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GFI, Ground Fault Circuit Breakers

 A $15 Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFI)  could save your life,   Don’t put it off any longer.

One of the most often listed defects found by home inspectors, building code officers and city occupancy officials is lack of ground fault circuits interrupters or GFI outlets and breakers.

GFI receptacle and breaker
GFCI receptacle and breaker

 Where should you install GFI outlets?  GFIs are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in all new kitchens, bathrooms. crawl spaces, unfinished, basements, and outdoor receptacles.  Owners of older houses can retrofit $15 GFCI outlets at those locations or have GFCI breakers (about $50) mounted in the main breaker panel.  Portable GFCI adapters, which plug into regular wall receptacles, are available for $20 to $40.

Installing a GFI could save your life

GFCI protection could prevent as many as two hundred deaths by electrocution every year as well as countless unnecessary burns and fires.  The GFCI circuit was first invented in 1961 and has been slowly incorporated into the NEC.    GFCI protection for receptacles has been required by the NEC since:

  • 1973 Outdoor receptacles
  • 1975 Bathrooms
  • 1978 Garages
  • 1987 Kitchens
  • 1990 Crawl spaces and unfinished basements
  • 1993 Wet bar sinks
  • 2005 Laundry and utility sinks

GFCI protection is required in any area that is within six feet of a water source or over wet surfaces.  Metal sinks should be included in this measurement.  Wet surfaces include surfaces that may become wet and provide and open source to ground such as wet garage or basement floors.  Finished basements with carpet are usually exempted.  GFCI protection for outdoor receptacles is required regardless of the floor type.

Please do not confuse fuses and standard circuit breakers with GFCIs.  Fuses and standard circuit breakers work on the principle of failing when more current flows through a circuit than it was designed to carry.  A typical house circuit is a number 12 wire protected by a 20 amp fuse or breaker. Which will melt (trip for breakers) before the wire overheats and causes a fire hazard.

Unfortunately  a very small amount of current will kill a person who is in contact with a source of grounding.   Such as the kitchen faucet or wet concrete without tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse.

A GFCI receptacle or GFCI circuit breaker monitors the flow of electricity between the hot, neutral and ground wires 30 to 40 times per second and will trip  (disconnect) the circuit when a difference of as little as .005 amps is detected.   (that’s not enough to power a flashlight).

The third wire (ground wire) found on many tools and appliances is only effective for larger current leaks and is not sufficient protection for use in wet areas. Many hand held appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons that are typically used around water sources have GFCI protection built into the power cord.

The third wire on your small appliance or power tool is the ground wire. The ground wire is intended to direct errant current to the breaker or fuse thus opening the circuit.  Providing protection to the user from electrical shock. The ground wire is typically connected to the outer case of your tool or appliance so if the hot wire contacts the case it will trip the GFCI.

Older homes should be updated

Circuits installed before the late 60’s probably do not have the protection of a grounding Circuit. The NEC allows GFCIs to be used to upgrade older two-prong (non-grounded) outlets to three-prong (grounded) outlets without installing any new wire. The use of two prong to three prong adapters and replacing two prong with three prong non grounded receptacles is not encouraged.

When the GFCI is installed in a two wire circuit it must have a label that says “No Equipment Ground” on the GFCI outlet and all downstream outlets. Please note most GFCI testers will not trip the GFCI if a ground wire is not present
You may want to install a grounded circuit for your sensitive electronic products.  Many electronic products such as computers and big screen TVs use the ground wire as a means of dissipating static electricity.

Parts of this article came from the following sources;

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Inspection Terms for Home Inspections

Inspection Terms for Home Inspections

Inspection terms explained hereMost Realtors are familiar with the inspection terms used in a home inspection report however you may need help with explaining to your client; what they mean or how important they are.  Here is an alphabetical list of the most common home defects found during an inspection and a link to a full explanation of those inspection terms.

Asbestos   Asbestos was widely used in building materials until the 1970’s.  Although considered a health threat if disturbed it can usually be contained and left in place.

Aluminum Wiring  Aluminum wiring was used in the late 1960’s to mid 1970’s due to a shortage of copper wire.  Several problems are associated with aluminum branch wiring for lights and receptacles.

