Federal Pacific - The definitive answer

Yes I take off the cover. The only panel I don’t take off the cover on is a Zinsco.

Why take off the cover on a FP and not a Zinsco? I always thought it was unsafe to remove a FP panel. Am I wrong?

Personal experience.

Quite often the only place where arcing is visible is behind the breakers, on the bus stabs or sockets, and to see this one must remove the breakers.

The licensed electrician is the only authority to determine the appropriate action.

Above is why I don’t remove the panel. What’s your thoughts?

Here is my latest version and it must be effective, I have seen a few sellers replace these for my clients, one client walkd over other issues and the seller replaced the panel anyway. He also replaced the Zinsco that was outside.

Investigate and Repair: A Federal Pacific Electric Company “Stab-Lok” electrical panel is in use. Some common problems that may be present in these panels are not always visible during an inspection. Technical load testing of breakers and full removal of breakers is necessary to truly inspect these panels. Very few electricians are capable or willing to perform the testing functions in a complete and technical manner. Turning a breaker off and back on is in no way anywhere near a “check” or a “test”. The cost to have technical breaker testing done is not considered prudent on old equipment.

These panels have been noted to present a latent hazard and fire danger by malfunctioning under certain conditions resulting in a faulty breaker which may not trip under load, failure of the bus connections due to inadequate bending space for the service entry conductors and potential arcing problems.

There is controversy over these panels. While the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) refused to recall the panels, they also refused to state that the panels were safe. Some electricians say the panels are safe, other electricians say they are not.

It is recommend that you consult a qualified, licensed electrician to determine any needed repairs/replacement to estimate costs and to perform any work deemed necessary. You should make sure that the electrician is familiar with these panels and is experienced in working with older electrical systems. My opinion is to always replace these panels. This replacement recommendation is based on my understanding of the issues. Everyone has a different level of risk acceptance.

Further information on this equipment can be obtained at the following internet web sites.


Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panels, A Summary

CPSC Closes Investigation Of FPE Circuit Breakers And Provides Safety
Information For Consumers

Electricians and Home Inspectors discuss FPE:

You don’t have to remove it if you feel its too dangerous but you could miss some aluminum wiring that might be visible in there or some other immediate fire hazard…

Agreed however wouldn’t you agree that from what I stated a licensed electrician needs to remove the panel and the breakers for a proper inspection? We can’t remove breakers so why even remove the cover? Let the electrician inspect it.

Thanks for the FP info. I really appreciate it.

The bus has absolutely nothing to do with the problem regarding FP. This problem extends way beyond Stab Lock

Joe with the information you have should be opening the cover whatsoever?

I have seen many (50?) FPE panels and I would be surprised if even half of them have been replaced. I have never had an issue removing the dead-front cover. I have heard of people having breakers falling out, but it has never happened to me - not even close. Most of the panels I have seen acutally look pretty good. I ALWAYS warn about FPE problems and recommend evaluation.
I believe you should remove the cover to look for typical issues. You may even find something like melted insulation, scorching, etc that may actually convince someone to do something about it.

Looking forward to your article, Joe.

Billy, if you do not feel safe opening them, then do not open them. Also note in your report that the buyer needs to check with their insurance company for insurability.

Joe what is the actual problem?

I feel safe I’ve actually opened all so far. My point it if we can’t see all defects then why open them? Also Joe states the bus has nothing to do with anything. Why would information about the buss be so widely distrubuted across the net? Confusing to say the least. What is the exact problem and should we be referring them or not?

My understanding of the problem is the breakers do not trip when they should. Supposedly you can even turn off a breaker and it may not dis-connect power.

What if the electrician does not see any burnt aluminum wiring or his client does not want to do anything about it, then six months later the house catches on fire. No explanation will cover you, you simply did not have the aluminum wiring in your report, that in itself will give an attorney a reason to come after you. The outcome does not matter, you have “lost” already at this point. If you feel unsafe then make it very clear in your report as to what you did not inspect AND what may be present there. I would advise against moving into a house with FPE or Zinsco and especially with UNINSPECTED old panels of this sort.

I had the cover off a Zinsco once when the A/C turned on, sparks shot out from behind the breaker. I looked real close and could see no evidence of arcing while the unit was running or while it was off only during that initial high load period. The seller was a “certified Lexus mechanic” and came unglued because he did not understand how I could have found that problem.
He also came unglued because he had to pay for a 2nd trip because I would not entertain his viscious dog that was tied up in the garage.

Due to the age of these panels, its really a moot point, they are nearing the age where they should be replaced anyway regardless of the brand.

This is the article I use in my reports. I think it is a well presented argument that is not as alarmist as the ny-inspect site.


Bruce you always have strong arguments and I’ve learned a ton from you however on this one I just don’t see your logic… if I deamed a panel unsafe due to age and what’s already known about them and didn’t open the panel because of the hype that is wildely known how could I be held responsible if the house burned down? I told the client to hire an electrician for a complete inspection. Its not my fault if he misses something. We are generalist he’s the licensed expert. Wouldn’t you agree?

So is this opinion Ralph? If this is the case why would we inspect the panel? Simply state the history and that it needs replaced. No?

Billy, I guess you missed this post. This thread is just too active!!