Electrical Panel Replacement Recommended for Older Homes and Buildings
If you live or work in an older building, you could be sitting on a ticking time bomb when it comes to the safety of the electrical panel and circuitry. You’ll want to check to see if you have a Federal Pacific/Pioneer Electric Stab-Lok breaker panel installed.
The FPE Stab-Lok Breaker Panel was manufactured from the 1950s to the 1980s, remaining a popular installation choice well into the 2000s.
In every home or workplace, the electricity for the building is controlled and sent around via an electrical panel box. These electrical panel boxes feature breakers that can trip, effectively shutting off electricity in order to prevent risk of an electrical fire.
While modern electrical panel boxes are very safe, FPE Stab-Lok panels have been found to fail safety requirement testing and therefore are considered a safety risk. In this blog, we’ll take a look at exactly what FPE Stab-Lok panels are, how to identify if your building has one, and why you should replace them. But first, let’s cover some electrical panel basics.
What is an Electrical Panel and How Does it Work?
Your home or business gets electricity from a meter located somewhere outside the building. From there, electricity runs to a circuit breaker panel inside, at which point it gets redirected to each room and thus each appliance that requires electricity to operate.
In a typical breaker panel, there will be a main switch that controls the electricity for the entire home or business, as well individual switches for each room or circuit.
A breaker will sometimes trip, resulting in a loss of power to a specific area. Usually, a tripped breaker is caused by the circuit being overloaded (too many appliances running at the same time), but here are a few other reasons:
- Arcing. Occasional tripping is expected, but repeated tripping can indicate a loose wire connection that results in sparking or arcing.
- Grounding. If the hot wire connects with a grounding wire, or any of the metal components of the breaker box, the circuit will short out. This kind of fault is especially dangerous since it carries the risk of shock.
- Shorting. A short happens when the hot wire connects with the neutral wire, a bare grounding wire, or the metal components of the breaker box. This causes an unobstructed flow of electrical current, which results in the breaker tripping.
How Do I Know I Have an FPE Stab-Lok Panel?
Identifying an FPE Stab-Lok panel is easy because they have some very distinct characteristics:
- There is a Federal Pacific Electric Company or FPE label on the front of the unit or inside the door.
- The breakers are painted red.
- The schematic between the two rows of breaker switches is painted white, with rounded corners and tick-marks between the numbers.
If you’ve looked for all these visual characteristics, but you still aren’t sure, ask a licensed electrician. They can remove each switch and check for E- or F-shaped openings that are unique to this kind of breaker.
Do not attempt to remove them yourself, as there is a risk of electrocution.
Why You Should Replace Your FPE Stab-Lok Panel
In 1982, Reliance Electric reported that the Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels had a “possible defect”, but these panels actually pose a significant safety hazard.
FPE Stab-Lok panels have two important safety concerns:
- Inability to trip when overloaded or short-circuited. Excess current heats up and ignites, which could cause electrical fires, leading to property damage or even loss of life.
- Metal expansion. Electrified metals heat up and expand and different metals will expand at different rates. FPE Stab-Lok breakers feature copper connectors, while electrical panels are made of aluminum. This difference leads to a loose connection, which can result in fire.
Tried, Tested and Failed
In the 1980s, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) hired Consulting Engineer Jesse Aronstein, and the company he worked for, to safety test FPE’s Stab-Lok panel. In tests, over 50% of the tested breakers failed to trip, indicating a significant flaw in the panel design.
Aronstein and statistics expert Richard Lowry co-authored a peer-reviewed paper in which they estimated the following numbers to have occurred yearly:
- $40 million property damage
- 2,800 fires
- 13 deaths
In spite of the massive failure in the tested breakers, the CPSC never stated whether they felt the FPE Stab-Lok panels were unsafe, instead calling the over 50% failure inconclusive.
A Breaker Panel by Any Other Name
The Federal Pacific Electric brand is the most common, but you may just find the words Stab-Lok on the label on your electrical panel. There are also several other companies associated with FPE, who continued to use the Stab-Lok design.
These companies are:
- Challenger Electric
- American Circuit Breaker Company
- Connecticut Electric
- Electrical-Mechanical Industries, Inc.
- Federal NOARK
What To Do if You’ve Got an FPE Stab-Lok Panel
If you own a home or business that was built between 1950 and 1980, it’s possible that you have an Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel – or even one of a number of other brands that came along later, using the same flawed design.
Historically, the go-to option for a failing panel was to have it removed, tested and repaired. Since the design of the Stab-Lok panel is considered unsafe outright, simply repairing it is like putting a bandage on a broken bone – it won’t fix the problem.
You need to replace the unit.
This is where Kobalt Systems can help. Our qualified electrician team will not only ensure that your old panel is safely removed, but they will discuss your electrical needs and determine the best electrical panel replacement unit to suit your needs and your budget.
While the cost of replacing a breaker panel can run between $1500 and $2000, we do offer financing for qualified applicants. Feeling safe in your own home or business doesn’t have to hurt your budget!
Let our qualified electricians help you feel safe where you live and work – contact us today about replacing your FPE Stab-Lok panel.