Replacing a FPE Panel

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I have been having flickering lights on a particular curcit in my house. The house was bulit in 1965 and the breaker box is a Federal Pacific, which can be pretty dangerous from what I have read. This is a fairly new problem (last 2-3 months) and has been progressively getting worse. I had an electrican out to look at it and here is what he said:
1) There are 2 breakers that are getting overloaded and not tripping. Basically, the entire panel must be replaced because of its age, some odd wiring the previous owners had done, and the fact there is no room to put an additional breaker.
2) to do any work on the panel, everythign up to the panel must be up to current code (Anything beyond the panel is grandfathered).
3) Because of that the original meter (circa 1965) must be replaced, as well as a grounding bar, and installing ground to the water line.
4) The current connection to the house must be replaced (It is currently sagging off the end of the house, so they want to install a stand pipe out of the roof for the main connection.
I have found agreement that just replacing the panel would only run $1000 to $2000. My question is if all the other stuff is necessary, and if it justifies the $4000 total estimate? I am in the metro St. Louis area.
PS. I know that someone will say that the utility company should replace the meter, but ours is only has to provide you with an appropriate one, you still have to pay for it and its installation.
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On Mar 30, 1:35 pm, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Don't know about the whole front end thing, that sounds a little extreme, but your jurisdiction might require it. I'd ask the building code people if your understanding is, in fact, correct.
Overall, for that work doesn't sound too out of line on pricing.
If it were mine, I'd get a couple of new/replacement breakers for the specific ones and swap them out right now and then pursue the bigger job. While the box is open, if the electrician didn't, I'd check the connection(s) on each and every one as well.
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ONLY the FPE STAB LOCK breakers are the bad ones, earlier FPE panels were fine and safe.
you might try replacing just the 2 breakers, how do you know they arent tripping on overload?
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Do you have a reference for that? The Canadian ones were manufactured in a different place, but I haven't seen anything conclusively showing they were at all different in design.
I have a 1989-vintage house with FPE panel in Burnaby BC. After reading about the FPE problems in the USA, I decided to test the breakers myself. (I did this with an artificial load, *not* by overloading the house wiring - the latter would be a really bad idea). At double the rated load (e.g. 30 A through a 15 A breaker) the breaker ought to trip within 2 minutes. Most single-pole breakers tripped in 30-40 seconds, most double-pole breakers within about 70 seconds. But there were 4 out of 20 breakers that were way out of limits - one 15A breaker didn't trip after 5 minutes at 30+ amps.
I replaced those breakers, and the new ones behaved normally.
Now, I don't know if this was a manufacturing defect or not. There's some rust inside the panel indicating that water got in at some point in the past. It's possible that all of the bad breakers were fine when new, and were damaged by water.
On the other hand, I see no problem with the panel itself. The busbars seem to be one piece, without all the small bits handling high current that have caused problems in some FPE panels.
    Dave
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My understanding as well is that Federal Pioneer has not come forward with any information regarding what the differences are between the "Pacific" and "Pioneer" breakers. I am by no means a fan of FPE equipment, but it's hard to believe if they were the fire hazard people believe them to be, they wouldn't be recalled
writes:

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RBM 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. There was recently a class action suit in New Jersey - don't know if it is over or what result.
http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm has a lot of information about FPE, much of it derived from an investigation by the US 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.) And single pole breakers may never trip at 135% of rating. Also bus failures which cannot be seen as they are developing without panel disassembly. Potential problem busses are multipart screwed together, not one piece as in Dave's post. The problem probably covers the 1965-1980 time period although I think this link says, like you and Dave did, that the current Canadian manufacturer won't say what changes have been made to the line. But Chris sounds like Canadian ones are OK.
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. I think this link, and maybe inspect-ny, show pictures of FPE breakers to identify which ones may be suspect.
-- bud--
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Thanks Bud, I've read those sites. I'd like to know why the U.L. have not been involved. After all, it's their label stuck on this equipment. And what does that say for the U.L. label in general?

http://www.codecheck.com/pdf/electrical/240overcurrent/FPE%20Article%20from%20DH%20-%20Nov2003.pdf
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RBM wrote:

My take would be UL was scammed by FPE. When UL found out, the scammers were gone and 'FPE' was owned by Reliance. I don't know what UL could do but revoke the UL listing, which they did. Maybe UL could sue for fraud? People should have gone to jail. Or maybe if someone dies in an unnecessary fire the scammers should be tried for manslaughter?
The CPSC could have required a recall but didn't for the reasons noted.
Long ago I had a service call to a house. The owner and 2 suits wanted the FPE breaker for a specific kitchen outlet removed without tripping it - the suits collected it. Turns out a coffee maker plugged into the outlet caught fire - never heard what happened. But ligigating this stuff is expensive. Would also be interesting what happened to the NJ class action suit. Class action is more effective, but it hits Reliance, not the scammers. At least Reliance got $43 million for future liability - I suppose that is some justice.
It is appaling what some businesses get away with. I sometimes think there should be an independent goon squad. And I'm am sometimes surprised, with the number of people going through experiences like Iraq, that 'independent' solutions don't occurr.
-- bud--

