Federal Pacific Breakers: 7 Key Takeaways

Federal Pacific Electric was a popular manufacturer of both home and commercial electrical panels from the 1950s through the 1980s. At the time, their breaker boxes had a positive reputation for affordability and reliability.

Federal Pacific breakers

photo credit: sevans27 / Flickr

Though that reputation changed over time as it became evident that the panels posed increased electrical safety risks over alternative panels, they can still be found in many modern homes. Electricians and homeowners, alike, can read on to find out about seven key takeaways about Federal Pacific breakers.

1. Federal Pacific Breakers Pose Serious Safety Risks

Studies have found that the original Federal Pacific STAB-LOK breakers malfunctioned and failed to trip more than a quarter of the time that they detected 135% electrical surges. If homeowners don’t install new federal pacific breakers after they have been exposed to these surges once, they are even more likely to fail upon subsequent exposure, with failure rates of up to 65%.

2. The Breakers Were Never Recalled

In 1980, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began an investigation into the safety of FPE electrical products. At the time, they failed to find sufficient evidence to recall the products. However, various later studies confirmed that the breakers, no longer in production, have been malfunctioning and causing unnecessary fire hazards.

3. Homeowners Still Need to Replace FPE Equipment

Malfunctioning Federal Pacific breakers have caused around 2,800 house fires and 13 deaths, to date, so while they haven’t been recalled, they should still be replaced as a preventative measure. Experts generally recommend replacing the entire panel, but there are also individual replacement breakers available that at least offer a better alternative for homeowners who can’t afford new breaker boxes.

4. Homeowners Successfully Filed a Class Action Lawsuit

In 2005, homeowners who had been affected by FPE breaker failures filed a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer. As a part of the investigation, an expert conducted tests of the FPE breakers that proved their consistently poor performance compared to other UL-rated products. Since FPE claimed its breakers met UL standards, the claimants were able to successfully sue the company for violating the Consumer Fraud Act.

5. Federal Pacific Is No Longer in Business

The Federal Pacific Electrical Company sold its US circuit breaker manufacturing business to Challenger Electric in 1986. Now, just one company makes breakers compatible with Federal Pacific panels. Electricians must purchase them from Connecticut Electric, as other brands won’t fit into the panel correctly.

6. Federal Pacific Panels Can Cause Inspection Failures

Because FPE panels are so unreliable, they can cause homes to fail inspections performed for insurance purposes. Given that the products continue to cause $40 million in damage each year, it should come as no surprise that insurance companies consider the products high-risk. Some insurance companies offer coverage but charge higher rates. Others have blacklisted FPE panels entirely.

7. The Best Option Is Always to Replace the Panel

While it’s possible to replace Federal Pacific breakers, the best option is to replace the entire panel. Replacing the panel will cost more than replacing only the breakers, but it could prevent both electrical shocks and fires.

The Best Time to Take Action Is Now

Homeowners who have breaker boxes manufactured by the Federal Pacific Electrical Company should start considering options now. They can replace individual faulty breakers, as the FPE panels were never technically recalled, but the extent of the problems with these products makes it safer and more cost-effective to install new breaker boxes instead. When in doubt, ask a local electrician.


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