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Federal Pacific Panels


mgbinspect
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In the Are We Really Toadies forum the subject of Federal Pacific Panels arose. Since it was way off the subject, I've taken the liberty of moving it into the Electrical section.

I'm new to the forums (only a couple months) and I'm certain there are volumes of info regarding these panels on this board as well as the ASHI and NAHI forums.

I had indicated that I hand my clients the Consumer Protection Agency release along with a statement that serious debate continues regarding the reliability of these panels.

Fritz had asked if that was the article that I offered my client and Mitchell offered the below link:

http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpestlouis.htm

I understand there has been VERY hot debate regarding these panels.

I understand that this subject has probably been exhausted on forums and I don't wish to begin a completely redundant thread.

But, I do wish to be certain that I have the most recent "official" information regarding Federal Pacific panels.

As is obvious from my previous posts, I am not an electrician nor do I consider myself anything other than competent to inspect them electrical systems from a home inspector's perspective. That being the case, I have nothing to offer this subject other than my interest and attention. In other words, I can only be an observer here.

1. What is the very latest "official" information regarding Federal Pacific Panels?

2. Has any "official" information been convincing enough to cause the Consumer Protection Agency to re-open it's investigation?

My interest is purely informational and educational. And, seeing that some of the discussions on the ASHI board got rather heated and opinionated, may I suggest or request that information be limited to scientific study and official conclusions and that opinion and debater be avoided.

And, having said all that, I'm all ears...

(Mike... Help... [:-graduat )

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Well, there is that little problem of "officials" from Federal Pacific fudging the test results that they submitted to UL.

That's official, isn't it?

The IAEE findings that over 65% of FP breakers don't trip when overloaded, compared to an industry average of about 1% is reasonably official, right?

After that, there's the the Friedman, the Aronstein, the Hansen, and the Cramer information. I willing to bestow "officialdom" on those fellas.

Then, there's all those times when the damn breakers simply fell out of the enclosure when I pulled off the cover. That makes them officially screwed in my book.

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Ha! Never had one literally fall out. I have had a bunch of them trip (sometimes even the main) to off when I removed the cover. It's a pretty delicate operation.

Well, that's why I was asking.

A range of 1% to 65% seems rediculous! (It seems somewhere on the ASHI site I saw that some reported that the failure rate was no higher than any other breaker... the 1% figure I guess...) How can the findings be that opposed to each other?

And, why hasn't the Consumer Protection Agency re-opened the study or accepted other official findings?

I'm not asking as if I know the answer or am trying to make a point, I truly wonder?

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I truly don't know the answer either. I usually recommend replacement but dont have anything but general opinion to back it up. Electricians opinions have ranged from "Replace it is no good" to "we can just replace the breakers" to there is no problem with the panel. I usually tell the client in my opinion it should be replaced but the best bet is to find an electrician they trust and go with their opinion.

I can also see the sellers point that the panel has had no problems in the past. Without empirical data it is hard to justify telling the seller to spend $1000.

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What does it matter if it's 50% or 65%. Do you want to be in the position of knowing that a customer's home burnt down because you were interested in getting an "official" finding that doesn't exist? I've spoken with dozens of electricians about these things. Most of them agree that they are hazardous and none of them replied that they'd live in a home that had one. That's good enough for me.

By the way, if you saw those arguments on the ASHI board, you probably saw my arguments that there had never been a recall and they weren't any worse than any other panel, because that was the position I used to take. I've changed my mind. There's just too much evidence out there that they are trouble. So much so, that if I were sued tomorrow I'm sure that a lawyer could haul in an army of electricians and inspectors to prove that I'd ignored warnings from other experts in my field. I'm not willing to lose my home because I was afraid to make a strong call on an FPE panel. It just isn't worth it.

If you don't want to call them. Fine, don't call them, but if you ever end up on the tail end of a lawsuit remember that it was you who put yourself there.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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There is a superior court ruling that Federal Pacific violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act because FPE cheated during its testing of circuit breakers to obtain UL approval. This opened the door for the class action lawsuit.

