Federal Pacific

texasredheadAugust 24, 2010

On the front page of last Sunday's Dallas Morning News, is an article about a home equiped with an FP panel burning nearly to the ground. The homeowner said he saw fire coming from the service panel in the garage. The fire went into the attic and spread through the home. Said the structural damage was $160,000. If you are familiar with Dallas, it is in the Lakewood area.

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kalining

Federal Pacific panels have not been used up here for 20 years. Maybe that is why.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2010 at 4:50PM
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ntl1991

My 3-family home which was built in 1948 has three Federal Pacific panels, two FPE fuse panels for the 1st and 2nd floors, and a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok Circuit Breaker Panel for the third.

The fuse panels are perfectly fine, but the Stab-Lok Circuit Breaker Panels are known for their selective tripping when a circuit overload occurs. I remember reading somewhere that in a study, the chance of a FPE Stab-Lok breaker not tripping as it should when overloaded was near 50%!

I haven't experienced a problem at all and the panel has performed well during the decades that it's been installed in my home. BUT, with that being said, I don't remember the last time I actually tripped a breaker on the 3rd floor or even if I ever came close to tripping it. I wouldn't like to find out, though!

I will be replacing all three panels with new circuit breaker panels (Square-D, Cutler Hammer, or Siemens) and I'm sure I'll be able to sleep better at night knowing that the Stab-Lok panel is no longer in use.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2010 at 10:55PM
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texasredhead

I'm sure there are countless homes that have FP fuse panels and stab lock panels that have not caused any problems and as long as tripping is not an issue they will continue that way. However, as more and more stuff is added to curcuits, the tripping issue becomes more serious. The problem is often compounded by no GFCI receptacles in kitchens and bathrooms.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 9:20AM
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scottys

I had an FPE panel that "appeared" to be working fine in a house I bought 4 years ago. However during a total kitchen remodel, the BX cable had literally made burn marks to the back of the sheetrock of the countertop outlet from getting so hot. Turns out the entire kitchen was only wired with one circuit (#12 gauge) and even though it was protected by a 20 amp FPE breaker, that breaker was never tripping when several high wattage kitchen appliances were being used together and exceeding 20 amps. How the house survived without fire I don't know but that FPE panel was ripped out 2 days after.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 4:12PM
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dan1554

All I can say is go to Google, and type in federal pacific stab lok fire, the results will speak for themselves.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 7:41PM
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DavidR

Texasredhead, can you explain how the lack of kitchen and bathroom GFIs in older home compounds the problem with breakers not tripping? I wasn't aware that GFIs had any overload protection qualities. Or is there something here that I'm missing?

Thanks.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 1:26AM
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texasredhead

The main reason for having GFCIs in kitchens is protection against faulty small appliances. In bathrooms, often in damp inviornments, the same thing applies with hairdryers. curlers, etc. Obviously, the GFCIs are to prevent shock from faulty appliances, not take the place of poor performing breakers.

On the other hand, even good standard breakers often will not read an arc fault.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2010 at 1:20PM
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oldhousegal

I have just one Federal Pacific stab loc panel in my 90+ year old home. One would assume it works fine, the upstairs trips if a space heater is used with a couple of lights, right?

Well, in the bits of remodeling I've done, I've found 3 fires. The first on the back porch where the light fixture torched the ceiling members above it- charred wood - I found this when I opened the ceiling to rewire it. Funny how it wasn't listed in the PO's report........

I also was curious why there appeared to be a round outline in the center of the living room, with a switch on the wall that appeared to go nowhere. So when I finally found the perfect light fixture at Rejuvenation's annual clearance sale, I couldn't wait to put it up. I used a hole saw and created a hole in just that spot in the ceiling, and was met with ashes and dust- Fire #2! This by the way, is right below the master bedroom where I sleep.

The electrician is replacing it next week, and I am in the process of opening plaster walls and ceilings to replace all the K&T wiring as well. New panel, new service upgrade, new wiring = feeling safer in my old home. Did I used to worry about it- no. It's so easy to not worry when everything appears fine. Yet, without knowing what is going on behind the wall, I just couldn't feel safe about keeping this panel. I thought it was interesting though, that several electricians that I had at the house for bids, told me, "it's probably fine". Those were the ones who are probably still looking for work!

