Electrical devices are subjected to various tests by independent organizations to ensure of their safe and effective operation. Testing provides buyers with confidence and industry standard assurances when selecting electrical devices. Many architects, developers and building owners will specify products that bear the symbol of a recognized testing authority to ensure the product works as specified. Electrical testing is often required to satisfy the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory Program (NRTL) created by OSHA to ensure that certain types of equipment be tested and certified for their safe use in the workplace.
An example of an independent testing authority is Underwriters Laboratories, Inc (UL). A product that bears the symbol of the UL indicates that the device meets the minimum required safety standards.
Issues with Stab-Lok® Electrical Panels
Stab-Lok® electric circuit breakers were manufactured by Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) company. The breakers have a high defect rate and do not provide a level of circuit protection required by the National Electrical Code (NEC). In summary, industry inspectors, electrical contractors and fire prevention professionals agree that these breakers create hazardous conditions. Essentially, the breaker can fail to trip under overload and/or short circuit conditions which can lead to overheating and in worst cases, fire. It is estimated that several thousand fires occur each year as a result of defective FPE Stab-Lok® panels.
Why should I be concerned?
Issues with the breakers have been well documented for many years with the first series of issues arising in the 1980’s. It was confirmed that the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) company fraudulently applied the Universal Laboratory (UL) certification to their panel boards, falsely indicating that the breakers met safety standards set. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (UPSC) conducted independent tests on the panelboards which determined that the panelboards have a high failure rate. Testing identified that approximately one in three (33%) of breakers failed. The UPSC laboratory tests found that approximately 39% of the single-pole breakers and approximately 85% of the double-pole breakers failed one or more UL test criteria. Risk of failure increases as the breakers age and in most instances, it is not possible to identify an issue with the panel before an overheating event becomes significant enough to cause a fire. Stab-Lok® electric circuit breakers manufactured by the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) company were installed in many residential and commercial properties between 1950 up to 1980’s. There are estimated to be approximately 30 million circuit breakers still in use today.
So surely these panelboards were re-called?
No, the Stab-Lok® brand went through various ownerships and in 1979 Reliance Electric Company, who acquired the Stab-Lok® brand, hired an independent testing company to conduct tests on the panels. The testing did not confirm the findings of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (UPSC). Following a two-year investigation, the UPSC closed the case due to limited funds. As the UPSC had insufficient data to dispute the independent findings a recall could not be warranted. The Stab-Lok® brand was then sold onto to various other manufacturers who continued to produce the Stab-Lok® design under different trade names. However, a class action lawsuit was brought against the Federal Pacific Company and Reliance Electric Company in 2005 in New Jersey by homeowners and commercial building owners. The case was settled in 2008. It was ruled that Federal Pacific Company and Reliance Electric Company fraudulently applied the Universal Laboratory certification to their panel boards, indicating that they met the safety standards set, when in fact this was not the case. The plaintiffs were entitled to compensation however no plaintiff received the full cost of panel replacement.
How do I identify if I have a Stab-Lok® panelboard?
Generally, the electrical panelboard will display the manufacturers name or brand name on the front panel, behind the door, inside of the panelboard or on the breaker itself. Only a qualified electrician should remove the front cover. If in doubt, ask a professional. It should be noted that not all Federal Pacific products are affected, and the deficiencies discussed above are associated with the FPE Stab-Lok® design only.
Also, as previously mentioned various other manufacturers continued to produce the Stab-Lok® design under different trade names. The list of manufacturers are as follows:
- American Circuit Breaker Company
- Challenger Electric
- Connecticut Electric
- Electro-Mechanical Industries, Inc (EMI)
- Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)
- Federal Electric
- Federal NOARK
- Federal Pacific
- Federal Pioneer
I have a Stab-Lok® panelboard, what should I do now?
We recommend hiring a qualified electrician to change the panelboard with a modern panelboard. Dependent upon the amperage, location of the Property and the number of panels the average cost for panel replacement can vary anywhere between $500 to $2,000 per panel.