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ZINSCO SYLVANIA ELECTRICAL PANELS
FPE Replacement Guide: this document describes how to replace Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels in buildings. We describe two methods for correcting this safety hazard in buildings. Option 1 - replacement of the panel bus assembly or "load center" while leaving the original electrical panel enclosure or "box" and its attached wires intact, by using the Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products "Adjustable Retrofit Kit" and Option 2 - conventional removal and replacement of the entire electrical panel.
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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REPLACEMENT PANELS - Alternative Methods for Replacement of Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® (FPE) Electric Panels
Where the original panel enclosure is in good condition, Option 1 should cost less and be a faster job than Option 2 because less labor and less disruption is involved. We do not recommend mere replacement of FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers themselves, as discussed at FPE REPLACEMENT BREAKERS. Also see FPE REPLACEMENT PANEL COSTS and see CAN'T AFFORD A NEW ELECTRIC PANEL?.
This is information for building inspectors, home buyers, home owners, and electricians regarding steps to reduce the hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels. Safety warning: as with any electrical installation or repair, these steps must be performed by a licensed and qualified electrician and must comply with appropriate building codes and regulations. Good workmanship and an accurate assessment of the condition of the electrical panel enclosure which is to be re-used are important for FPE Electric Panel.
Watch out: Safety Notice: working with electrical equipment can involve fire, and fatal shock hazards. Electrical repairs must be performed by a qualified, licensed professional electrician. Good workmanship, following manufacturer's instructions, and local and other appropriate code compliance are also essential for a safe and successful outcome.
The first section of this document OPTION #1 RETROFIT KIT describes how to replace Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® Electric Panels in buildings using a retrofit kit provided by Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products (E-CH): Option 1 - replacement of the panel bus assembly or "load center" while leaving the original electrical panel enclosure or "box" and its attached wires intact, by using the Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products "Adjustable Retrofit Kit" and
In a second document section OPTION #2 REPLACEMENT we discuss Option 2 - conventional removal and replacement of the entire electrical panel.
In a third document section OPTION #1 vs OPTION #2 we express an opinion which compares these two methods.
Where the original panel enclosure is in good condition, Option 1 should cost less and be a faster job than Option 2 because less labor and less disruption is involved. We do not recommend mere replacement of FPE Stab-Lok® circuit breakers themselves, as discussed at the REPLACEMENT BREAKERS link at left.This is information for building inspectors, home buyers, home owners, and electricians regarding steps to reduce the hazards associated with Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok® circuit breakers and service panels. Safety warning: as with any electrical installation or repair, these steps must be performed by a licensed and qualified electrician and must comply with appropriate building codes and regulations. Good workmanship and an accurate assessment of the condition of the electrical panel enclosure which is to be re-used are important for FPE Electric Panel
OPTION #1 RETROFIT KIT - Federal Pacific Electric Panel Replacement - Option #1 Using the Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products Adjustable Retrofit Kit
Adjustable Retrofit Kits produced by Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products (E-CH) are a patented design new electric panel interior designed to replace aging electrical panels in residential and light commercial applications. The unique features are that the existing box and wiring can be re-used for convenience, if still in good working condition. Also, a custom trim to fit the existing box is available.
Using the retrofit kit involves disconnecting the electrical circuits from the existing load center "bus assembly"circuit breakers. The old bus assembly and other internal parts (neutral bus, ground bus, etc) in the existing panel are removed. The panel box or "enclosure" itself is left in place, and the electric circuit wires which entered that box are left undisturbed.
After inspection by the installer to confirm the soundness of the panel box, any openings in the box body are closed, a new load center (panel bus and circuit breaker set, ground and neutral bus bars) is mounted in the existing electric panel box, and the existing circuits are connected to the new circuit breakers.
The "field adjustable electric panel interior assembly" consists of an adjustable riser, the required interior bus assembly, and the appropriate neutral assembly and ground bar assembly. Additional kit components permit a new panel face to correctly fit the new bus assembly which has now been mounted in the old panel box.
