Here is the fourth installment of the five-part series, The Top five Failed Building Practices. You can read Part 1: Aluminum Branch Wiring here, Part 2: Fire-Retardant Treated Plywood here, or Part 3: Polybutylene Pipes here.
Part 4: Federal Pacific "Stab-Lok" Electrical Panels
The fourth item on our list of the Top Five Failed Building Practices is Federal Pacific "Stab-Lok" Electrical Panels.
These electrical panels, originally manufactured by Reliance Electric Company, were widely used by builders in the 1960s and 1970s, but are now considered unsafe. The installation is now being described as a latent safety hazard - that is, the panels and circuit breakers themselves do not cause an unsafe condition such as a short in a wire, but the breakers may not trip when necessary. This can lead to overheating and fires.
In extensive testing by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the circuit breakers had a failure rate of approximately 25 percent.
I frequently encounter Federal Pacific brand (FPE) electrical panels in homes I inspect, sometimes several in a week. They are easy to identify by the Federal Pacific and Stab-Lok branding on the panel cover.
If a household electrical circuit is overloaded, the circuit breaker in the panel is supposed to trip and cut off power so that heat cannot build up and cause scorched wires, melting and fires. I rarely see evidence of this, but the many documented cases of failure at the national level have led to an industry view that because these panels are obsolete and possibly dangerous, replacement should be considered. Replacement usually costs between $1,000 and $3,000.
To date, there is no recall or class action lawsuit for this panel but the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued safety warnings. Universal Laboratories (UL) has also pulled their listing/endorsement of this product. The product is no longer manufactured.
Next up: Part 5: Asbestos Insulation.