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
You pretty much answered your own question, didn't you?
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.)
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.
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
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.
includes additional problems with FPE panels, including the bus problems
referred to by Pete C.
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
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
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
[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 ;-)]
Age and Treachery will Triumph over Youth and Skill
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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