent electric shock and fire hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® electric panels and circuit breakers. Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok® " service panels and breakers are dangerous and can fail, leading to electrical fires.
Replacement FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers are unlikely to reduce the failure risk of this equipment. We recommend that residential FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels be replaced entirely or the entire panel bus assembly be replaced, regardless of FPE model number or FPE year of manufacture. We do not sell circuit breakers nor any other products.
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Readers of this document should also see FPE FIRES: Failure Reports and The Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panel Hazard Website.
The problem is that some 240-Volt FPE circuit breakers and possibly also some 120-Volt units simply may not work. That is the breaker may fail to trip or even when physically switched "off" manually some breakers may remain "on" internally, continuing to conduct current! These serious failures have been tested and shown to occur at very high rates - much higher than other circuit breaker failures in general.
But identifying one of these defects can lead to an argument and in some cases, even lawsuits! For example, a knowledgeable inspector or contractor observes one of these panels and recommends replacement. An owner or another inspector, unaware of the background, refuses to cooperate, and insists there is "no problem." Who's right?
There is indeed "a problem." FPE panels and circuit breakers are a "safety-related defect." In some conditions the equipment may not provide the safety protection (against fire) that was intended.
This defect is associated with FPE panels and circuit breakers manufactured in the 1970's and possibly extending to current equipment. Testing was performed in 1982-3 by Wright Malta Corporation for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
What actually happens to cause unsafe conditions? Testing performed on FPE 2-pole (240V) circuit breakers indicated that in some overload conditions, particularly when one pole of the breaker is overloaded, the circuit breaker will not trip. Some tests showed that as many as 65% of the circuit breakers would malfunction.
Once this malfunction has occurred the breaker is "locked" and it will not trip under any circumstances, creating an even more serious fire hazard.
Are there real-world instances in which a current overload occurs on just a single "leg" of a 240-Volt circuit? Sure. At least some clothes dryers, air conditioning circuits, and electric ranges split the 240-V delivered to the appliance to run individual components such as a dryer drum motor or individual heater elements.
Multiwire branch circuits which share a common neutral wire also serve different loads in a building. Main breakers in the panel split power to the two panel buses. We have received many field reports with examples of failures to trip for such equipment.
To get technical depth and citations for proving your case, see:
2004 FPE Update: St. Louis ASHI Seminar including: Hazard Summary & Independent Tests confirms Stab-Lok® failures
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