An electrical breaker system is designed to guard your building against serious electrical problems by preventing circuit overload, short circuits and outside power surges coming into the panel. When an overload occurs, a breaker protects you by tripping, thus shutting down the power to the circuit. However, if a breaker is defective or not operating properly, the risk of fire to the panel and consequently to your building becomes imminent. Properties with Stab-Lok circuit breakers still in use are at such a risk of protection failure and efforts to remedy the situation are called for.
In 2012 an investigative report by the NBC affiliate in the Bay Area of California enlisted several outside experts to evaluate the potential risks of the FPE Stab-Lok circuit breakers among their findings: Quoting from that report;
“There is no inconsistency and no dispute in the fact that they are defective,” says Jesse Aronstein, an engineer, who has spent more than 20 years researching FPE Circuit Breakers. Aronstein has testified in lawsuits against FPE and warned, “The breaker is a safety device that is supposed to prevent fires, if it doesn’t work as required, you get an increased risk of fire.”
Geoff Williams is a master electrician, who has replaced Stab-Lok electrical breaker panels in Bay Area homes and businesses for decades. Williams says his personal experience is consistent with Aronstein’s testimony. Williams says he has witnessed Federal Pacific Stab-Lok failures on multiple job sites. “I’ve seen so many places burned by these panels,” said Williams. “It’s frightening to me every time I see it.”
If your property was built from the 1950’s through the 1980’s it was potentially outfitted with Circuit Breaker boxes manufactured by Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE). It has been determined after several rounds of testing that these Breakers failed to meet UL test criteria and subsequently UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has withdrawn its endorsement. What these test results indicated is that as many as one million FPE Stab-Lok breakers currently still in use may in fact fail to provide adequate fire protection. In fact an estimated 2,800 fires each year directly result from Federal Pacific panel breaker malfunction. Federal Pacific Electric has been out of business for many years, but the danger and damage caused by their negligence continues. This puts properties that have these FPE breaker systems still in place at significant risk for potential fire damage.
If your building was built between the 1950’s through the 1980’s and has not had its electrical systems overhauled in the 1990’s or later, steps should be taken to ensure your property is not at risk.
Identifying whether your current circuit breakers are from FPE is relatively easy, Look For the following:
The outside panel of the circuit box will usually have its name or logo on the front cover.
Inside you will find the name Stab-Lok printed toward the center of the panel.
Residential and Commercial breakers will have the signature red strip across the breaker switch.
It should be noted that there are Stab-Lok breakers sold under different names such as American, Challenger, Federal Pioneer, Federal Noark, Federal Pacific Reliance Electric & Federal Pioneer Limited. These breakers may not have the signature red strip across the breakers but will have the name Stab-Lok on the panel box.
If it is determined that some or all of the circuit breakers on your property are or may be FPE Stab-Lok manufactured you should contact a licensed Electrical Contractor to get a plan of action to alleviate this dangerous situation. Contact CIBA’s Risk Management Team for additional information.