FPE Breakers back in the news


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Michael Fazio never thought much about his electric panel until he was ready to pack up and sell his Boca Raton home.

“They suspect that panel to cause fires,” explained Fazio.

A home inspector alerted Fazio to the potential fire hazard.

“Did I risk my family in a possible fire?” questioned Fazio.

He said he would have replaced it 20 years ago had he known the potential hazard with his Federal Pacific Electric Stab-lok circuit breaker.

Investigators said a central Florida home caught fire from an FPE circuit breaker. The homeowner said the breaker failed.

“It’s a problem nationwide,” explained Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute.

The insurance industry feels these panels are risky enough that most won’t issue a policy if you have an FPE breaker.

“This is a safety factor you can’t ignore,” explained McChristian.

Problems first surfaced in the 1980s when the company told the government some of the breakers may be defective. The Consumer Product Safety Commission never determined if the breakers posed a safety risk so they’re still in homes today.

Federal Pacific Electric circuit breakers put to the test
“Would you have one of these breakers in your home?” we asked master electrician Mike Pendl of Pendl Electric .

“Absolutely not,” he explained.

Pendl said he’s seen the breakers fail to trip or shut off when the system is overloaded.

“There’s no way to really test it until there is a fire,” explained Pendl.

Unless you remove the breaker, and test it then. Pendl mounted an FPE breaker and a non FPE breaker recently removed from Florida homes.

Pendl said the trip is a safety mechanism.

At Palm Beach State College Fire Training Academy, Pendl overloaded the system on both electric panels similar to what might happen in your home if you turned on too many appliances at once.

“As the wire heats up the breaker is going to sense that and shut down the circuit,” explained Pendl.

The non-FPE breaker trips in 30 seconds, but the Federal Pacific Breaker stayed on two minutes longer.

“We are at quadruple the time it takes to trip a standard breaker,” explained Pendl.

In another test using a different FPE breaker, the non FPE breaker trips quickly.

Minutes later, the FPE breaker is still hot. The wires feeding it reached over 100 degrees.

“You don’t want that to get hot,” explained Pendl. “In your home these wires are running through insulation behind drywall all flammable materials.”

It takes five minutes and 43 seconds for the FPE breaker to trip.

“For that breaker not to trip for five minutes is unbelievable,” explained Pendl.

In government testing, some FPE breakers did not trip. However, it wasn’t enough for the CPSC to link it to a hazardous situation.

Former CPSC Chairman wants investigation reopened
“I think this is an issue that needs attending to,” explained Ann Brown, former Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Brown took office after the agency wrapped up its two year investigation into the breakers.

“If the insurance companies are not insuring homes that have these defective breakers, that calls for an investigation,” explained Brown.

The CPSC discontinued its investigation in the 80s due to funding concerns, and refused to reopen it in 2011 leaving homeowners to decide if the risk is worth it.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it respects Brown’s push for reopening the investigation, and it continues to encourage industry experts to give them the latest data. However, at this time the CPSC has no plans to reopen an investigation.

The CPSC said given its budget, its focus now is on deadly products. The agency admitted it still gets complaints and reports of property damage from homeowners who have the FPE breakers in their home.

“The scariest thing about these it might trip 10 times and then one time it doesn’t. It only takes one time for there to be a fire,” explained Pendl.

It’s unknown how many fires have been caused by these breakers, because not every fire department tracks that information. Many of the fire investigations we reviewed locally showed pictures of melted breakers and the cause of the fire was electrical. However, none of those records mentioned the panel manufacturer.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office said it identifies the manufacturer of a circuit breaker if the remnants of the burned panel are available. The state said usually it’s in such bad shape that you can’t determine that information.

The cost to remove a panel is around $1500, but it varies so shop around. The product is often found in homes built between 1950 and the late 1980s. Look for a red busbar or the words “Federal Pacific Electric.”

Good post. Its definitely something that’s taking place here in Florida and homeowners need to at least be made aware that insurance carriers are refusing to insure them. This affords them the possibility to factor that into their home buying decision.

Thanks Eric,


“Minutes later, the FPE breaker is still hot. The wires feeding it reached over 100 degrees.”

I guess this guy doesn’t own an IR Camera. I wonder how he checked the temp? 90-100 is pretty common breaker temp or are they talking about the wire down the line somewhere? We check panel temps on approximately 4-5 electric panels a day and its never under 80 degrees. That could be because the air temp in the garage is around that.

I use to see this kill a deal but now I see them getting replaced. The seller has trouble selling to anyone so now with more straight sales going on they are replacing them to keep the deal

That is the reason I posted this.

Instead of bickering back and forth about whether or not replacement, or as I have seen on some reports, “recommend further evaluation”…whatever that is, now there is an easy way to get these panels replaced, or “called out” as some say.

I have always made some comment about these panels and for the last few years, this comment has been present anythime a FPE panel is present: Although no visible deficiencies were observed with the Federal Pacific “Stab-Lok” breaker panel, homeowners insurance may not be obtainable unless the panel is replaced. This should be determined prior to purchase.

It is the easiest and least painful way to get the panels replaced.

Thanks Eric. There is a lack of good quality public information in main stream media. I have shared this link also. Preston, I was thinking the same thing about the temps…

I think the article was a little vague and as for wire temperatures,…to quote a master electrician friend of mine, “What happens when you heat a wire…It gets hot”!

In this area just about ever agent knows that a Fed Pac panel and Poly needs to be replaced.

Our local news did a story a couple of years ago.

thanks for posting

Where is Jeff ?

AGREED! Where’s Jeff. :slight_smile:

Thanks to Eric.


I posted this mainly for the Florida inspectors…which is why it is in the Florida section.

I agree with Jeff, if you mean Jeff Pope, as far as what to say regarding these panels. I have only recommended replacement of 4 or 5 of these panels, due to deficiencies observed. I feel there are some issues with these panels, but, probably not any more than other panels.

The point of the article that I am in agreement with, is about not being able to obtain insurance. I was speaking with an attorney this morning about this very thing and how some Realtors get upset when this as well as polybutylene, aluminum wiring, etc…, gets mentioned in a report.

In some instances, you could be looking at $5000.00- $10,000.00 in repairs…before you even start the inspection. :shock:

Great post, thanks for sharing.