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Stab Lok


sepefrio
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OK finally came across my first Federal Pacific Stab Lok panel today. It wouldn't have been anything truly special if it was for the others things I found too.

Except for 1 socket in a newly installed wall that divided the garage (now utility room and baby room) every socket in the house had a three prong plug and no ground.

OK thats important, but somewhat standard. Not a bells and whistles thing.

What got me thinking was the attic. A 1940's house, walk in attic. Right about the top of the stairs into the attic there is a burn circle on the rafter. On the rather next to it, is a new light and wire. Along the rafter with the burn mark, it the clear outline )they painted over it) of what use to be the old wiring for the old light (where the burn mark is). In the middle of this, still attached, is the melted insulation of the previews wire, about a 4ft run. I found a similar run about 10 ft away. It is clear the wiring melted in place. Looking closer, I found several spots with fire damage.

What I'm looking for here is, am I stepping out of place with my thoughts and I should just shut up and report what I see?

I'm convinced, that the Federal Pacific panel failed at a previous date cause the wiring to overheat and catch fire. I think the new wiring was installed and the panel not addressed.

Do I call this a fire hazard as a whole, or do I just recommend replacement of the panel and notify of the previous fire damage? I know I'll recommend an electrician to look at it, so should I just leave it at that and hope he does it right?

I guess this is more of a moral question than a professional or maybe both. Do I just report as an inspector, or go with my gut and scream Danger?

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John,

"Do I call this a fire hazard as a whole, or do I just recommend replacement of the panel and notify of the previous fire damage?"

I would call it a fire hazard because of the panel. You have a pretty good argument for the FPE panel contributing the fire/overheated original conductors. I would strongly recommend replacement like I always do with stab-locks, and use the photos of the damage to drive the point home.

Tim

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There's no downside to reporting a fire hazard. I think stab loks are a fire hazard. If someone wants to disagree, that's their opinion, and it's wrong.

I'd certainly put the fire damaged rafter in the report, w/a picture. That's report worthy information.

I would not try to tie the two together because I would have no proof. Even though there's a likelihood, it's still conjecture. Unfounded statements make weak reports.

I'd tell them to replace the panel, find out what caused the fire damage, and ask for paper trail on who did the repairs and why.

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Unless I see signs of overheated wiring/breakers, I would not automatically recommend a replacement of the FPE panel. I do place a statement in the report about the issues surrounding these panels and recommend that the entire panel be evaluated by a licensed electrician to determine what actions should be taken. This notifies the client about potential issues and places the liability on the electrician, should he/she say that it is fine and doesn't need replacement. I do let the client know that if I were buying the home, I would WANT to replace the panel, but unless an issue was found by the electrician, replacement may not be necessary.

As far as the light goes, an overheated fixture does not mean that the breaker failed to trip. It could have been connected to a 30 amp disconnect and burned at 20 amps.

Below is my standard statement for a FPE panel:

?Monitor, Possible Major Concern: This home has a Federal Pacific electric service panel which, historically, has a possibility that the circuit breakers may not trip even when their amperage rating has been greatly exceeded. In some tests, up to 74% of the breakers failed to trip at 135% of their rated current with several failing to trip at over 200% of their rated current. Should this happen, an electrical fire could likely occur. The only method of testing individual breakers would be to perform load tests. Opinions about this panel vary among licensed electricians, but I recommend you consult a licensed electrician for an in depth evaluation, load testing and correction if necessary.

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Originally posted by jon_ran

Unless I see signs of overheated wiring/breakers, I would not automatically recommend a replacement of the FPE panel. I do place a statement in the report about the issues surrounding these panels and recommend that the entire panel be evaluated by a licensed electrician to determine what actions should be taken. This notifies the client about potential issues and places the liability on the electrician, should he/she say that it is fine and doesn't need replacement. I do let the client know that if I were buying the home, I would WANT to replace the panel, but unless an issue was found by the electrician, replacement may not be necessary.

As far as the light goes, an overheated fixture does not mean that the breaker failed to trip. It could have been connected to a 30 amp disconnect and burned at 20 amps.