Bonding  Bonding of metallic water lines and metallic gas lines is required by both the National Fuel and Gas Code and the National Electrical Code.  Gas and water lines that are not properly bonded present a possible fire hazard.

Chinese Drywall  Although not normally found in our area it something we discuss with all of our clients.

Double Tapping  Double tapping is simply placing two wires under one screw in a fuse or breaker connection.  Most manufactures specify only one wire per fastening screw because this may present a fire hazard.

Electrical Grounding  Grounding of electrical circuits is used to provide a safety for users of electrical appliances.  Improperly installing or leaving it out of an electrical circuit may present an electrocution problem.

False or Bootleg Grounds  Many home owners and handy men will place a jumper wire from the neutral terminal to the ground terminal on a three prong receptacle used on an older two wire circuit.  This effectively fools the standard testers used by home inspectors, appraisers and code enforcement officials.  Unfortunately it also presents a serious risk of electrocution by circumventing the built in safety of the grounding circuit.

GFCI  Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter  GFCI protection has been required by the National Electrical Code since the 1973.  Each time the NEC is updated new requirements are presented for new construction.  If these changes are safety related we will note them in our report.

Open Grounds  Open grounds will result when a three prong receptacle is placed in a two wire circuit.  This is very common in homes built before 1972.  It is also unsafe because the expected grounding protection of the three prong plug is not present.…rounded-circuits/   see also

Knob & Tube Wiring  Knob and Tube Wiring was used until the 1940’s and is no longer considered safe.  Many insurance companies will not insure a house with Knob and Tub wiring and insulation companies are not allowed to install insulation over Knob & Tube wiring in attics.  We recommend a qualified electrician evaluate all knob and tube wiring.

S-traps and P-traps  P-traps (sink drains that go through the floor) are no longer allowed by state and national plumbing codes.  There is a simple fix to change most P-traps to the acceptable S-trap.

Shared Neutrals  Shared neutrals is a cost cutting procedure commonly used in our area.  Changes to the National Electrical Code in 2011 no longer allow the use of shared neutrals in new construction or repair work.  Although there is no instruction by the NEC that they be changed in existing homes we recommend it because shared neutrals are a safety issue and relatively easy to correct.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms  Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms are required by the state of Illinois and common sense.

Federal Pacific STAB-LOK Breakers  Federal Pacific stopped manufacturing the STAB-LOK brand of breaker boxes in the 1980″s after a number of home fires and electical failures were attribited to them. We recommend a qualified electricain evaluate all FPE STAB-LOK breaker panels.

Vermiculite Insulation  Vermiculite insulation used until the mid 1980’s as a pour in insulation for attics and walls.  Vermiculite insulation has a very high probabilty of containing asbestos.  There is currently a removal program in place to help with the removal costs of vermiculite if a home owner decides to have it removed.

Water Heaters  Water heaters should be inspected regularly and drained twice a year to prolong their life.

If you did not see the inspection terms  you were looking for please send us an email and we will try to update this list with your inspection terms.

Check us out at:

the Better Business Bureau

The State of Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations      License #  450.010421


how to sell your home

How to Sell Your Home

How to sell your home brings lots of advice, most of it is wrong or useless.  Unless you move every year or so you probably are not prepared for what is coming your way when you decide to sell your home.

Sell your home faster with a goof first impression
First impression sells more houses than any other factor