I personally don't get into discussing or reporting the "debate" over these panels. It's really quite simple. I just tell them that you can't rely on them being safe - replace it. There's usually a lengthy list of other electrical issues that need immediate repair anyway. Never had any call backs to dispute my recommendation. I will not refer it to an electrician for "further evaluation" as it's a waste of my clients time and money. It's also a possibility that the "licensed professional" they hire won't have the slightest bit of background on the issues with this product.

While I tried searching for the text of the superior court ruling, I came across this real estate professional's website on the FPE subject. I was pleasantly surprised.

http://www.breyerrealty.com/fedpacific.htm

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Until this past Sunday I would tell my clients, amongst other things, that I was confident that no electrian would live with an FPE in his own house. I had already done two buyer's inspections for this couple (they bought the second) and this was a pre-list on their existing house. The agent ordered it but I got the impression it was a collusion between her and the wife to force the husband to make needed repairs before they put the home on the market.

Anyway...full 200-amp split-bus FPE panel with some really screwy wiring methods inside. The husband wasn't there, but after the wfe called him on the phone to relay some initial findings the term "cobbler's shoes" got used a few times. To be fair to the guy, although he was a licensed sparky, he worked on industrial motor controls and not residential. Good thing too, as the only GFCI he had installed was line/load reversed! I know the agent wants them to replace the panel before listing so that it doesn't rear its ugly head during any subsequent inspection.

I guess I will have to modify my spiel to "no electrician that can properly wire a receptacle etc..."

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Originally posted by mgbinspect

. . . 1. What is the very latest "official" information regarding Federal Pacific Panels?

From last year's class action against FPE as ruled on by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division: Middlesex County

DOCKET NO. L-2904-97

The Court has already determined that Federal Pacific violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The violation occurred because FPE cheated during its testing of circuit breakers in order to obtain Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval.

Of course, there's always the CPSC comissioned test data. Using the UL 489 standard, it showed a 51%-65% failure rate of FPE breakers when tested with a 135% overload on one pole and a 25%-36% failure rate with a 135% overload on both poles. These are *not* happy numbers.

Admittedly these tests are 20 years old, but I doubt that the breakers have gotten better with age.

2. Has any "official" information been convincing enough to cause the Consumer Protection Agency to re-open it's investigation?

No. No one can afford to do the convincing. The CPSC has already admitted that the FPE breakers don't meet the UL Standard and don't trip when they're supposed to. It's their (very bizarre) position that this doesn't present a hazard in the home. Here's what they say: The Commission staff estimates that it would cost several million dollars to gather the data necessary to assess fully whether those circuit breakers which are installed in homes but which may fail UL calibration tests present a risk to the public.

So until someone comes up with several million dollars to prove that deficient breakers could pose a threat, the CPSC won't be re-opening the investigation. With fewer and fewer of these panels remaining in service each year, the likelihood of someone devoting the time, energy and money to the topic dwindles ever smaller.

The real question is, do you want your customers to be the last one's on the train?

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by mgbinspect

. . . A range of 1% to 65% seems rediculous! (It seems somewhere on the ASHI site I saw that some reported that the failure rate was no higher than any other breaker... the 1% figure I guess...) How can the findings be that opposed to each other?

I'm afraid you don't understand the numbers. Did you actually read the test data results? I've attached them for you.

The failures weren't simply a range of 1%-65%. The failure rates depended on certain variables including percentage of overload, overload applied to one or both poles and whether or not the breakers had been operated.

Look at the data carefully. If the figures are correct - and the CPSC seems to think that they are - they paint a pretty damning picture of FPE breakers.

Download Attachment: icon_word.gif FPE_cpsc.doc

28.11 KB

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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At the beginning of this thread, it mentions a two year study by the CPSC coming to an end. I have had some experiences with Federal panels, some going back some 15 years (with boxes that were older than that).

I have been present on two occaisions when breakers that should have popped didn't. And one time when an electrician was doing some work for me on a building I had just purchased, he noticed a "Federal", and advised me to replace it immediatly, which I did.