Below is my standard statement for a FPE panel:

?Monitor, Possible Major Concern: This home has a Federal Pacific electric service panel which, historically, has a possibility that the circuit breakers may not trip even when their amperage rating has been greatly exceeded. In some tests, up to 74% of the breakers failed to trip at 135% of their rated current with several failing to trip at over 200% of their rated current. Should this happen, an electrical fire could likely occur. The only method of testing individual breakers would be to perform load tests. Opinions about this panel vary among licensed electricians, but I recommend you consult a licensed electrician for an in depth evaluation, load testing and correction if necessary.

Jon, your comments are pretty bad and your boiler plate is even worse. If you were buying the home you would want to replace the panel but you won't put that in the report?

"This notifies the client about potential issues and places the liability on the electrician." How gallant. It doesn't notify, it confuses.

"?Monitor, Possible major concern:" Oh, boy.

Blah, blah, blah, "...but I recommend you consult a licensed electrician for an in depth evaluation, load testing and correction if necessary." Nuff said.

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Just a note. I just finished talking with a third electrician I know. All three said the same thing. No matter what work the person wants done, if they see this panel, the first words out of their mouth, well we start with a complete panel replacement or we don't start at all.

And I did as suggested. I kept the two issues as separate comments, but I put them next to each other. I also gave them the link to the ny-inspect site to get further information.

I knew what the right thing to do was, and maybe this ladies adorable baby that actually thought I was funny clouded my mind a bit making me want to scream DANGER DANGER DANGER! I'll tell you, this issue alone makes me feel so dam good that I won't do on site reports anymore. I get to think about reasonable comments now.

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You have to remember that there is a failure rate in everything mechanical. Whether it is a FPE panel or a Square D, there is the possibility that the breakers will not trip when overloaded, there is just a much higher occurance in FPE panels. Remember that not all of the FPE breakers are faulty, just the majority of them. If all of the breakers do trip at the stated load (unlikely), they are not an issue. Unless I see signs that that breakers have not tripped (overheated breaker, panel, wires, etc.) I can not tell by looking at them if they will operate as they are supposed to. I have had some electricians state that they are an issue and recommend replacement and others state that they are not a problem. If there is evidence of issues, it is a no-brainer.

My statement is not inadequate...

I stated that there is a very high failure rate with this type of panel that could cause an electrical fire.

My statement is not deceptive...

Again, there is a very high failure rate with this type of panel that could cause an electrical fire.

My statement does meet a very high standard of care...

Again and again, there is a very high failure rate with this type of panel that could cause an electrical fire. I recommend you consult a licensed electrician for an in depth evaluation.

If somebody can not read that statement and realize that there are issues with these panels in general that may cause a fire, I can not help ignorance.

Remember that we are not the house police. Unless there is an obvious issue, how can you demand that the item be replaced. If the electrician says that the panel is fine, I have performed my duty and made my client aware of the potential hazard and recommend somebody more qualified than I determine whether it is safe or not.

The CPSC concluded their last evaluation of FPE panels in 1983 and stated that "failures of these FPE breakers to comply with certain UL calibration requirements do not create a hazard in the household environment. It is Reliance's position that FPE breakers will trip reliably at most overload levels unless the breakers have been operated in a repetitive, abusive manner that should not occur during residential use." www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PREREL/prhtml83/83008.html

1. If I find aluminum wiring, I notify my client of the potential fire hazard associated with aluminum wiring and recommend that the circuits be evaluated by a licensed electrician to determine if connections were made correctly and repair as necessary.

2. If I find PB or ABS piping with no signs of failure, all that I can do is notify the client of potential issues and recommend evaluation and replacement consideration.

3. If I inspect a 40 year old furnace that is properly installed, puts out heat and has no CO or other issues, I can not demand that it be replaced. I notify my client that it is way beyond it's life expectancy and could need replacement at any time.

4. If I find a 30 year 3 tab roof on a home with all of the shingles in tact and no leaks, I can not demand that it be replaced with a new roof. I notify my client that it is past it's life expectancy and recommend that it be pro-actively replaced in the near future, before leaks develop.id="blue">

Should my client as for any of the above items to be replaced before they will buy the home that is between them and the seller, not me. I can not demand replacement of anything.

In conclusion.....

