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Thread: FPE panel

  1. #1
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    Default FPE panel

    Inspected an condo built in 1975 today. Panel in the unit was an FPE panel with Stab Lok breakers. I recommended replacement b/c these panels are obsolete and the breakers are prone to failure. The seller came back with this link:
    Commission Closes Investigation Of FPE Circuit Breakers And Provides Safety Information For Consumers

    saying the findings have been inconclusive. Is there better evidence against this?

    Thanks!

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    Last edited by Jon Errickson; 05-29-2011 at 03:18 PM. Reason: i put buyer instead of seller
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  2. #2
    Daniel Leung's Avatar
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    I recommend my clients
    1. read the same CPSC article and
    2. ask a licensed electric contractor to inspect and certify the electrical safety.

    For more FPE Electrical Hazards Websites, please read
    Federal Pacific Electric FPE Stab-Lok Panel Circuit Breaker Hazard, Repairs, Electrical Panel Replacement Electricians Directory for Stab-Lok Repairs


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Errickson View Post
    saying the findings have been inconclusive. Is there better evidence against this?

    Thanks!

    Don't get dragged into that kind of back & forth debate. Here is a good read by Douglas Hansen on this subject.

    If you look hard enough, you can find a contrarian viewpoint for almost anything. 99% of all papers concerning FPE StabLok point out the potential issues. Observe, report, and educate your client on the issues you have, and have them consult with qualified tradespeople for advice.

    Dom.

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    My verbiage on FPE panels is this......."service panel in basement is noted as being a Federal Pacific brand service panel with Stab Lok breakers - these panels and breakers have a known history of failure associated with them - recommend having the panel serviced by a professional electrician for possible replacement and all repairs/replacements made as needed"

    We have no control over the opinion an electrician may render after they look at the panel. All we can do is pass along info to the client and hope the electrician they get agrees the panel needs to go.

    "It takes a big man to cry. It takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man". - Jack Handey

  5. #5
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Errickson View Post
    Inspected an condo built in 1975 today. Panel in the unit was an FPE panel with Stab Lok breakers. I recommended replacement b/c these panels are obsolete and the breakers are prone to failure. The buyer came back with this link:
    Commission Closes Investigation Of FPE Circuit Breakers And Provides Safety Information For Consumers

    saying the findings have been inconclusive. Is there better evidence against this?

    Thanks!
    So the buyer does not belive what you are saying? You have done your job in reporting what you have found and what needs to be done.

    If you want to get into it a little more with your client you could add that another problem with FPE is that they look just fine untill they decide not to work and then you have to wait for the smoke and flames to clear to see what the problem was.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
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  6. #6
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Here is what I put in my reports"

    "The panel in this house is a Federal Pacific Electric brand. FPE breakers have developed a reputation for having a number of problems with their system. Some of these problems include 240-volt breakers that do not trip when put under an excessive load and breakers that do not shut off the power to the house when the breaker is in the off position. The breakers also tend to develop loose connections in the panel which causes over-heating. The copper spring-loaded breaker clips tend to lose their ability to hold the breakers tight as the metal fatigues over time. Therefore a licensed electrical contractor who is familiar with Federal Pacific panels should further evaluate the system and advise you on how to proceed before closing."


    I also evaluate FPE panels while doing repairs on houses I do not inspect. I remove all the breakers to check for damage and I make sure all the breakers are off when the are in the off position. If all looks good and works OK I will write a report as to what I did and what I found. Then it is up to buyer to decided what to so do as I normally do the evaluation for the seller. I do not guaratee they will never have a problem because any panel can have a problem no matter who made it.


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    Here is what I put in my reports"

    "The panel in this house is a Federal Pacific Electric brand. FPE breakers have developed a reputation for having a number of problems with their system. Some of these problems include 240-volt breakers that do not trip when put under an excessive load and breakers that do not shut off the power to the house when the breaker is in the off position. The breakers also tend to develop loose connections in the panel which causes over-heating. The copper spring-loaded breaker clips tend to lose their ability to hold the breakers tight as the metal fatigues over time. Therefore a licensed electrical contractor who is familiar with Federal Pacific panels should further evaluate the system and advise you on how to proceed before closing."

    I also evaluate FPE panels while doing repairs on houses I do not inspect. I remove all the breakers to check for damage and I make sure all the breakers are off when the are in the off position. If all looks good and works OK I will write a report as to what I did and what I found. Then it is up to buyer to decided what to so do as I normally do the evaluation for the seller. I do not guaratee they will never have a problem because any panel can have a problem no matter who made it.

    James,

    If a home inspector wrote: "Therefore a licensed electrical contractor who is familiar with Federal Pacific panels should further evaluate the system and advise you on how to proceed before closing." and all that was done is what you said you did, that is not a further evaluation which would amount to any good for the client.