Before You List your Home

  1. Do your home work before you list your home.  There are many online real estate listing services that will give you an idea of what other houses in your neighborhood are selling for.  Most sellers believe their home is worth much more than it really is.  Use these sites to help set your price
  2. Find a good real estate agent.  A professional real estate agent is worth way more than the fee they charge for their service.  It is important that you and your agent are compatible.  Make sure you both understand what your goals and intentions are and what they will be able to do for you.
  3. You set the price of your home, but a smart seller will listen to and follow the advice of their agent. Your agent will help you set a price that is consistent with  your local market.
  4. Consider having a pre-sale home inspection conducted.  Many times a home inspector will discover problems you were not aware of or more than likely have just learned to live with.  You only get one chance to give a good first impression.  Resolve as many distractions as possible before you invite potential buyers into your home.
  5. Take a serious look at your house from the curb and ask yourself, “would I buy this house”.  Paint goes along way to improving your chances of making that good first impression. (if your buyer is doing any kind of government loan you will have to repair any peeling paint).  Keep your yard free of clutter, mowed, and the shrubs neatly trimmed.
  6.  Rent a storage unit and empty your garage and closets of all of that clutter that is to good to throw away but not good enough to keep.  Clutter detracts from the appeal of your home.
  7. No one is really interested in your kids pictures on the walls and covering the refrigerator.  Remove anything that is not generic and could not be left behind if requested.
  8. A fresh coat of paint will make the inside of your home more appealing which equates to faster sales at higher prices.   Make sure to choose neutral colors such as off white, your daughters pink bedroom may not go well with a family of all boys.
  9. I know it is a pain, but you will be well advised to keep your home in as perfect a condition as possible.  Even the sloppiest of house keepers will be turned off by a house that does not appear to be neat and clean.
  10. Be Careful not to become emotionally connected to your home.  This is a business deal, your buyer could care less that you raised your children in this house.  They are only concerned with what they will do with it.

Selling your home will go a lot smoother if you follow these suggestions.

Good Luck

Aluminum Wiring Problems

Does Your House Have Aluminum Wiring

Aluminum wiring was used from 1965 until 1972 in some homes in our area due to a severe shortage of copper.  Originally considered a safe and economical substitute for copper wire, aluminum was used throughout the country.  The aluminum wire used at the time soon developed problems and its use was discontinued in residential branch wiring for 15 and 20 amp circuits in 1972.

The Southwire Company improved the properties of aluminum wire and it is currently used in modern aircraft and industrial applications.  Aluminum wire is used almost exclusively for utility company transmission lines and service entry wire.

Our concern is focused on residential wiring installed from 1965 to as late as 1975.  Numerous reports of solid strand aluminum wiring overheating and causing fires have been reported.  The problem appears to be aluminum’s  tendency too expand and contract with different current loads.  Problem areas are most often found in receptacles, switches and light fixtures. As a result the CPSC investigated.

Aluminum wiring is easily identified by it's silver color
Aluminum wire may be a fire hazard and should be examined by a qualified electrician



What if My House Has Aluminum Wiring

The fact that your home contains aluminum wiring does not necessarily indicate an immediate problem.  However the US Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) reports:

 “A national survey conducted by Franklin Research Institute for CPSC showed that homes built before `1972 (‘old technology aluminum wire’)  are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections  reach “Fire Hazard Conditions ” than is a home wired with copper.”

Consumer Product Safety Council Recommendations

The CPSC recommends using a properly trained licensed electrician to inspect and repair residential aluminum wiring.  There are many opinions on the proper was to correct aluminum wiring problems; here is what the CPSC recommends:

  1. Complete Replacement with Copper Cable.  Replacement of the aluminum branch circuit conductors with copper wire eliminates the primary cause of the potential hazards, the aluminum wire itself.

2. COPALUM Method of Repair.  As an Alternate to rewiring with copper, CPSC recommends attaching a short section of copper wire to the ends of the aluminum wire at connection points (a technique commonly referred to as “pigtailing”) using a special connector named COPALUM to join the wires.  CPSC staff considers pigtailing with a COPALUM connector to be a safe and permanent repair of the existing aluminum wiring.

3. Acceptable Alternative Repair Method.  CPSC staff recognizes that copper replacement may be cost prohibitive ant the COPALUM repair may be unavailable in a locality.  Based upon an evaluation that was, in part, CPSC supported, consumers are advised that if the COPALUM repair is not available, the AlumiConn connector may be considered the next best alternative for a permanent repair.

The CPSC continues to explain these are the only methods they approve for repairs.  The use of twist on wire nuts or hardware store style crimp connectors are not to be used.


Most of all, it is important to remember safety is always our most important goal.  This is not a “Home Owner” or “Handyman” repair, aluminum wiring repair should be left to experienced and qualified electricians with special tools and training.