If you combine that with all of the investigations, lawsuits and controversy that is CONSTANTLY going on regarding those panels, how can anybody not red flag them. Yet, I know of some inspectors that have the attitude, "if they haven't been a problem yet, they must be good".

Besides not tripping there are other problems with the Panels and Stablock breakers, such as failing to turn off when the handle is moved to the off position, poor mounting method, insufficient wiring space, etc.

I would think that at a minimum, a H.I. should at least warn their clients that these panels have been associated with many defects and failures.

I know that the company changed hands a couple of times, I think from Federal to Federal Canadian to Federal Pacific (something like that), but the controversy continues... so shall my distrust.

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I've seen a few that have been charred. That was the kicker for me. I've also had breakers fall out. My own observations and reading posts/web pages and so forth confirms the issue enough for me.

Also, keep in mind that the FP panels that show no signs of problems may have never been in systems that experienced ground faults or short-circuit conditions. Kind of like looking at a car with intact air-bags that never had to be deployed.

Think of the cases that may be out there where cars had accidents and airbags did not deploy 'properly' or 'optimally' (if there are any). This FP issue is something like that to me. In other words, 'when things go wrong', they can 'fail'. When nothing goes wrong with the system, all is cool.

That goes for any other brand panel or system that has breakers corroded from water penetration (say). They might be fine under optimal circuit conditions but fail to operate during 'ground faults' or short-circuit conditions which is where the rubber meets the road in these systems.

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Thanks guys! That's what I wished to hear.

I haven't experienced any breakers falling out nor have I ever seen any charring. The panel covers are a B#tch to remove without throwing breakers which I always found annoying anyway. [:-bigeyes (Back to the drawing board boys!)

You have convinced me it's time to move from the "evaluate further and educate yourself" column into the "recommend replacement due to demonstrated unreliability"

Now, some brief and concise summary statements to consider might be nice...

Oh, and thanks Fritz for questioning the CPA Document handout. I guess in the long run, it may be official but it's inadequate. It's hard to believe the government would look the other way to something dangerous. It's not their typical style. Usually they tend to be overly cautious. [?]

Thanks again to all.

Tee up some good and not too wordy suggested summary statements that I can chew on! [:-graduat

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Issues like this are a mix of business, politicial, bureaucratic, & personal considerations. Some department head in the CPSC might not want to "waste" budget money on this because there are bigger fish to fry. Here's a little ditty that is a mix of Katen, Cramer, and maybe other's; it's what I tell folks.....

""The electrical panel is an Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Loc type. Though a very popular manufacturer of electrical equipment from the mid 1950’s to early 1980’s, FPE panels and their breakers are trouble prone and unreliable, even when compared with other equipment of the same vintage. The breakers may fail to trip during an overload and may not cut power when switched off. Breakers for FPE panels make prior to about 1980 lost their UL listing due to fraudulent testing practices.

The Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) estimates that, overall, approximately 1% of circuit breakers do not work. In contrast, an investigation for the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that up to 65% of FPE breakers that were tested didn’t work. Failure of a circuit breaker to trip can result in a fire, property damage, or personal injury. A circuit breaker that may not trip doesn’t provide the protection that’s intended and required.

In addition, the FPE panels themselves have problems. The connections between the bus bars and the breakers sometimes loosen with age and use, leading to arcing. This arcing occurs on the back of the breakers and can’t be seen without removing them.

For these reasons, I believe that FPE panels are unreliable and should be replaced with new reliable equipment. If you choose to ignore this advice and keep the panel, I recommend that you consult an electrician for further evaluation of the panel and its breakers. The evaluation should involve removing the breakers to check for arcing and testing the breakers for proper operation.

FAQ: If an FPE breaker has been in service for 20 years or more without having caused a problem, isn’t that a good indication that it is reliable?

Answer: Unfortunately, the “test of timeâ€

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Well, while we're on the subject of the CPSC, I might as well ask how you guys feel about their release on Aluminum wiring and what your reporting and especially summary commitments are.