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In downstate NY, FPE garbage is all over the place. I find myself in a very awkward position in real estate transactions, when I'm asked if the stuff is a "fire hazard". I'm not the authority, I can only copy info from the net, to pass it along, but it would sure be nice to have something definitive. I can't say from my experience though, that I've seen any more FPE failures, then I have from breakers made by GE, Bryant, or ITE. The biggest problem I find with FPE is keeping them stuck into the buss. Just a terrible design

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...
Personal opinion is there is a somewhat heightened probability of failure w/ FPE Stab-lok breakers but that the web sites tend to make the situation as much more prevalent and extreme than it is.
What was the real crime in the whole deal as far as I'm concerned was the apparent falsification of test data from FPE supplied to UL. Whether UL has done anything to their processes to ensure higher likelihood such falsification or under-reporting (that is, reporting on successful tests and not unsuccessful ones, for example) I don't know, but one would hope so.
As for the actual design, I've a bunch of these panels on the farm and have never had any indications of any problem including never seems to have been an issue of them not staying in place on the buss -- assuming the cover in on and in place properly, anyway. When/if I upgrade service, I'm sure that will be one thing that will change, but it's not high on the priority list and I don't lose sleep at night worrying about them.
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Of course, you don't hear about houses where everything works properly.
However, breakers are a somewhat odd case because they are seldom tested. You depend on them to protect the wiring in your house from overheating, and to trip rapidly in case of a short, but you've probably never tested more than one or two of your breakers under those conditions, and probably never will. Nor can you test them safely using your house wiring for the load, and you probably won't find an electrician to test them for you safely.
So you only hear about the rare cases where there was an overload or short, *and* the breaker failed to trip, *and* it caused a fire or other damage.
    Dave
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dpb wrote:

The actual problem is that FPE breakers in certain sizes have a much higher rate of failure to open on a fault to ground. This problem is especially severe in the double pole breakers. An FPE breaker of the affected type is unlikely to open on it's second actuation, if it's first actuation was a ground fault, even if the second event is a balanced overload. When I was questioned on this by a shop rocket know it all I asked if he thought his work was good enough to sign. He said yes. I then began to weld his name into the strut supporting the new work he had done using a conductor run off of an FPE breaker in the preexisting panel. All he said was "OK I see your point." -- Tom Horne
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It would take a ground fault to do this on a pure 240 V circuit. But feeding a split 15 A circuit (Edison circuit) with a two-pole 15 A breaker is extremely common in Canada. That's the normal way to wire kitchen outlets, with upper and lower sockets of each duplex outlet on opposite sides of the two-pole circuit (but there may be multiple duplex outlets on the one double circuit).
And in my house, a bunch of the general lighting and outlet circuits are also wired this way. It lets the electrician run a single 14-3 cable to the first junction box, then split that into two 14-2 circuits for adjacent rooms. Two-pole breakers are required so that if you find a breaker that interrupts *some* power in a junction box, you've switched off *all* the power in that junction box even if two circuits are present.
In both of these cases, the loads are all 120 V and the currents in the two sides of the two-pole breaker are completely independent. I can easily overload the one side and have no current at all through the other side just by plugging in a toaster and an electric kettle to the correct pair of outlets in the kitchen.
    Dave
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Dave Martindale wrote:

GFCIs had the ground fault trip on the side of a regular breaker with the trip mechanism the same as 2 pole. Speculation, but I don't think it has been eastablished, that GGCIs might have the same unbalanced 2-pole trip problem (the trip is always unbalanced).
Last time I looked at the information sites, large breakers had not been tested. One might wonder about service disconnects which are likely to have an unbalanced trip.
-- bud--
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Dave Martindale wrote:

I'm going mostly off stuff I found online. Here's one example:
http://www.selfhelpforums.com/showthread.php?t 16
Chris
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Ok. Very interesting info.
As I said, the innards of my panel had got wet at one time. From the water signs, it looks like the left column of breakers were wet while the right column stayed dry. All four of the bad or questionable breakers I found were in the left column, none in the right. So it's entirely possible that all of the breakers were once good, and the water caused corrosion or other damage inside some of the breakers that got wet.
I've still got the bad breakers. When I get more time I'll drill out the rivets and see whether there is visible corrosion in the mechanisms.
    Dave
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Since your service is falling off the house I would say it is necessary to replace. Your electrician is correct about updating the grounding electrode system to the present code. Would you really want the 1965 ground protecting your house from lightning?
Your best bet is to get several quotes from other contractors before hiring anyone.
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The circuits that are overloaded should be split up, which has nothing to do with the condition of your service equipment. If it's in poor condition, it should be upgraded, and like John Grabowski said, completely. I can't tell if those prices are reasonable for your area, but get a few estimates and compare

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New breakers are still readily available in Canada. The name may be FPL instead of FPE. They are made by Schneider Electric, and available in any Home Depot (among others). I bought 4 of them within the last month to replace the ones in my panel that did not behave properly.
(I tested the new breakers, and all of them tripped in a reasonable time at 200% load).
    Dave
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On Apr 2, 5:14 pm, snipped-for-privacy@cs.ubc.ca (Dave Martindale) wrote:

Not much help for those of us in the US and not within driving distance... :)
See my followup -- there is a 3rd-party source in the US, UBI a subsidiary/brand(?) of Connecticut Electric. The local electric supply outfit hadn't heard of them and didn't have any cross- reference.
Out of curiousity, what kind of pricing was on the Federal Pioneer replacements? The UBI ones seemed pricey to me, but a guess that would be expected for a low-volume single-source item.
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