Would I want a FPE panel in my home? NO

Do I recommend that anyone keep a FPE panel in their home? NO

Do I tell my client that their panel and the disconnects inside of it are safe to use? NO

Did I present my client with enough information and recommend the appropriate resource to help them make an informed decision about keeping or replacing the panel? YOU BET I DID!

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Could be it is just ME. My clients pay me for MY opinion. I give it to them. Maybe there is even an entertainment factor in my inspection and presentations. Could be they usually end up liking me and folks don't sue inspectors they like. They do sue inspectors that don't deliver their own opinion, based on experience and knowledge.

I suppose this is yet another variation of the "hero" argument. I don't care what my clients do. I pretty much tell every one of them exactly that at the beginning of our long and valued relationship(s).

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Originally posted by Les

Could be it is just ME. My clients pay me for MY opinion. I give it to them.

Umm.......Les, see the quote below from the original statement above.

Originally posted by jon_ran

I do let the client know that if I were buying the home, I would WANT to replace the panel...

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I am always open to constructive criticism and will change my boiler to reflect that I recommend either replacement of this panel or an in depth evaluation by a licensed electrician who has knowledge and experience with FPE panels.

I still can not see demanding replacement if it can be effectively made to perform safely. That is almost like saying that every pit bull needs to be euthanized at birth due to the potential of another pit bull attacking and maiming a child.

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Originally posted by SonOfSwamp

Originally posted by jon_ran

Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't count on that "licensed electrician." Like as not, he's fresh from lubricating the Tilt-A-Whirl.

WJ[/blue]

That' the best thing I've read in a long time.

WJ, I don't know where you went, but I'm glad you're back.

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I'll jump in here and say you can't be on the fence when it comes to these issues. With FPE I use to "recommend further evaluation by a qualified electrician", but after one-on-one questioning with several electricians, it turns out many of those I have spoken with have no clue about the history of FPE Stab-Lok panels. Next time you run into a sparky at a job site ask him his opinion of "FPE Stab-Lok".

Also Walter, Kurt and others have taught me to not soften up issues that may come back and bite us. We are all guilty of it at some point, and it is what they teach us in the HI schools, but it is not fair to our customers and it will get you in trouble. Remember you are giving your opinion and if someone else disagrees well that is their opinion, but in this case there is a lot of data to back up the opinion that FPE Stab-Lok panels should be replaced.

I now put the following in my reports.

"Major Concern / Safety Issue: The main electrical panel was manufactured by Federal Pacific Electric "Stab-Lok" the breakers are considered a latent safety hazard by many professionals because they can fail to trip in response to over-current, leading to electrical fires. I strongly recommend a qualified electrician replace this panel. There is an abundance of information on “FPE Stab-Lokâ€

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I used to stick that in mine. "It's broke. Consult a qualified licensed xxx to determine all needed repairs & best repair method, to estimate costs, and to peform any repairs deemed necessary." Got tired of writing that everywhere.

Now I use (one time in the beginning):

"As I don't know the qualifications of the seller or the buyer to conduct repairs, I always recommend that you consult a qualified licensed professional in the appropriate trade to determine all needed repairs and best repair method, to estimate costs, and to perform all repairs deemed necessary. That's what I mean when I write "Repair as necessary", "Fix it" or ANY other terms implying the need for repair / replacement. You need to decide for yourself if you or the seller's qualifications, experience and knowledge would allow the repair to be made without using a qualified licensed trade professional."

AND

"It's broke. Fix it."

Erby

Former Tilt A Whirl Greaser

Former Giver of Free Rides for Girls who put out

Jun - Aug 1975

It was a wonderful summer!

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  • 4 weeks later...
Originally posted by Tim H

John,

"Do I call this a fire hazard as a whole, or do I just recommend replacement of the panel and notify of the previous fire damage?"

I would call it a fire hazard because of the panel. You have a pretty good argument for the FPE panel contributing the fire/overheated original conductors. I would strongly recommend replacement like I always do with stab-locks, and use the photos of the damage to drive the point home.

Tim

Ditto.. the evidence of fire damage is a red flag. Call it out. Even with no 'red flags' I am calling out FPE panels all of the time.

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