Aluminum wiring here in Richmond, VA is quite rare, but...

Currently, I hand out the CPSC release of 2003 and on the summary page I have the following statement which is partially mine and partially the statement suggested by the NC state licensing board:

"Aluminum siring is installed on 120 VAC branch electrical circuits in this property. These single strand, branch circuit aluminum wires were used widely in houses during the mid 1960s and early 1970s. According to the U. C. Consumer Products Safety Commission, problems due to expansion can cause overheating at the connections between the wire and devices (switches and outlets) or at splices, which has resulted in fires. For further information on aluminum wiring, contact the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission via the internet at: http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml03/03120.html Further evaluation by a licensed electrician is recommended!"

This is pretty much what the State of NC has recommended that all licensed HIs include in thier report. (I used to be licensed there in anticipation of moving to the OBX when I retired. I've decided I'll probablly move somewhere else... too built up an commercial now. So, I let the license go in NC)

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Jim, The test results are very helpful, just what I was looking for. Previously all I had to give the client was Friedmans ASHI article. This will provide me with more ammo.

"I was confident that no electrian would live with an FPE in his own house"

That may be fairly true, but we have plenty around here that tell my clients there is no need to replace FPE.

Good info Kurt. Sounds like we are all on the same page. Now, if we could get the electricians on the same page......

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Luckily for the home inspectors in our area, through education at various home inspection organization meetings, most of us know of the problems and controversy with Federal Pacific Panels. The company was located in NJ and many buildings had them installed. Everyone I know recommends replacement. Over the last five years I have never had a Real Estate Agent refute me when I recommend replacement of the FPE panels. As a matter of fact, sometimes when I start my inspection, the agent even tells me to make sure that I don't miss the FPE panel.

A agree with Mike that an inspector will have a hard time defending not reporting about FPE panels.

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Mike,

If you want to change the subject of the thread to aluminum wiring, please do so in a new thread so we can keep this on track.

Oh yeah, you might want to do a search of TIJ's archives for "FPE" and "Aluminum wiring." This has all been hashed out here before.

OT - OF!!!

M.

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Originally posted by mgbinspect

Thanks guys! That's what I wished to hear.

I haven't experienced any breakers falling out nor have I ever seen any charring. . .

You won't see the charring without removing the breakers. The charring occurs on the backside. I happen to have an FPE panel that actually caught fire. (I rescued it from the electrician who was going to scrounge the breakers to reuse, believe it or not.) To just look at the panel, you couldn't tell that it had once been on fire. I brought it to a meeting of the Oregon Association of Home Inspectors and no one could see the evidence of the fire till we took out the breakers. That was scary and sobering.

. . . Now, some brief and concise summary statements to consider might be nice...

Well, my favorite statement comes from Mr. Jerry Peck who said, (and I paraphrase): FPE panels are perfectly safe as long as you never energize them and they stay in the unopened box that they came in.

Otherwise, I print the attached file and hand it to my customers along with a copy of the CPSC test data. It's similar to the one that Kurt posted. I'm the one who put it together from stolen material several years ago. As the original author, I give you permission to distribute it only if you promise to use it for good and not evil.

It's hard to believe the government would look the other way to something dangerous. It's not their typical style. Usually they tend to be overly cautious. [?]

Surely you jest? The CPSC abandoned the FPE issue in the middle of the Reagan administration shortly after FPE had been bought out by Reliance, a company that was owned by Exxon. Personally, I've always suspected the Republicans of exerting influence on government to favor big business. Of course I could be wrong.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

Download Attachment: icon_word.gif FPE_Katen.doc

27.08 KB

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Originally posted by homnspector

"I'm the one who put it together from stolen material several years ago. As the original author, I give you permission to distribute it only if you promise to use it for good and not evil."

Thanks Jim, I would like to use it. Although I'm sure some sellers will consider it evil.

Yeah, but it's good for them. Kind of like cod liver oil.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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