On completion, all of the electrical parts inside the original electric panel have been replaced. Only the steel panel enclosure or "box" has been retained. The new parts and installation are made using UR and UL approved components. Wiring to comply with the electrical code, workmanship, and final code approval are the responsibility of the installing electrician, assured by an inspection by the local electrical inspector.
Not all Electrical Panels can be Upgraded using the Retrofit Kit
Field reports and comments from the manufacturer have pointed out that not every elecrical panel is a candidate for upgrading using the retrofit kit discussed here. If the original electrical panel enclosure is itself too small to meet the size and space requirements of current electrical codes the entire panel will need to be replaced.
The following text provides an example of a case where, unfortunately, the old electrical panel was just too small to upgrade:
From email between a reader and the product manufacturer
Here is a clear and concise reply from the manufacturer:
Our retrofit kits are designed to be installed into enclosures where there is sufficient space to wire according to the National Electric Code. As the local electrician pointed out, the enclosure that you have is not large enough to allow for our kits to work. Being from 1960, the existing electrical panel was constructed prior to two NEC revisions that expanded the necessary wire bending space requirements. In addition, to increase the ampacity of the panel would require slightly more space. Unfortunately, for the application described, a new service will need to be installed.
Key in making this retrofit approach possible in the replacement of FPE or other problematic electrical panels is E-CH's development of:
One of the biggest hurdles the manufacturer faced was the panel enclosure depth issue. To solve this, CH offers the adjustable depth feature. This allows the "riser" to be adjusted to accommodate enclosures from 4" to 6" in depth. When this is combined with the "picture frame" and "trim" the final product is a very safe, solid, and professional looking final assembly. To date (June 2006) CH engineers have not had any reports of any brand or model specific enclosure that these have not worked in. Due to the adjustability of the CH kit, it is unlikely there would be an electric panel model that these kits wouldn't fit.
Very shallow panel enclosures:
Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products have just finished the design & patent work on phase 2 of this program. This will consist of an adjustable "extension collar" which will attach to the enclosure and extend it out from the wall for those installations that are very shallow.
This will extend them out and then the standard "Retrofit Kit" can be used. This will accommodate enclosures clear down to 3" or less in depth.
Cutler Hammer was unable to inform me of "typical" retrofit installation costs using their product. Electrical panel replacement costs are hard to cite as there really isn't a typical application for this product - it is used in a wider variety of circumstances than just replacement of FPE Stab-Lok® electrical panels. These vary from the smallest single phase, main lug, 125amp units to the largest three phase, main breaker, 42-circuit. 225-AMP kits. (Probably the manufacturer did not want to appear to set the retail prices charged by the electricians who buy their product.)
In addition, custom size adapter collars can add to the costs as well. Materials costs typically run from $225 to $500 per kit plus installation cost. From the feedback CH has received from the field, when you figure in labor, the installed kit is less than half the cost of Option #2 - complete removal and replacement of the electrical panel.
That is exactly in line with my own (DJF's) guess based on the labor and building disruption savings. If there is much cosmetic work with the Remove-and-Replace process, the savings are even greater.
Quotes from electrical contractors on FPE electrical panel replacement using the retrofit kit or using a complete new replacement electrical panel can be expected to vary by area of the country, hardware needed, replacement panel size in ampacity and number of circuits, accessibility to perform the work, and other factors that affect labor or materials.
That said, we've heard FPE panel replacement costs using the Cutler Hammer retrofit panel ranging from about $900. all the way up to $4000. If you are surprised by the quotation you receive from your electrician, ask for a bid from a competitor and compare labor, materials, and other costs.
"REPLACEMENT COST Typical cost of the traditional FPE Electrical Panel Replacement" discusses the costs of FPE panel replacement using a completely new electrical panel assembly.
RETROFIT INSTALLATION - E-CH Adjustable Retrofit Kit Installation Tips to replace a Federal Pacific Electrical Panel
See the E-CH PDF file (450KB) which explains how this replacement program works. Obtain and follow the installation instructions that come with the equipment. Here are some additional comments:
Distinctive about this approach is that it is not necessary to cut the existing building wall for wire access, and not necessary to disconnect the existing circuits from the original metal panel enclosure "box". Avoiding these steps significantly reduces the labor and installation time.
