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. During labratory testing 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 http://www.nbcbayarea.com/video/#!/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; http://www.ebay.com/gds/Stab-Lok-Circuit-Breakers-/10000000003870250/g.htmle
A Google search will also produce a number of valuable sites to provide additional information on “Stab-Lok” breakers one such site is Inspectapedia.com, here is the direct link to the “Stab-Lok” section. http://inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
for more information on common home inspection questions visit us at our website