"Federal Pacific" Breaker box

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I have a 200-amp capable "Federal pacific" breaker box in my 44 year old home. I've been told by a home inspector that the box is unreliable and the breakers "can occasionally no-trip and could potentially cause a fire" This, obviously, scares me.
The breakers aren't the cheapest or super-easy to find, but I haven't had to replace any in the year or so I've lived in this house, the unit seems reliable. Also, the breakers have tripped a few times as the circuits have around 8-10 receptacles on a few runs in some cases.
I'm considering doing some remodeling, including the addition of can lights (about 20 of them) and a few receptacles...all on new runs as the breaker box isn't much more than half full.
Should I consider replacing the service panel and breakers to a current model like a Square D as part of this remodel? After all, it doesn't make much sense remodel a house that's going to just burn to the ground anyway.
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The inspector is right. Google on "Federal Pacific" and I'm sure you'll find plenty of information about it.

Yes, absolutely. You should more than "consider" it -- you should do it.

Exactly.
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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I would. I have personal experience with FPE circuit breakers not tripping from dead shorts. My brother jokes that it is possible to weld with a wire connected to an FPE breaker.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Much, much more than you wanted to know here:
http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
Jim
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

...
You pretty much answered your own question, didn't you?
http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm
This guy is promoting himself, of course, as well, but it appears the data referenced are real and FPE did go under after a set of legal challenges and lawsuits. The CPSC began and closed an inconclusinve investigation way back in '83 or so and while I've not found it directly(but haven't looked extensively, either) there's at least an implication that FPE may have actually falsified some data supplied from tests supplied for UL testing and that UL "de-listed" the original FPE breakers. The replacements from Federal Pioneer in Canada have, to the best of my knowledge, a UL or equivalent rating, whether that is somehow based on previous qualification or were/are newly qualified I've also not been able to resolve unambiguously. (But, again, I've not done extensive "research", only poked around at what I could find on occasion as there are several FPE panels here in the house, barn, other outbuildings dating to roughly same time frame.)
http://www.schneider-electric.ca/www/en/products/stab-lok/html/cb.htm
Overall, it does appear is that there is at least a risk of a trip failure from a mechanical "jam" of the handle preventing opening w/ the older FPE breakers. Without substantiating data, there's no real way to judge the frequency of this as compared to other breakers, which I've not seen at any point.
My judgement would be, it's fairly inexpensive in comparison to an overall sizable remodeling project budget, and that would also seem a convenient time to update other things in an older home, so I'd probably spring for it. That essentially is my plan. As in your case, I've never had a failure to trip, and have seen no signs of any other problems. I have replaced one breaker that showed some signs of overheating at the connection, but that appeared to be related to a contact condition at that point rather than anything to do with the breaker itself. Such an incident is not particularly unuique to FPE -- a slightly loose connection can exhibit the same symptoms at any connecting point, not just a breaker.
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dpb wrote:

Reliance Electric bought FPE and discovered that FPE fraudulently supplied test information to UL. UL then delisted most of the FPE line. Reliance Electric sued the seller of FPE and setteled for about 43 million dollars to cover future liability. I believe there is currently a class action law suit in New Jersey. The problem probably covers the 1965-1980 time period although the current Canadian manufacturer won't say what changes have been made to the line.
The link from dpb at http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm has a lot of information of FPE, much of it derived from the investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It includes information on the limited testing done for the CPSC. Two pole breakers may not trip (can jam and never trip) if the current on both poles is not the same (like ground fault). (Service disconnect size breakers were not tested.) Another problem - single pole breakers may never trip at 135% of rating. Also bus failures which cannot be seen as they are developing without panel disassembly.
One reason the CPSC investigation was dropped was the high cost of testing required to allow regulatory action vs. the size of the CPSC funding. This was probably also the start of the Reagan years which were not favorable to regulation. And perhaps most important, the CPSC had tried to regulate aluminum wire and in the predictable industry lawsuit the court ruled aluminum wire was not a consumer item and thus could not be regulated by the CPSC. Circuit breakers would probably have also not been under the CPSC.
Another source: http://www.codecheck.com/pdf/electrical/240overcurrent/FPE%20Article%20from%20DH%20-%20Nov2003.pdf includes additional problems with FPE panels, including the bus problems referred to by Pete C.
-- bud--
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I believe this is a fair summary of the issue:
The problem with Federal Pacific in the US is that of dual 20A breakers getting into a fail-to-trip mode and caused major fires.
The lawsuits essentially bankrupted them. The remnants of the company were bought out by Schneider Electric in Canada and sell under the name Federal Pioneer. Schneider is a pretty well respected company, and does a lot more than Federal Pioneer.
These breakers had to be certified by CSA (on the whole slightly more stringent than UL) before sold in Canada - CSA or explicitly named equivalent approval is a legal requirement here.
They're also certified by ULC (UL Canada), which is more or less exactly equivalent to UL.
Approximately two years worth of Schneider-made Federal Pioneer _single_ 15A breakers were recalled several years back. [I _think_ this was Schneider-initiated.]
Manufacturing dates around 1998 if I recall correctly. The inspect-ny (and Schneider's) web site has a copy of the recall notice.
As I understand, no fires/injuries have resulted from the defective 15A breakers, and there's no indication that Federal Pioneer breakers/panels are a problem otherwise.
My experience (several full panels worth) has been that Federal Pioneer breakers are just fine. That can't be said of Square D Homeline (over the past 10 years, 3 of 4 Homeline breakers in the pony panel under my cooktop have fried. We hates them, we really do.).
If your Federal Pacific (US) _panel_ is in good shape, rather than replacing it, I'd consider net/mail-ordering some replacement dual 20As from a Schneider distributor or retailer, and not worrying about it anymore. Current Schneider production in 15A singles is fine, and you can still get free replacements for the recalled 15A single breaker (tho, they're unlikely to be found in US FP panels).
There are areas here where the electricians will use _only_ Federal Pioneer, and will even refuse to replace an existing Federal Pioneer panel with something else, despite the money they'd make.
[My SIL had an opportunity to swap out a panel essentially free to her to use something else, but the electrician, a good one, said "what the hell for? Nobody around here uses anything else, and we never have any problems with them.". Talked himself out of about $1200 ;-)]
--
Chris Lewis,