The Adjustable Retrofit Kit installation procedure is roughly this:
COMPONENT SELECTION - Selecting the Proper Retrofit Kit Components when Replacing an FPE Stab-Lok® Electrical Panel
By following the "Retro Size Grid" on page 5 of the PDF file (450KB), in combination with the selection charts on the following pages, it can be determined just what exactly can be installed in which size enclosure and meet NEC requirements, wire bend etc.
The charts in the PDF (450KB) detail the most common devices asked for and explain the bus amperage rating, number of circuits, and wire size restrictions for minimum enclosure sizes. However since we can not possibly foresee all of the combinations, we have included our 800# to help explain or offer guidance when needed for those who are not sure or have questions or concerns.
The one thing stress by CH is that these are guidelines to meet the minimum requirements per National Electrical Code. Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products cannot assume responsibility for these units when they are not sized or installed correctly.
All final decisions are the responsibility of the AHJ. To date, with 2 years experience, we have had no issues with any AHJ when these are properly installed.
PRODUCT SOURCES - Sources for Adjustable Retrofit Kit for Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok® Panels
Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products Adjustable Retrofit Kits, E-CH Load Centers and load center parts can be purchased through any E-CH distributor.
If your electrician reports that local electrical suppliers are having difficulty finding or specifying kits any of the CH sales force can help. If that effort is not satisfactory contact CH directly at 800-330-6479
or by EMAIL to
Other electrical panels: if you are not taking the retrofit kit route (see OPTION #1 vs OPTION #2) then a wide range of electrical panels are available from electrical suppliers and building supply sources.
CODE COMPLIANCE - Code and Legal Acceptance of the Replacement Load Center and CH Adjustable Retrofit Kit when Replacing an FPE Stab-Lok® Electrical Box
I have corresponded with the lead design engineer for Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products, the company that produces these Replacement load centers. He said that all interiors, neutrals & grounds are their standard UR listed OEM interior components and carry a UR label.
Local code approval: Readers should review the CH product specifications and listing information with their electrician and with local code enforcement officials. As with any electrical work, independent inspection and approval of the work is recommended and is required in many jurisdictions.
As CH informed me: As we have no control over how /where these are installed, we don't have a "file" we can list these under. Individual OEMs that use many of these on a repeat basis actually get a UL listing on their own device. This is where CH relies on the local inspectors or AHJ to make sure that electricians are installing these products in a safe, and professional manner.
BACKGROUND - Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products' Adjustable Electric Panel Retrofit Kit Development Background
The E-CH electric panel adjustable retrofit program was begun in response to an overwhelming number of contractors who were buying complete loadcenters (metal enclosure, bus assembly, breakers, neutral and ground bars, etc), removing the interior components, neutrals etc and trying to "cobble" something together with "whatever" cover/trim in order to retrofit a new bus assembly into an existing, already mounted electrical panel.
The manufacturer reports that often they saw electric panel interiors shimmed with an unbelievable assortment of items, covers that were questionably attached and in general a "less than professional" final job.
Early on it was discovered that there is a tremendous assortment of old electrical enclosures in the field. These old enclosures vary greatly in size (width, length & depth) and in how they were originally installed.
In response to those problems E-CH patented the "Adjustable Retrofit Kit".
OPTION #2 REPLACEMENT - Complete Replacement of the Federal Pacific Electric Panel - Option #2 Conventional R & R Method
The traditional and conventional method of replacement of an obsolete (or in this case unsafe) electrical panel has been to completely remove the complete original electrical panel by disconnecting all wires from their individual circuit breakers, disconnect every strain relief, pull the wires out of the panel enclosure, and then to remove the entire electrical panel, enclosure and all.
The new electrical panel is then mounted in place and all of the existing wires are routed back into the new panel, strain reliefs secured, and wires routed to breakers in the new panel. (See "Short wire problem" below).