I think if anyone has one of these, it should be replaced. Old homes are a treasure, and I'd hate to lose mine to fire!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 11:28AM
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DavidR

Intriguing that both of the damaged areas you found were above light fixtures. I'd more expect overload (from an overcurrent device that didn't open) at a receptacle.

OTOH a poorly made connection above a ceiling fixture can certainly cause overheating or a fire without ever tripping a (non-arc-fault) breaker - even a good one. This is probably made more likely by the old-house practice of fastening ceiling fixtures right to the ceiling surface without a box, letting the fixture canopy serve as the box.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 1:27PM
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bill_g_web

http://www.inspectapedia.com/fpe/fpepanel.htm

Look to left of that page for more links.

The general advice is replace it, no matter the production date. It seems the problems occurred in panels manufactured in the 70's, but pre-1970 panels s/b replaced if only because they're simply old.

http://inspectapedia.com/fpe/FPE_Pre_1970.htm

I can offer no info on the Inspectapedia site, so who knows. Maybe someone can vouch for the info there.

Bill

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 6:58PM
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manhattan42

Awww, the stuff of urban legend...:)

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 10:11PM
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smithy123

all fpe panels should replaced with square d qo. NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2010 at 11:33PM
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terribletom

"all fpe panels should replaced with square d qo. NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Ya wind him up and ya get...

a noun, a verb and "square d qo". No exceptions!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 10:05AM
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hexus

"all fpe panels should replaced with square d qo. NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

if this kid plugs QO one more time, I'm going to scream. I'm seriously starting to think he's some sort of rep for Square D. Every single post of his seems to plug QO somehow. Seriously man, give it a rest. Your thread revival could use a bit of slowing down as well.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 5:58PM
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ontariojer

I was just thinking the same thing- he also likes to add a lot of irrelevant/incorrect information besides the Sq D thing.

Since this post HAS been bumped, I would like to add my 2 cents- FPE sucks, it is the worst I have seen. Any other panel would be better.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2010 at 6:43PM
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hexus

"FPE sucks, it is the worst I have seen. Any other panel would be better."

even Zinsco?

(Devils advocate)

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 8:33PM
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smithy123

I would rather have fuses than fpe.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 10:51PM
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ontariojer

I have never seen a zinsco panel, must not be common here. FPE however is still installed all the time here(but not by me).

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 10:51PM
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ontariojer

Properly size fuses are safer than SquareD QO. That's a fact jack.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 11:48PM
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smithy123

qo afcis are safer than fuses.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 9:55PM
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DavidR

A fuse is an inherently simple device. A circuit breaker is (relative to a fuse) much more complex mechanically and electrically, and can fail to open because of mechanical or electrical failure.

A properly sized fuse will always open on a short circuit - always. You can depend on it.

On an overload, if a fuse fails, it will almost always fail conservatively - that is, it will open too soon, on too small a load, rather than too late, on too large a load.

That's why a properly sized fuse is fundamentally safer than a circuit breaker.

Of course, it's possible for fuses to be tampered with or improperly sized. That's also possible for circuit breakers, though perhaps it's somewhat less likely that a foolhardy homeowner will oversize a breaker.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 10:56PM
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smithy123

i have seen at a concession stand at a local softball field 14awg protected by a 20a ge breaker in a sylvania panel. sylvania owned by siemens. (still better than ge)

ps.
ever run across a sqd fuse panel.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 11:15PM
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texasredhead

Zinsco is Sylvania and we have updated these panels in Dallas. These panels are no longer made to my knowledge, but they certainly work better than FPE. You can still buy Zinsco breakers from places like Breaker Brokers. Zinsco panels were often used in homes with aluminum wiring.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2010 at 9:08AM
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smithy123

the panel was installed in the 80's with ge breakers. i would like to see it replaced with qo. the service also should get upgraded to 200a. it is a kitchen, and they usually max out the service. it is now 100a. unfortunately, my suppply house (fromm electric supply corp) sells siemens, so i have to go to l's or the hd for my panels.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2010 at 4:41PM
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Ron Natalie

