How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
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Who is the manufacturer of those bad electric panels?
Sunday, July 29, 2018
The brand is Federal Pacific, and the company went out of business in the 1980s, largely due to lawsuits regarding their “Stab-Lok” line of panels. The breakers in these panels failed to trip consistently when overloaded or short-circuited, causing fires and other property damage. There were also arcing problems within the panel box, and double-pole (240-volt) breakers that failed to shut-off the electric current even after tripping. We recently experienced that last defect in a Gainesville home with a Stab-Lok panel: a tripped breaker continued to keep a 240-volt circuit “live.”
As a result of one of the lawsuits, it was also determined that the company obtained Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) approval with fraudulent data. But there is currently no compensation available for replacement of these panels; the limited settlements that were once available are now closed out.
Most experts consider Stab-Lok panels to be a “latent defect”: in other words, an accident waiting to happen. The Consumer Products Safety Council (CPSC) noted in its study a higher-than-normal rate of failure to trip in an over-current event. And other private evaluations since the 1980s CPSC study have confirmed the original findings.
To view a report by about the history and hazards of Federal Pacific panels by J. Aronstein, a consulting engineer that specializes in mechanical and materials testing, click on this link: http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/FPE-Hazards-Revised-070525.pdf. Aronstein’s evaluation of the panels is that they represent a “safety defect,” and that replacement is the only practical and safe solution.
If you open the door of an electric panel in a house you are considering buying and find the words “STAB-LOK” or “FPE”—like in the two photos below—it’s reasonable to expect that the panel poses a potential safety risk and will likely decrease the value of the home in the current marketplace. Also, some insurance companies will not write a homeowner’s policy on a house with a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel.
Another electric panel from the same era that has a checkered history is Zinsco, although the standard recommendation for this panel is evaluation by an electrician. It was also sold under the names Sylvania-Zinsco and Kearney. To read more about the Zinsco panel, see our blog post “Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem?”
Challenger brand panels have also gone on the uninsurable list in the last few years, due to overheating of the bus bars. See our blog post Why are Challenger electrical panels not insurable? for more on this.
Also see our blog posts How old is a Pushmatic electrical panel? Is it safe? and Who is the manufacturer of those "bad" electric panels? and How old is a Wadsworth breaker panel? and Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem? and Why are Challenger electrical panels not insurable? and How old is a Walker EQ Load Center electrical panel? Is it unsafe?
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Field Guide for Home Inspectors, a quick reference for finding the age of 154 brands of HVAC systems, water heaters, and electrical panels, plus 210 code standards for site-built and manufactured homes, and the life expectancy rating of 195 home components. Available at amazon.com for $19.95.
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