If the panel being replaced has been mounted on a finished wall (such as behind drywall or paneling) additional labor and disruption are necessary to provide access for wiring and panel mounting.
A number of factors affect the actual cost of replacing an electrical panel, including base labor cost variations in different geographic areas, costs of electrical permits, and the specifics of a particular installation: working space, wire lengths, condition of old wiring, and other factors.In order to more easily add electrical cost updates in one place, our section on typical costs to replace an electrical panel have been moved to a separate web page. Please see
REPLACEMENT PANEL COSTS
Links on that page will easily permit you to continue reading this article.
OPTION #1 vs OPTION #2 - Comparing Federal Pacific Electric Panel Replacement by Use of the CH Adjustable Retrofit Kit vs. FPE Complete Panel and Enclosure Replacement
WHEN TO USE OPTION#2 - When replacing an FPE Electric Panel When Should the Entire Panel and Enclosure be Replaced?
Using the Retrofit Kit is not appropriate, and complete electrical panel removal and replacement, including the panel enclosure or "box" is going to be necessary when:
Comparing the Two Electric Panel Options: #1-Adjustable Retrofit Kit or #2-Complete R&R Replacement of Everything
[Opinion offered by the web author]
Where Option #1 is suitable it strikes me as appealing for reasons of cost and trouble.
When performing a conventional electrical panel replacement, in order to have adequate wire length to connect things in the new electrical panel the electrician would have to not only disconnect or clip wires at each breaker, s/he would also have to unscrew every strain relief and pull each individual wire out of the existing panel enclosure - a crowded and tedious operation that has to be done with great care so as not to damage the insulating jacket on the existing wires.
This has to take considerably more time than just replacing the load center in the existing panel enclosure where all of the wires entering the original box can be left in place.
There is no cosmetic damage to the wall where the existing panel is mounted when using Option #1. By comparison, with an conventional electrical panel replacement if the panel is in a finished area, the electrician has to cut away the finished wall surface to have access to the individual wire strain reliefs entering the panel box in order to disconnect them, and also in order to have working room to get the new wires into the new electrical panel enclosure. Further, it is unlikely that a new panel enclosure will have the same dimensions or "footprint" as the old, possibly meaning additional adjustments at the finish wall.
Many people have contacted me to ask advice about FPE electric panel replacement options. More than I am able to answer by telephone or even email. Both for individual home owners and especially for larger buildings or building complexes where there are many, sometimes hundreds of FPE Stab-Lok® electric panels installed, the cost of a complete gut-out replacement of the panel is a significant burden.
If this sounds as if I'm writing a commercial, that's not my intention, and I have no connection with the manufacturer of this product nor any financial interest in it nor in any other products discussed at this website.
I am afraid that the cost of complete electrical panel replacement has been a factor in moving some owners to try to just "replace the FPE circuit breakers themselves" with the mistaken notion that somehow this reduces their risk of a fire. Unfortunately it does not appear to do so. I have found no data suggesting that replacement FPE breakers perform any better than their predecessors in the U.S. and probably not in Canada.
Even if a new perfectly reliable circuit breaker were built to fit these panels, underlying problems with the FPE bus design, breaker to bus connections, and bus overheating and failures would remain. This is why I continue to recommend a complete panel replacement for these problem brands.
I also have received reports of reluctance to report the hazards with this equipment, either because of the conflicting interests surrounding pre purchase home inspections or in one instance a correspondent was afraid of losing his/her job by reporting a costly problem at a multi-building complex where many problem panels were installed.
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Information Source Notice: portions of the text of this document are from email exchanged between the web author and the Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products Lead Design Engineer and Eaton Product Manager involved with the products discussed in this document. The illustration at page top is from the Eaton Electrical PDF which describes their product line. The author has no financial nor any other connection with Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products, nor any other company whose products are discussed at this website. Corrections of errors or omissions, product user feedback, or other critique are invited. Our editorial policies are at Accuracy & Bias Pledge
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