Age and Treachery will Triumph over Youth and Skill
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" snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com" wrote:

I'd strongly recommend replacing the FPE incendiary device. I replaced the one in my house with a good Square D QO series 40 space panel and sleep much better at night. I had heard all the bad things about FPE before and had replacement high on my to do list anyway, but it wasn't until I started tearing the old POS apart that I realized what a POS it really was. As an additional note, since the FPE panels are pretty old, replacing them may get you an insurance discount if your insurance company charges more for 30+yr old electrical.
Pete C.
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Any electrical panel with breakers that old should be considered suspect, irregardless of brand. If you could just replace the breakers with new ones, you would be perfectly fine. However, that's not economically viable in your case, so replacement is probably a good idea.
Having said all of that, I have one fo these panels, and I have replaced many of my 1962 breakers with newer ones made in the 80's and I am perfectly fine with the panel. I have also tested all of my breakers and they all work fine. The single pole breakers are as good as any others their age. The two pole FPE breakers are the ones that are notoriously bad. And unlike almost all the other FPE bashers, I actually have an electrical Engineering degree and actually know what I'm talking about.
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I'm glad I asked. You guys are amazing!
How much should I expect to pay to replace just the service panel and all the breakers? (I don't do stuff that can kill me alone) Also, what brand and size should I replace it with? It's a 200 amp now, should I spring for a 200 this time around?
Thanks again gents!
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

If you have a 200A service now I would definitely not go any smaller. Despite talk of energy-efficient this, that, and the other we seem to put more and more demands on our electrical systems as time goes by. Even if you don't use a lot of juice, if you ever go to sell the house, anything less than a 200A service will probably be called "inadequate" by the buyer's home inspector.
nate
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Thanks Nate...that makes perfect sense. 200 amp it is. Have an electrician coming out soon... he's a friend of a friend and is highly recommended. I'm stopping by walmart on the way home for a fire extinguisher, good to have around regardless of my service panel. ;-)
How can I tell if mine is a "stab-loc" type? From what I've read, it's best to replace it no matter what kind it is, but stab-loc's are the electrical version of napalm.
Also, has anyone had this type of work done? How much should I expect to pay? I'd hate to pay too much just because I didn't want to wait an extra few days for a better quote.
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" snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com" wrote:

If it's a "stab-loc" it will usually have a label with that name on it. If you have the cover off or can otherwise see the buss i.e. empty breaker spaces in the cover, the bus is flat and has little triangular holes where the breakers "stab" in. I think there are pictures on one or more of the sites people have referenced.
Pete C.
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You will pay $800 to $1400 depending on labor costs in your neighborhood, inspection fees, and cost of permits. The parts cost the same: ~$250 retail for the basic "kit" (200-amp box plus an assortment of 16 or so common breakers). You can price the "kit" at HD or Loews.
My son and I replaced a 200-amp service at my place and, a week later, repeated the process at his home.
We were quoted $1200 (each) by a commercial electrical contractor. In our jurisdiction (Houston) neither a permit nor inspection is required, so we were able to save about $900 apiece by spending Saturday afternoon on the project. [In addition to the "kit" expense, there's always something piddly that the contractor will have on his truck: a bit of wire, a funny coupling, an extra ground lug, something.]
It takes two people about five hours to do the job.
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" snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com" wrote:

Figure around $400 in materials for a good Square D QO panel and breakers, a little less for the lesser brands. Labor would vary greatly by market and by other factors that could make the job easy or difficult like access to the panel.
Also, replacing a panel can NOT kill you, panel replacements are done with the power off, usually be pulling the meter.
Pete C.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

The cost will vary depending on location.
I would suggest Square D QO type panel.
My main & subs are both Square D QO type & I am very happy with them
How big is the house? Good idea to do or have done a load calc.
My house (1930) had a 60 amp service (fuse type) that was changed out to 100 amp Square D in the 70's before I bought the place. A 100 amp panel is just a little small for my current needs but proabably not worth a change.
A 200 amp panel is hard to fill up unless you're going to add a lot of square footage in your remodel andhave a bunch of electric applances (stove, oven, a/c, pool.
A 200 amp might be a little big but a 100 amp is probaly too small....again it depends on current & future load.
cheers Bob
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BobK207 wrote:

My 200A 40 space QO is filled to 34 spaces. Two spaces for the Square D "Surge Breaker" surge suppresser, two spaces for the generator back feed breaker with the Square D interlock kit, two spaces each for the stove, dryer, A/C, four spaces for two heating feeds, two spaces for the shop feed, etc.
Pete C.
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If you are going to stick with a 200A, just make sure you get one with enough extra space in it for more breakers for future expansion. You can almost never have too much extra space in there. And over time stuff tends to get added or put on it's own breaker. If you don't already have things like your microwave and toaster oven on their own breakers, as well as all of your appliances on their own, now would be the time to figure that into the new box.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

I haven't seen any panels over 40 spaces (other than 42 space three phase panels). Once you fill a 40 you just have to add a sub panel.
Pete C.
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" snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com" wrote:

Oh yea, of course stick with 200A. Short of doing a new load calc after a big energy reduction audit and appliance replacement, I would never downgrade a service. Also the cost difference between a 100A and 200A panel is really small.
Pete C.
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