FPE no big deal?

I have ran across a few FPE panels the last few years, but have never seen one with the problems that are often discussed. Yes, I am particularly careful when removing the dead front, because I don’t want a breaker to fall out, but have never seen loose breakers, or the springloaded ones that jump out at you.

My question is, do most homies here mention it in the report just because it’s FPE? I don’t want to be an “alarmist”, but I do feel the client should know about the past troubles that FPE panels have caused, and if I don’t mention it and it catches fire, I should have warned my client I suppose.

The Stablok FPE today had nothing at all wrong, at least visually (I don’t do thermal imaging, and I didn’t bring my amp probe). The only defect I could really complain about was the label “FPE”.

I think Mr Pope authored a comment a while back, something to the affect that there were problems with these panels in the past, and they should be evaluated by an electrician.

Any thoughts on what a comment should be on FPE with no obvious defect?

Oh Boy!

Here we go again!

Here is what I tell my clients, there is no conclusive proof that FPE Stab lock panels/breakers are the equivalent of the bubonic plague.

The CPSC investigated them for some time and had to stop due to budgetary restrictions.

No conclusion.

I tell my clients all of this and let them decide.

I have similar wording in the report, minus the plague reference of course!

Almost word for word what I told my client while were there. I just wasn’t sure about others’ need for a CYA type disclaimer or deference in the report.

Had that investigation not run out of money, it would have almost certainly concluded that FPE stab-lok panels and breakers are a possible hazard, or at the very least have a higher than average failure rate.

I’ve been in electrical business, I talked to sparkies, most of whom will not sleep well if their house had an FPE panel.

With all of that in mind, I would never, in good faith, tell anyone not to worry about stab-loks.
At the very least I would try to drop a word of caution into the report:
“Although research data is inconclusive, Federal Pacific panels are deemed unreliable by some experts in the field.
Recommend an evaluation by a licensed electrician”
Believe me: of all things, a sparky will never ridicule you for deferring an FPE.

The problems with FPE are not visible. They show up when the breakers are needed most. FPEs have a very high failure rate, and the double poles have an internal common trip mechanism that jams preventing one pole from opening during a fault. They have no magnetic trip, and the internals are poorly designed often with manufacturing defects.

My advise to anyone who wants to see the difference is to drill open an FPE breaker and then drill open a Square D or other modern UL listed breaker. Major design differences. For starters the fulcrum on FPE breakers is a coiled spring that often rusts or binds preventing the pivot from moving, not a solid greased plastic pin fulcrum like on new breakers. The opening spring is a weak compression type not the strong pull tension kind found on modern breakers. All marts in an FPE must be mobile, any one that sizes will prevent the breaker from opening. The opening contacts often were misaligned or not installed correctly as well. I dont have much to back up my statements, but believe me when I say these are viewed in a negative light for a reason.

Not every FPE breaker will fail to trip on an overload, but a large number out there will take to long or not at all. From what Ive been told: The old brown body ones were supposedly not as bad (but still questionable), the Canadian ones a bit better and the biggest offenders in the pack were the black body red handle ones from the 70s.

To those curious, old FPE: http://inspectapedia.com/fpe/FPE_Breakers_038_DF_DCs.jpg

Modern: http://www.electriciantalk.com/attachments/f2/27066d1373478004-square-d-qo-vs-homeline-internals-qo-internals.jpg



I have similar wording in the report, minus the plague reference of course!

Another thing I wanted to add…
Other than breakers falling out of the panel when deadfront is removed, the real problem is that they may fail to trip when they need to.
Of course, a visual inspection will not show that, but there is enough anecdotal evidence out there to warrant a concern.

Had one today also bottom right breaker fell out I just licked it and put it back;-)

The IR images are the two 50 amp breakers at the top of the panel

Good catch…
Most breakers and conductors today ARE rated 75F, but perhaps not these ones.
Besides, if it’s near the possible maximum temperature range at only 60% of the maximum draw, at 50A it will probably start smoking.
Something is loose somewhere (either the terminals, or a poor contact on the stab-lok buss), hence the heat…
I’m sure you wrote up those twisted doubled neutrals on the bottom…

Great stuff, fellas, it’s great to have pros in my corner when needed. This is pretty much what I told the client, who was at the inspection today. I figure I’ll get a call from an angry seller who will question my concerns.

Charlie, I guess I’ll have to start doing amp readings, wear a red hat, and walk 12/12’s? :mrgreen:

2712-2 Kanawha Terrace 049.JPG

GREAT write-up.
Of all the things you said, the one I did not know was that FPE’s do not have a magnetrip. Which, for those who don’t know, means that it may take too long to trip even on a “dead short” (provided they trip at all).

If all the things you stated are not a reason to be scared breathless of FPE, I don’t know what is…


I never open them anymore.
There is a reason they are talked about and it is not just rumor.

Professional Electricians in Chicago tell me they always recommend replacing them on site and after reading on this forum from a few here insisting there are just as good as any others I when still new at the profession decided to open them like any others and twice had breakers come lose out of the panel.

Why in the hell you or anyone would risk life and limb rather than recommend they be looked at by a pro makes no sense.

I always comment on them in my reports. I had one FPE a couple weeks ago where the water heater breaker was in the off position but the water heater was still on. There was a note that said to pull the breaker to turn it off.

There’s also the insurance. A lot of providers “frown upon” FPE panels.

Nothing new in this thread, just more of the same old news…

Breakers “fall out” of any brand of panel. This is not limited to FPE.
The CSPC investigation was inconclusive. They didn’t “run out of money,” they just weren’t willing to allocate “unlimited funds” to an investigation that was leading nowhere.
The documented “failure rates” of FPE were not abnormal based on the data provided.
The majority of “information” perpetuated by inspectors is urban legend, wives’ tales, hype and embellishment.

I can go on and on, and I have :smiley:

Be cautious, be careful, but more importantly, be educated.

This looks like a sub panel Mike. In which case, the egc’s need to be removed from the neutral bus and attached to the cabinet.

Jeff, at this point I consider you the official FPE apologist and spokesperson.:stuck_out_tongue:


Not an “apologist,” just an inspector with a dissenting opinion based on research, personal experience and education, rather than swirling opinion and hyperbole.

Yes and many here give you their personal experience of the breakers popping out at them including myself and to say this happens with any other brand at the same rate / age is B.S based on my real experiences.

The numerous posts and articles written about these dangerous panels make you heretic on the subject .

My only question is why you chase good solid advice to new inspectors with comments about how they are not unsafe every opportunity ?

You are the Nate and J.B of breakers…lol

(admit it you had your first kiss in front of a FPE stabloc )