The Home Inspectors at PCC wants you to be aware of Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Lok Breaker Box and the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reports
If you inspected your own home and found that it had a fuse box with 1/3 of the circuits over-fused or with pennies behind the fuses, how long would it be before you had it corrected? Would you sleep tight without it being corrected? Would the fact that your house had not had any problem (burned down yet) because of the over-fusing and pennies influence your decision as to whether or not to take corrective action’? Unlike over-fusing and pennies behind the fuses, defective FPE breakers cannot be spotted by an inspector or tested by an electrician or homeowner. Without doing a functional test (at overload and short-circuit conditions) on each breaker, one pole at a time for the two-pole breakers, one cannot actually determine the present operating characteristics of a breaker. Which of the 20-Amp breakers really have the trip characteristics of 3D-Amp breakers (same as over-fusing)? Which will not trip at all (same as a penny behind a fuse)?
Most electricians or electrical inspectors can only look at the breakers (“they look OK to me”), and operate the toggle (“they dick on and off OK”). But without doing live-current functional testing on all of the breakers, it is impossible to determine which of the breakers in the panel are defective. Will they all trip safely and properly on electrical overload or short circuit? Electrical contractors and inspectors are generally not equipped to do that type of testing, and homeowners or potential purchasers are not likely to have the required budget for extensive specialized testing. In fact, thorough testing would most likely cost far more than changing the panel.
The presence of an FPE panel in a home should be classified as a “Safety Defect”. The FPE Stab-Lok breakers are primary safety devices of questionable operating reliability. It is not quite correct to call the non-tripping breaker a “fire hazard”. That term should be reserved for the electrical failure that causes ignition. The breaker’s function is to stop certain electrical sequences that could, if allowed to proceed, lead to fire in the building. If an electrical fire hazard involving excess current develops somewhere in the building, the breaker is supposed to trip and minimize the possibility of fire ignition. If the breaker is defective, fire is more likely to result.
There is no question but that the FPE Stab-Lok panels should be replaced. There is no practical and safe alternative.
The full text of the document is available at the following: http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/87419/alumwire3_18.pdf