    The reason for recommending replacement of the panels, and (I suppose) why you recommend further evaluation, is that the breakers DO NOT TRIP AS THEY SHOULD when under overcurrent conditions ... and you did not address this condition in any way.

    So, other than taking money from the client and being beneficial to you in that way, what benefit is there for the client for you to do what you described?

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Scott -- it wasn't the buyer, it was the seller that came back with the CPSC article. I was a little sleepy when I posted that. I informed my buyer the safety concerns and she fully intends to replace the panel (just hoping the seller would pay for it).

    Thanks for all the information everyone!

    Last edited by Jon Errickson; 05-29-2011 at 03:18 PM. Reason: clarification
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Errickson View Post
    I informed my buyer the safety concerns and she fully intends to replace the panel (just hoping the seller would pay for it).
    Jon, I've approached the FPs different ways and the one that seems to work best for me is to point out that safety advisories are out on the panel and to consult with a qualified electrician. I verbally recommend that they replace the panel.

    In my experience, sellers generally won't pay to replace the panels, and I tell my clients this and that perhaps they should put this on their to do list for after taking possession. This kind of sets a realistic expectation and most clients seem willing to handle this themselves. Since I started using this approach the call backs over these panels have stopped.

    Eric Barker, ACI
    Lake Barrington, IL

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    I also evaluate FPE panels while doing repairs on houses I do not inspect. I remove all the breakers to check for damage and I make sure all the breakers are off when the are in the off position. If all looks good and works OK I will write a report as to what I did and what I found. Then it is up to buyer to decided what to so do as I normally do the evaluation for the seller. I do not guarantee they will never have a problem because any panel can have a problem no matter who made it.
    As a licensed electrical contractor I won't remove the cover of an FPE panel unless I have the work order to replace it in hand. I've seen entirely too many where the only thing holding breakers in is the front cover - especially problematic where the narrow breakers have been "wiggled" into a buss slot not designed for them, but also from breakers not fully seated. Some of the buss designs also have connection issues between the stamped piece of metal the breaker installs in and the actual power buss it is attached to. Disturbing the buss by removing breakers can loosen these connections to the point they no longer work. You also don't know whether the time YOU operated the breaker is the one that locked it up where it no longer trips with an overload.

    The question then becomes how you put things back together. For all the obvious reasons I can't put it back together the way I found it if there are incorrect breaker installs in the panel, and the other problems that might have been created aren't immediately apparent.

    I'm curious what your liabilities are here. Are you a licensed electrician and/or contractor? Do you have liability insurance if the panel inspection you did that included removing and installing electrical components causes damage to the panel due to a bad connection or the bad connection starts a fire?

    Evaluate FPE panels? Why? The label does that.


  11. #11
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Kriegh View Post
    As a licensed electrical contractor I won't remove the cover of an FPE panel unless I have the work order to replace it in hand. I've seen entirely too many where the only thing holding breakers in is the front cover - especially problematic where the narrow breakers have been "wiggled" into a buss slot not designed for them, but also from breakers not fully seated. Some of the buss designs also have connection issues between the stamped piece of metal the breaker installs in and the actual power buss it is attached to. Disturbing the buss by removing breakers can loosen these connections to the point they no longer work. You also don't know whether the time YOU operated the breaker is the one that locked it up where it no longer trips with an overload.

    The question then becomes how you put things back together. For all the obvious reasons I can't put it back together the way I found it if there are incorrect breaker installs in the panel, and the other problems that might have been created aren't immediately apparent.

    I'm curious what your liabilities are here. Are you a licensed electrician and/or contractor? Do you have liability insurance if the panel inspection you did that included removing and installing electrical components causes damage to the panel due to a bad connection or the bad connection starts a fire?

    Evaluate FPE panels? Why? The label does that.
    I have been a licensed electrician since 1975 and have seen and worked on a couple of hundred FPE panels....the Stab-Lok and the large frame breakers. In my previous life...we had two buildings that had the large frame breakers that FPE sent us $50,000 worth of new breakers and paid the owner labor for us to replace them. That is just before they closed the doors.

    As far as breakers falling out of the panel...GE thin breakers do that too and just put them back in.

    HI do inspections and electricians do electrical work...I do both but not at the same time. I also am a licensed plumber and HVAC contractor so that applies to these trades too.

    There is no official documentation that says the panels should be replaced so what do you use for guidance....hysteria?


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Kriegh View Post
    The question then becomes how you put things back together. For all the obvious reasons I can't put it back together the way I found it if there are incorrect breaker installs in the panel, and the other problems that might have been created aren't immediately apparent.