The bulk of this article was taken from the US CPSC, the full report is accessible at the link above.

Knob and Tube Wiring

Knob and tube wiring

If your house was built before 1950 there is a good chance it will contain Knob and Tube  (K&T) wiring.  Knob and tube wiring  was used from the 1880’s until the late 1940’s.  Knob and tube wiring was almost always installed by a professional electrician.  Knob and tube wiring was considered very efficient and safe.  However as electrical demands increased, knob and tube wiring was phased out and replaced with modern products. Continue reading Knob and Tube Wiring

A Home Inspection May Save You Money

hail damage on a roof vent

During a home inspection we check for obvious hail damage.

A Home Inspection May save you money

A home inspection may save you money and  calm your nerves if  you are worried about the condition of the house you are about to purchase.  Have you heard horror stories from friends and co-workers about problems  they didn’t realize existed until after they moved into their new house?  Do you have questions about the house you are about to buy but don’t know who to ask for unbiased professional answers?  Never had a home inspection before?

Unless you are proficient in plumbing, electricity. carpentry. roofing. heating and cooling and a dozen other trades you may end up finding  you have just closed on a house with $10,000 to $15,000 of needed repairs.  Jim and Mary W. from Collinsville, IL avoided just that problem by having a state licensed home inspector do a comprehensive assessment on all of the major components of the house they were about to acquire.

” Hawley Home Inspections saved us from having to replace a worn out roof ”  Jim and Mary W

You have access

Believe it or not you have access to licensed home inspectors who will carefully inspect all major systems in your prospective dream home.  You will receive an unbiased detailed report of the house’s current condition and a free termite inspection.  You will be encouraged to attend the inspection and our inspector will carefully explain the results of your home inspection and answer your questions.

“Don and Matt were very thorough and answered all of my question” Pam K, Granite City, IL

After the inspector has finished his careful evaluation he go over each important finding with special emphasis on safety and structural issues,  Our reports will cover all major systems and will usually include 100 or more color pictures including two views of each room when possible.  This is an excellent time to make written notes for future reference.

You will leave the inspection with a flash drive containing  all of the pictures taken during the inspection process and our Home Owner Library and informative Videos. .  The flash drive allows you to review each room in the house, e-mail pictures to friends and family, print copies for the Title Company or Bank and sleep soundly at night knowing your reports are safely stored electronically for you.  The full report will be sent to you and your agent within 24 hours.

“Hawley Home Inspections was very thorough and answered all of our questions.  I would recommend them to anyone.”      John H. Edwardsville, IL

Lenders may require a home inspection

Home Inspections are being required by more and more lenders who have learned the importance of having a professional home inspection performed the hard way.  Inspections may save you thousands of dollars or just verify the house you have chosen for our new home is in great condition, either way you win.   Regardless of the size home you are buying a home inspection will make sense for you.

You no longer have to rely on the seller’s word

You no longer have to rely on the seller’s word for the condition of the largest investment you will make in your lifetime.  You have our promise to carefully inspect your future home to industry standards at rates that are more than competitive.

Special rates for Veterans

Please ask about our special pricing for Veterans and discounts for homes less than 5 years old and Radon testing scheduled with a home inspection.

Available 7 days a week

We work seven days a week to accommodate your schedule. You should not delay having your inspection scheduled because we cannot always guarantee a time slot if you wait until the end of your inspection period.  Check with your Realtor for more information on time limits and reply times.

You can call us at ,  or you can use the “contact us” feature on this website or ask your Realtor to contact us for you …… Just don’t put it off!


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How To Choose And Install A Smoke Alarm

how to choose a smoke alarm

smoke alarm
smoke alarm

How to choose a smoke alarm.

How to choose a smoke alarm and maybe save your life, is the first post in our series of home improvement and maintenance  tips.  Whether you own an older home or a new home I am positive you will enjoy our plain language explanations of many common problems found in the home.  Please feel free to comment on this post and offer suggestions for future posts.

