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  • Writer's pictureMike Diehl

Federal Pacific Panels

This is an online article from an Inspector's personal experience with Federal Pacific Panels. If you have a FPE panel in your home, I recommend you have it replaced as soon as possible.

A Report from the Front Lines My negative reaction to FPE panels is based on personal experience.

Experience #1: In 1993, I inspected a house with an FPE panel. At that time I was completely unaware of any particular problems associated with this equipment. Six months later, I inspected the same house again because my original customer got transferred and had to move. At the 2nd inspection, I noticed the old panel was gone and a new panel was in its place. The owner explained that he was sitting at his table eating dinner one day when he looked up and his panel was on fire.

Experience #2: In 1996, I was inspecting a grimly run-down house, slithering through a 16” high crawlspace with water all over the ground. I had gone in a big circle around the perimeter of the crawlspace, and was almost out when I saw a piece of NM cable with two bare wires sticking out the end, dangling right across my path. There was no way through without danger of this cable reaching out and biting me. The only other way out was back the way I came. I figured, “Heck, I’ll just touch the two wires to my pick. If they’re dead, nothing will happen. If they’re live, they’ll short out and blow the breaker.” So I touched them to my pick. The resulting explosion destroyed the pick. When I emerged, I headed straight for the panel. It was an FPE and none of the breakers had tripped.

Experience #3: In 1999 I was inspecting a house for a guy who owned it but was deciding whether to rehab it or bulldoze it. Halfway through the inspection, he decided on the bulldoze route. It had an FPE panel so we got into a discussion about them. 10 minutes later, we had set up a steel pipe next to the panel and made a pair of leads from some romex that we clipped off the wall. For the next 30 minutes, we tried shorting out one breaker after another on the pipe. Six out of the 10 breakers in the panel never tripped. With those breakers, we could make sparks and arcs and weld the wires to the pipe but the breakers stubbornly refused to trip.

Experience #4: In 2000 I was inspecting an apartment complex. The units were fitted with FPE panels. I asked the site manager about the panels and whether or not they had been problematic. He said that they were just fine and never caused a problem. About an hour later, he was paged - a fire had started in one of the units. Its electrical panel was in flames. My inspection lasted long enough that I was still there when the electrician was pulling away from the property after replacing the panel. When I finally left, the manager presented me with a gift - the burned up panel that the electrician had replaced. I still have it.

• The only time I’ve had a customer’s panel catch fire, it was an FPE panel. • The only time I’ve shorted out wires and had the breaker NOT trip, it was an FPE panel.

• The only time I’ve shorted out multiple wires and had 6 out of 10 breakers not trip, it was an FPE panel.

• The only time I’ve actually had a panel catch fire during one of my inspections, it was an FPE panel.

There is something seriously wrong with this equipment. And while it’s nice to have access to all this research, and New Jersey’s court ruling, I don’t need any of it. My personal experience is enough for me to advise my clients to get rid of these.

Article by: Jim Katen, Oregon

This is a Federal Pacific Panel. You can usually tell by the color of the breaker markings. They are red with the amp sizes marked in black. The covel panel will usually say that it is a Federal Pacific Panel as well. Stab Lok is another indication. If you have one of these panels in your home, I recommend you have it evaluated by a licensed electrician and invest in a new panel for your own safety.

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