What You Need to Know About Federal Pacific Breakers

Margaret Wack
Written by Margaret Wack
Reviewed by Salvatore Cutrona
Updated February 11, 2022
hand adjusting circuit breaker in home
The Toidi / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker panels with Stab-Lok circuit breakers are at risk for breaker malfunction and fire.

  • Older homes built between 1950 and 1990 may have FPE circuit breakers.

  • Look for four telltale signs of these breakers in your home. 

  • Homeowners should replace any Federal Pacific panels with new, up-to-date circuit breakers.

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If your home has a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) circuit breaker panel with Stab-Lok circuit breakers, you run a significant risk of breaker malfunction and fire. While these types of circuit breakers were once commonly installed in houses across the country, many are defective. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to replace any Federal Pacific breakers in your home.

Why Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers Can Be Dangerous

If you own a home built between 1950 and 1990, chances are you might have a Federal Pacific circuit breaker. Produced by the Federal Pacific Electric company, these breakers are now considered a safety hazard. You should replace them with a circuit breaker that meets modern safety standards.

Studies have shown that up to one in four Stab-Lok breakers are defective and run the risk of malfunction or electrical fire. A New Jersey court ruled that Federal Pacific Electric fraudulently labeled these faulty breakers as meeting certain safety standards. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission did not issue a product recall due to budget issues.

While Federal Pacific Electric has been out of business for many years, Federal Pacific panels and breakers are still in millions of homes around the country. Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunctions are the cause of an estimated 2,800 fires each year. As a result, electrical companies recommend that homeowners replace any Federal Pacific panels with new, up-to-date circuit breakers.

Circuit Breakers Are Critical to Your Home’s Safety

The breakers inside a circuit breaker panel guard your home against serious electrical problems and play a vital role in protecting your home against electrical fires. They do so by preventing circuit overload, short circuits, and external power surges from coming into the panel.

When an overload does occur, the circuit breaker trips and shuts down the power to the circuit. The circuit breaker acts as a safety net, helping to prevent the electrical circuits from overheating and catching fire. Homeowners can then reset the circuit breaker once they figure out what caused it to trip.

If a breaker is defective or not operating properly, common in FPE breakers, it could cause a fire in your home. Even circuit breakers that have operated without issue for many years could be one power surge away from a dangerous house fire.

How to Tell If You Have a Federal Pacific Panel

If your home is between 25 and 65 years old, you may have a Federal Pacific panel. To determine whether or not this is the case, you should check your breaker box for a Federal Pacific label or logo. A Federal Pacific panel will usually have its name or logo on the front cover. 

Inside the panel, you should find the name “Stab-Lok” printed near the center or side of the panel. Intact Federal Pacific breakers will have a signature red strip that runs across the front.

If you have a Federal Pacific panel or Stab-Lok breakers in your home, it’s important to replace them with a circuit breaker that meets modern safety standards. Even if your circuit breaker has been functioning properly for decades, it could still fail to trip in the future. You should contact a licensed electrician near you to discuss your replacement options.

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