Smoke alarms could save 3000 lives a year

We all know a smoke alarm saves lives. But did you know every year there are approximately 300,000 residential fires in the United States. Roughly 3000 people will die in these residential fires and most deaths will occur while the occupants are sleeping. The vast majority of these deaths are from smoke inhalation and not the actual heat of the fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration “the risk of dying in a home fire can be cut in half in homes with a working  smoke alarm”

Smoke alarms come in three styles. Battery powered for older homes, wired directly into the house wiring (hard wired) and wireless. Hard wired alarms come with a battery backup and have been required in new homes by most building codes since 1988. Interconnected detectors have the advantage of sounding all alarms in the home at the same time.  This warns someone sleeping in an upstairs bedroom that an alarm is energized in the basement. Both styles are available as an ionization smoke alarm,  a photoelectric smoke alarm and a combination of both.

Choose from two types of smoke alarms

Just as there are two types of smoke alarms, just as there  there are two types of fires. The first fire is usually defined as fast burning with visible flames and a limited amount smoke but large amounts of particulates. The second fire is a slow burning smoldering type that produces lots of smoke but not much fire. Smoldering fires are usually found in mattresses or furniture but may be found anywhere.

Ionization smoke alarms will respond faster to the open burning faster moving fire. Giving more time to escape fast moving flames. The photoelectric smoke alam responds faster to the smoldering fire. Smoldering fires produce lots of smoke and not much flame or heat. The ideal situation then would be to have a combination type detector. Combination detectors combine the ionization and photoelectric sensors in one detector. The down side to this is these systems are more expensive than either single sensor smoke alarm. Battery powered Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms start around $5.00. Combination units start around $15.00, hard wired units usually cost a little more.

Hard wired detectors can be identified by the three wires coming out the back of the detector. The advantage of interconnection is now available for older homes. Wireless interconnected detectors are available starting at $25.

For those of us who cannot seem to remember to change our smoke alarm batteries when we change from daylight savings time to standard time there is a solution. Some detectors now come with a 10 year battery. In any case detectors should be replaced after 10 years of service even if they are still working.

How to decide where to place a smoke alarm

So now you know what kind of smoke alarm you want how many do you need?  Every home is different but there are common rules for all.  A smoke alarm should be placed;

• In each sleeping room
• Outside of and within 15 feet of all sleeping rooms
• On each level of the home

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your smoke alarm monthly.

Just because you have a smoke alarm, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Smoke alarms only function when common sense and good maintenance fail. Check your home for fire hazards and have a fire escape plan for your family.

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your detector monthly.

• Check your home for fire hazards
• Have a fire escape plan for your family.
• Make sure all sleeping rooms have two avenues of escape (current codes require this)

Ninety three percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm. Unfortunately it is estimated that thirty percent of these homes have their detector disabled because of old age, dead batteries or batteries that were removed by the occupants.

Do not be part of the thirty percent.  Get up and check those detectors right now, don’t wait another minute.

Some information in this post came from the following sources.

Smoke alarms – NFPA – National Fire Protection Association
Smoke alarm outreach materials – US Fire Administration
Smoke Alarms – Consumer Product Safety Commission
Smoke detector – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

S-Traps vs P-Traps

S-traps are no longer allowed in new construction

Years ago most plumbing codes banned S-trap configurations in favor of P-trap style fixtures. S-traps are no longer used in modern plumbing because on rare occasions with just the right conditions the water can be sucked out of the trap allowing sewer gas to enter your home. The risk from sewer gas can be much worse than just that terrible smell. Sewer gases can be poisonous or even explosive and are not to be treated lightly.

S-trap failure requires a large amount of water to flow quickly past the trap. This is usually caused by allowing a sink full of water to drain rapidly. The easy fix is to always refill the trap with water after using the sink. Plumbing codes, however do not allow for common sense fixes, they are designed to makes things work as predictably as possible. Years ago most plumbing codes banned S-trap configurations in favor of P-trap style fixtures. S-trap fixtures are most often found in older homes and homes  remodeled by do-it-yourselfers .