    "For all the obvious reasons I can't put it back together the way I found it if there are incorrect breaker installs in the panel,"

    And, if you could, then you would be liable for having created the problem ... even if the problem were there to start with as you would have removed the problem by removing the breakers, and it is now your responsibility to make sure the re-install is correct.

    Catch-22 either way.

    Bill, if you have been following James' posts over the couple of years, you would understand him taking that position.

    (The font has changed because for some reason my computer is not showing the Veranda font for me to set it to, I had to use Arial for it all.)

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  13. #13
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Thanks Eric, I like that approach.

    Speaking of stab-loks & FPE, check out this artwork. Inside a closet even!

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    I'm not concerned about James' position in the least. FPE panels have E and F slots in the buss, and the Es are meant for 2 skinny breakers, You can "install" a second skinny in an F slot that was designed for only one.

    The big difference here is (probably) that the GE skinnys weren't pushed in far enough to begin with where some of the FPEs are in a space not designed for them. GEs not pushed in far enough, FPEs in the wrong kind of slot - big difference in my book.

    Judgement against FPE in a lawsuit in New Jersey for breakers that don't work. I don't think informing people about that is hysteria. However, my opinions are based on personal experience and I'll continue to pass that along to anyone I feel needs to know.

    Is there some sort of question in anyone's mind as to WHY the doors got shut at FPE?


  15. #15
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    I have been a licensed electrician since 1975 and have seen and worked on a couple of hundred FPE panels....the Stab-Lok and the large frame breakers. In my previous life...we had two buildings that had the large frame breakers that FPE sent us $50,000 worth of new breakers and paid the owner labor for us to replace them. That is just before they closed the doors.

    As far as breakers falling out of the panel...GE thin breakers do that too and just put them back in.

    HI do inspections and electricians do electrical work...I do both but not at the same time. I also am a licensed plumber and HVAC contractor so that applies to these trades too.

    There is no official documentation that says the panels should be replaced so what do you use for guidance....hysteria?
    Not hysteria at all. I cannot tell you the amount of time (I will just use the 7 years in Texas) that I have heard on the news or read in an article the amount of home fires due to these panels. Just in this are of this state. I have taken the cover off of these panels and have been across the room where I hear arcing going on in the panel and the breaker are all in place.

    Why did they recommend replacing the breakers if there was no inherent problem with them? Why is the panel the most replaced of all electric panels ever made due to concerns with the panel and breakers?

    To many real stories and to many real concerns and lets just mention that the problem childs are how many decades old and getting older and getting in worse condition by the year.

    It is time for replacement. You electrician will thoroughly examine the panels and more than likely pull the breakers to see if any of the concerns that plague these panels/breakers is actually taking place in this particular panel.

    James

    You have worked on thousands you say. I have inspected countless. All of them have something going on even if it is hysteria. I would never feel comfortable about any electric panel inspection I did with any FPE panel if I did not advise to seek further action with an electrician to evaluate much deeper than any home inspector ever does or ever will and to guide them further in their decision making about replacement.

    I use a voltage sniffer on every panel before pulling the cover. The only ones there has been a concern with other than one time in the decades of inspecting are the FPE panels. Just that simple knowledge to myself would make me feel criminal if I did not recommend further eval and then replacement. Further eval for replacement?????? Absolutely. I am not playing the expert. I am playing the learned inspector with thousands of inspections under his belt but I am not an electrician, HVAC man, plumber etc. Even if you are you can pass particular info to your clients but I would not mix the professional electrician into the mix of home inspection. Once you play the expert in all fields there is no going back and you will have to play that roll for ever.


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    I stay out of the going back and forth with the seller by stating that the panel should be evaluated by a qualifed, licenced electrician and either certified to being safe in writing or serviced as needed.

    An electricain will never put anything in writing, at least around here


  17. #17
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Houck View Post
    I stay out of the going back and forth with the seller by stating that the panel should be evaluated by a qualifed, licenced electrician and either certified to being safe in writing or serviced as needed.

    An electricain will never put anything in writing, at least around here
    If you are requiring an electrician to guarantee something is safe I can understand why they would not put it writing. It would be like requiring you to guarantee that you did not miss any problems in the house during the inspection. Neither is a reasonable request in my opinion.

    As an electrician...when I check a panel for problems I do the same thing for a FPE panel as I do for any other make of panel and give the same written report for all panels. Even the manufacturer does not offer a guarantee so how can an electrician offer one?

    The panels I see burnt the most are Bryant panels....not FPE panels.


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    As an electrician you can't say something is safe in writing?????

    Give me a break..

    As a home inspector.. If you state in writing that "No deficiencies were seem, " or "Not in need of service'" or whatever..... You are stating in writing that it is safe.

