FPE Stab-Lok Breakers and Panels – Position Statement

FPE Stab-Lok Breakers and Panels – Position Statement

This brief report is in response to questions we are frequently asked regarding Federal Pacific breakers and panels.  Two of the most frequent questions we are asked:

  • Has there been any recall notices on FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers or panels.
  • What is our opinion as to the safety of FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers and panels.

FPE Stab-Lok Product Recall

In answer to the first question, in our research, we have not been able to verify any official product recall on the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok circuit breakers or panels.  However, on March 3rd 1983 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report basically stating that commission testing confirmed that certain FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers failed UL calibration test requirements.  However their limited testing was insufficient for the commission to accept or refute whether the breaker failures lead to a hazardous situation.  We have attached the complete CPSC report for your review.

Our Opinion

To the second point regarding our opinion of the breakers in question, we believe that based on our personal experience, and the vast amount of second hand anecdotal information, these circuit breakers are less reliable than other comparable products produced by other manufactures, and may pose more of a failure and safety risk over other comparable products.

The primary problems associate with these breakers is that they may not trip in an overload situation, and that the breaker may not make proper contact with the panel buss.

While it is not quite correct to call a non-tripping breaker a “fire hazard”, the FPE Stab-Lok breakers (as others) are primary safety devices whose function is to stop certain electrical sequences that could, if allowed to proceed, lead to fire in a building.  By their own (FPE) admission, the breakers in question do not fully comply with UL requirements, and there is some evidence that FPE falsified testing procedures and results.  It is important to note that UL itself did not actually perform the compliance testing on the breakers, but only monitored the production and testing done at the FPE factories.  As UL standards and listings are intended to provide evidence that the product is “suitable for the purpose” under the provisions of the National Electrical Code (NEC) this is troubling to us.

Please see the table on the following page which illustrates the frequency of failures of the subject breakers.

FPE STAB-LOK CIRCUIT BREAKER TEST RESULTS

 

FPE Stab-Lok Circuit Breaker Testing

 

Breakers Tested

Trip Failures @ 135% of Rated Current Safety Failures @ 200% of Rated Current
CPSC – Single Pole 14 4 (28%) 1 (7%)
CPSC – Double Pole 27 20 (74%) 5 (19%)
Wright-Malta Corp. – Double Pole 122 62 (51%) 12 (10%)
Independent (J. Aronstein) – Single Pole 345 61 (18%) 4 (1%)
Independent (J. Aronstein) – Single Pole GFI 5 3 (60%) 4 (80%)
Independent (J. Aronstein) – Double Pole 120 42 (35%) 14 (12%)

Another issue to consider is the fact that many FPE Stab-Lok panels are “split bus” type panels.  These are panels which do not have a main circuit breaker.  Eliminating a main circuit breaker also eliminates a safety factor in the event a branch circuit breaker jams with the contacts closed on an electrical fault.   A main breaker would provide a measure of protection at a higher current trip point.  A main breaker also provides a measure of protection when servicing or adding down stream branch breakers in an active (“hot”) panel.

The final points we would like to make is that without extensive and costly testing (not practical for individual cases), we can not confirm with a visual (“looks alright”) and mechanical inspection (“clicks on and off okay”) whether certain breakers are, or are not, defective internally.

And finally, because production of these products ceased in the mid 1980’s, the age of many of these products is now exceeding 20 years of operation (they are getting tired) and availability of replacement parts will become increasingly difficult and costly, and possess no product warranty.

Summary and Solution

Based on our research, personal knowledge, and the associated failure rates found, and because there is no safe or practical way to verify correct product operation, we believe it prudent to replace all FPE Stab-Lok panels currently in use when practical.  While we do not necessarily believe this an “emergency” situation, panelreplacement should be considered if any repair or modifications are made or required.

In conclusion, we believe that keeping these panels in operation for the long term could constitute an increased risk over other products on the market, and it may be well worth the $1000 -$1500 * average cost for replacement.

If you have any questions, or need further clarification on this issue, please feel free to contact us at any time.

Sincerely,

Parkin Electric

* Replacement cost is based on a normal panel only replacement, and is approximate. 

Individual installations may vary.