Do You Have a Hazardous Electrical Panel in Your Home?

The Danger Zone

While the 1990’s don’t seem that far back in musical history, homes built before the era of grunge rock may have outdated, highly unsafe electrical components still in use. These dangerous electrical panels leave your residence vulnerable to damage, or even a fire caused by overheated wiring. 

Federal Pacific Panels (FPE) & ​Zinsco/GTE–Sylvania Panels

Two electrical panels that are safety hazards:

  1. Federal Pacific Panels (FPE)
  2. Zinsco/GTE–Sylvania Panels
Federal Pacific Electrical Panel with Stab-Lok breakers that is very old and needs to be replaced by an electrician.
Old, hazardous Federal Pacific electrical panel with Stab-Lok breakers.

Why are these types of electrical panels dangerous?

FPE and Zinsco panels are considered hazardous specifically because their breakers fail to trip as intended, or they trip and fail to disrupt the power flow as intended.

What happens when a breaker fails to trip?

When a breaker fails to trip during an overload of too much electrical current, your whole home is flooded with that surge of power.

The power will continue to run through the circuit until it is disrupted another way, which may lead to: 

  • damaged appliances
  • wires melting
  • panel overheating
  • panel meltdown
  • electrical fires

There have even been many class action settlements for these panels due to these failures. 

“You don’t know you have a problem until the firetruck pulls up,” said Scott Patterson, ­president-elect of the American Society of Home Inspectors.

“The entire panel needs to be replaced. That’s what I advise all my clients to do. They just have too bad of a history.”

May 8th, 2018 – Despite previous safety concerns, this circuit breaker is still in homes.
The Washington Post

What happens when a breaker fails to trip?

Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) is a global safety certification company. UL standards require that breakers trip (shut off the current) when overloaded to prevent electrical hazards. The FPE breakers did not comply fully with UL testing requirements, and are not UL listed.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is part of the National Fire Code published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NEC sets the standard for safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States.

The guidelines of the NEC require all electrical components and products to be listed by Underwriters Laboratories or other registered testing agencies to be acceptable for installation and use. FPE breakers are not UL listed, and therefore do not meet the guidelines of the National Electric Code. 

Sure, they may not pass inspection, but are these electrical panels/breakers really likely to cause a problem?

​Testing has shown that one in four FPE Stab-Lok breakers are defective and will not trip properly. 

In one case study, the failure rate was as high as 50% for even refurbished breakers.

What does an electrician recommend if one of these panels is in our home?

In common areas where several FPE panels are located close together, the safest course of action is to replace all of the present FPE panels. 

Replacing even one in the area decreases the risk but there remains a high chance of failure for the surrounding panels. 

As a result of the proximity, if one panel overheats and catches on fire, those panels near it may be at a high risk of being damaged or also catching on fire.  Additionally, many of these panels may not be grounded properly which increases the risk of fire hazards.

What if I want to just have some small upgrades done to one of these panels? 

FPE and Zinsco panels are a legitimate safety concern.  Many electricians will opt not to work on these panels due to the liability they may incur. In some cases, a contractor’s insurance prevents them from even performing work on these panels except to replace them. 

Furthermore, depending on your insurance carrier for your home there is a possibility that they will not cover damages caused by a faulty FPE panel

​In 2020 when a home is being purchased that has an FPE or Zinsco panel, many insurance companies are refusing coverage until the panel has been replaced. 

Updated Technology for Modern Life

While panels are considered long term investments – they aren’t meant to last forever. 

Aside from the known risks associated with FPE and Zinsco panels, they are also very outdated for today’s usage. We use more appliances and pull more power in our home today than many older panels are rated for.

A newer panel will run more efficiently, protect your larger appliances and small electronics, keep your home safer from electrical fires, and save you money in the long haul! 

Additional Resources

Are Federal Pacific Breaker Panels Safe? Dangers & Cost to Replace
Home Inspection Insider

What Makes Federal Pacific Breaker Panels a Home Inspection Defect?
Inspection Certification Associates

Is Your Electrical Panel a Fire Risk?
Great American Insurance Group



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