On the other hand if your house does have S-traps it is not a major concern, most people will never experience a sewer gas smell. The perfect solution would be to tear out the wall and install a vent stack that would go through the roof.  Luckily there are three other things you can do:
• It is probably OK to do nothing as long as you do not have a problem
• You can install an Auto Air Vent (AAV)
• You can modify an S-trap to work similar to a P-trap

Here are two possible solutions

The AAV is usually frowned on by most plumbing codes but may be the only answer short of tearing out the walls and ceilings to run a vent through the roof. Many different styles of AAV are available starting at $10 and S-trap to P-trap conversion kits are available from hardware and home improvement stores for $30 TO $40. Please note, proper stack venting is always preferred to alternate methods when possible.

AAV valves air admittance valves graphic
an AAV valve is one solution

Another solution is to change the s-trap to a modified p-trap by extending the trap arm to a maximum of 2 1/2 time the diameter of the drain line (3 1/4″  for 1 1/4 and 3 3/4″ for 1 1/2 drain lines).  Neither fix is allowed by most plumbing codes for new construction.  The alternative however is much more palatable than tearing out the wall and busting a hole in the roof for a proper vent.

a modified P-trap is a better solution

modified p-trap graphic
a modified P-trap is a better solution to replace a s-trap

Properly maintained s-traps do not necessarily need to be replaced, however there are acceptable solutions should you experience sewer gas odors.

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Some information came from the following sites,483467

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Stab-Lok Breaker Boxes

"Stab-lok" Breakers
typical “Stab-Lock” breaker box

Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
Stab-Lok Breaker boxes

FPE Stab-Lok breaker boxes were widely used from the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, when they were finally taken off of the market.  Modern Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breakers are safe and widely used. FPE “Stab-Lok” breaker boxs are a different matter. Used widely in the 1960’s through the early 1980’s “Stab-Lok” breakers are considered to be a fire and electrical safety hazard. These breakers have a history of not tripping in an over load situation causing fires. Even more importantly some breakers have failed to disconnect live circuits when turned to the off position, thus exposing service personnel to possible electrical shock. In some cases double trip breakers (240 volt) have been found to be defective by not tripping and allowing one leg to remain energized. In short FPE “Stab-Lok” breakers and breaker boxes should be replaced as soon as possible.

FPE “Stab-lok” breaker boxes have also been sited to have other problems separate from the breakers. Panel and panel bus failures including arcing and main panel failures have been common.  Failure rates for the FPE “stab locks” failed to trip up to 60% of the time. Failure rates of competing breakers are estimated at 0.1%. Failures were so high the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) put out a consumer alert concerning the problem. The CPSC stopped just short of issuing a recall basically due to a lack of funding.

Industry experts estimate 2000 fires are caused annually by “stab-lok” breakers and service panels. Experts also estimate there are 28 million “stab-lok” breakers still in service in the US; even with a conservative 30% failure rate this leaves 9 million defective breakers in service. Most of the defective panels in our service area have been replaced however we still find them in service on a regular basis.

How to identify stab-lok breaker boxes

You can sometimes determine if you have “Stab-Lok” breakers by inspecting the outside cover of your breaker box. Look for the words FPE or Federal Pacific Electric or Stab-Lok” these may also appear on the inside of the service panel. Do not remove the service panel cover, everything you need to know is on the surface. If you suspect you have a “Stab-Lok” panel we recommend you contact a qualified electrician immediately.

A great video on identifying “Stab-Lok” breakers can be found at!/on-air/as-seen-on/Web-Extra–Check-Your-Circuit-Breaker/171414841

Most electricians say FPE “Stab-Lok” breaker boxes should be taken out of service and replaced immediately. Replacing breakers is not an acceptable solution; the entire service box should be replaced. This may sound extreme however when you consider the safety issues involved and the fact that most of these Service Panels are now 30 or more years old a service upgrade is probably in order anyway.

A Google search produced a number of sites that offered new and used “Stab-Lok” breakers. It is our personal view shared by most responsible electricians that “Stab-Lok” service panels should be replaced immediately. Even e-bay has a notice that “Stab-lok” breakers should not be installed wither purchased as new old stock, replacement stock or used stock. Please refer to this post at;

A Google search will also produce a number of valuable sites to provide additional information on “Stab-Lok” breakers one such site is, here is the direct link to the “Stab-Lok” section.

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