Zinscos are the only breakers I have seen fail. I've ripped them out of my house and replaced them with (God Help Me) Square D QO. I've had GE and CH panels in other properties and never had a lick of trouble with them either. The GE skinny breakers are actually kind of cute compared with the QO tandem idea.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2010 at 6:08PM
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smithy123

good job using qo panels. in my area, most of the panels are qo. i know 2 electricians that use sqd and the vo tec teacher also uses it. even my school has sqd. by ch, did you mean crouse hinds or cutler hammer (eaton bros)? if zinsco is sylvania, sylvania is owned by siemens, does that mean that siemens panels are bad, too? btw, i have a ge anel and hate it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! in my other house, i had qo. my dad's parents have qo, my neighbors have qo. i'm stuch with ge unless my parents can build a new2 house. i have the electrical system designed, but that is for later discussion.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2010 at 7:37PM
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spencer_electrician

I think Siemens is very good equipment. I only used Siemens on upgrades for a long while. They unscrew all the neutral terminals for you! Favorite feature hah. I was disappointed when recently the mas-produced Siemens panels switched to a non copper bus. Now the home stores quit selling Siemens panels entirely. I've settled for less and began using mostly Cutler Hammer BR. I would like to use Cutler Hammer CH but around my area all you can get for a 200 amp service upgrade is $1200 to $1600. So a panel that uses breakers that cost $6 each is not desirable when I'm making peanuts for profit. I'm going to start giving customers a choice, $200 more if you would like the CH series panel.

All modern day residential panels are acceptable whether its GE, Square D, Siemens, or Cutler Hammer. It's more just installer preference. I think a 40 space CH series panel is quite sharp looking though (:

    Bookmark   October 20, 2010 at 8:01PM
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pharkus

if zinsco is sylvania, sylvania is owned by siemens, does that mean that siemens panels are bad, too?

Who makes your beloved Square D?

Schneider.

Schneider was at one point tied to the Canadian version of Federal Pacific.

Does that make SqD bad?

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 12:00AM
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steve_fl

smithy123-
in my area, most of the panels are qo

In your area do any keyboards have a "shift key" so you could use capitol letters where needed and correct punctuation?

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 6:49AM
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texasredhead

GOLLY GEEWHIZ, MY KEYBOARD HAS ALL THAT STUFF !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 9:43AM
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inox

davidr,

Is there such a thing as a modern panel that uses fuses, or are we forced to accept circuit breakers now?

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 10:50AM
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Ron Natalie

The Sylvania division that was the Zinsco power panels was sold off to a company called POWERLIGHT before OSRAM (a division of Siemens) bought the rest of the brand.
Just about everything you say other than QO are good panels is wrong as usual.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 1:22PM
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brickeyee

"I have just one Federal Pacific stab loc panel in my 90+ year old home. One would assume it works fine, the upstairs trips if a space heater is used with a couple of lights, right? "

Every time it trips degrades the equipment and increase the chance of NOT opening on an overload the next time one occurs.

Very old FP does not appear to have as much of an issue as the newer stuff.

Quality simply went down hill until the fires started showing up.

Everything from simply not opening on overload to not opening all poles of multi-pole breakers has been seen.

At least if the fire is away form the panel the defective equipment can be found once the fire is out (as opposed to being so damaged in a fire that it is very difficult to perform an 'autopsy.'

    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 10:12AM
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lakesider_2007

I know this is a year later since last post, but I had to throw something in! I picked up a late 70's doublewide mobile in FL in '09 - for next to nothing. Everything was fine until I went to change out a wall switch; threw the breaker for the room, but tested it again - hot!! I threw the Main - it was still hot - and the Main would not go back, nor the breaker for the room. I am not a Electrician - just a homeowner with common sense. I called a licenesed electrical firm and they told me about Federal Pacific, and referred me to Google Info. I had the whole thing changed out, to include aluminum wiring going to the power pole. Owing to the number of places in here, I'd bet there are hundreds of FP boxes still in use - and waiting to fail. I sleep goo now.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 7:33PM
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brickeyee

"I had the whole thing changed out, to include aluminum wiring going to the power pole."

There is nothing wrong with larger size stranded aluminum wire.

It is the solid conductor in smaller sizes that are a problem.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2011 at 9:30AM
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rbarry

Amazing the jumps of logic here.
1. FP is "crap."
2. Fuses are better than breakers because they don't fail;
.... yet
3. Breaker panels that can fail are safer than FP fuse panels that don't.

My home's 200 amp FP 2020-1010 fuse panel isn't about to be replaced by a Square D breaker box or anyone else's breakers. I wouldn't accept that as a gift.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 8:54PM
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yosemitebill

"Alrighty then!"

    Bookmark   November 10, 2012 at 9:02PM
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