Federal Pacific Electrical Panels Are Often Found While Inspecting Homes In New Jersey
The Federal Pacific Electric Company was a very popular manufacturer of electrical panel boxes and breakers during the time period of the middle 1950 to the 1980’s. I come across these panels almost weekly while doing home inspections in New Jersey. The company was established in Newark, NJ so there are many Federal Pacific electrical panels installed in homes in the north east and a strong concentration in New Jersey.
There has been a lot of debate about the safety of these panel boxes. In my opinion there is no debate at all. I have been told maybe a hundred times that someone has lived with a Federal panel box and “never had a problem.” The problem is that once there is a malfunction it is too late. A Federal box can work for a number of years but then malfunction and become a real safety and fire hazard. The issue itself is not really the panel box although it has problems too which I will outline later. The real problem stems from circuit breakers not tripping when there is an over current. If the breaker fails then the wire will just burn itself out and become a real fire hazard. In a class action, a New Jersey court ruled that the Federal Pacific Company manufactured circuit breakers that did not meet Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards. The company was found in violation of the Consumers Fraud Act.
Here are the problems with these Federal Pacific electrical panels:
- Breakers may not trip when there is an over current making for a real risk of fire.
- Spring mounted bus bars cause the bars to move around and as a result the breakers are too tight against the front cover of the panel. This is why it is difficult to remove a panel box cover and not trip a Federal breaker.
- Breakers can be on when they are in the downward position. This makes for confusion is the breaker on or off? Does anyone really want to guess?
- The stab-lock feature of the breakers makes for very poor connections between the breaker and the bus bar. This caused loose breakers and loose electrical connections.
- The space for wire bending inside the Federal panel boxes is inadequate, often there are too many wire bends in these panels.
There have been a number of overseas manufactures making replacement Federal breakers, however the cost of a single replacement breaker can be $40-$50. The cost of replacing all of the breakers in the panel will exceed the cost to upgrade to safe equipment. Even if all of the breakers are replaced that only negates one safety issue but what about the others?
In my opinion these panels should be replaced. If we find a Federal panel while doing your New Jersey Home inspection I am going to tell you that it is a hazard and that it should be replaced. There has been other debate about whether product recalls are above the requirements for home inspectors. Thus a home inspector should just stick to the minimum requirements and not call it out. Are they kidding? I feel its an obligation and a professional duty to try to keep my client safe and provide ALL of the information that I have about a topic.