    An as an electrician you are a "specialist" just like a structural engineer writing a structural report or a roofer who writes up a roofing certification.
    If a QUALIFIED, LICENCED ELECTRICIAN can't stand behind an evaluation, maybe it's time to go back to electrician school.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Houck View Post
    As an electrician you can't say something is safe in writing?????

    Give me a break..

    As a home inspector.. If you state in writing that "No deficiencies were seem, " or "Not in need of service'" or whatever..... You are stating in writing that it is safe.

    An as an electrician you are a "specialist" just like a structural engineer writing a structural report or a roofer who writes up a roofing certification.
    If a QUALIFIED, LICENCED ELECTRICIAN can't stand behind an evaluation, maybe it's time to go back to electrician school.
    That is not what I said. Maybe you need to go back to grammar school. I wager your contract says that you did the best you could but there is no guarantee that you found everything. Change that wording to I guarantee I found everything that is wrong and if I didn't you can sue me. Can you do that?

    Also have you ever read the wiggle in a SE report or roofing certification? It says what it says and then there is the small print just like HI's use to cover their butt. Anybody who can't predict the future is an idiot to give a guarantee on something they have no control over.


    I have been a licensed electrician for 35 years and a HI for seven years. I am constantly amazed at the difference in the expertise level of electricians and HI's. But HI's like you do keep me busy and I appreciate it.


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    I am constantly amazed at the difference in the expertise level of electricians and HI's.
    So am I ... and I report with great sadness that many home inspectors can and do point out obviously flaws and incorrect installations made by experienced electricians.

    But HI's like you do keep me busy and I appreciate it.
    And home inspectors are, no doubt, equally glad to come behind electricians such as you seem to be and gleefully point out all the stuff which the electrician left and did not bother with - keeps this business going. THANK YOU JAMES!

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    I am constantly amazed at the difference in the expertise level of electricians and HI's. But HI's like you do keep me busy and I appreciate it.
    I'm not trying to get in a contest here, but I constantly have arguments or discussions, if you will, with licensed electricians regarding everything from corded plugs on water heaters to multiple conductors under the same screws. They claim they're right. I know for a fact they are wrong.

    Now regarding the FPE "hysteria"
    Experts say electrical panels in Dallas-area homes may be a fire waiting to happen | Dallas-Fort Worth Communities - News for Dallas, Texas - The Dallas Morning News

    Breaker Box Fire Hazard | NBC Dallas-Fort Worth

    Bruce Thompson, Lic. #9199
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    Home Inspections in the Tyler and East Texas area

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Out of interest, are home insurers requiring their clients to have the FP panels replaced in order to obtain home insurance policies?


  23. #23
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    One other thing about Federal Pacific panels is the cost of breakers if you need one. (about $50 at my supply house in Connecticut) (I have a bunch in my garage if anyone is interested. I'll give you a good deal!) Another panel I ran across just recently in some apartments were main lug, 8 space brown handle cutler hammer. There was a retaining bar in the center of the panel and the breakers had a notch in them that allowed them to slide past this retainer. The new brown handle cutler hammer breakers don't have this notch and won't go in. I convinced the owner to change those panels each time he redid an apartment.
    WILL IT CAUSE A FIRE, MR ELECTRICIAN??? I once saw a single gang metal box with a bx going to it and a plug in it laying on the floor. It had been removed from the stud during demo. When you moved it a certain way it flamed up, let it go it died out. What that was and why it didn't trip something I don't know, but I would agree with the comment to the effect of not unequivocally quarantying an electrical system to never have a fault. Keep your insurance up to date.


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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Houck View Post
    As a home inspector.. If you state in writing that "No deficiencies were seem, " or "Not in need of service'" or whatever..... You are stating in writing that it is safe.
    That is not what I'm doing.

    "No deficiencies were seem" - this does not say things are safe. Of course if some client wants to assume I'm saying that it's his business. It's similar to when I say there's a water stain and people assume there's a leak - not necessarily.

    "The roof looks great" - does that mean there's no leak issue? Not necessarily.

    It's important that people understand what you're saying and what you're not and that they do so before you leave the job.

    Eric Barker, ACI
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Eric,

    I disagree with your statement and your premises. If you tell someone that no deficiencies were seen, you are making a duplicitous statement. You are inferring that what you inspected is safe ( At least that is what I would take from your statement.) yet you actually have unspoken concerns.
    That is a CYA statement that throws the inspection comment into the realm of "Interpretation" not fact.

    Man up, if you do not see a problem but you have concerns because of any reason, tell your customer the concerns you have. Do not leave the customer in a gray area just to protect yourself.

    For example, "I see not failures or violations, but I am concerned because of the age or model of XXXXX. You may want to have an electrician take a look at this because there is the possibility of hidden defects."


  26. #26
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Barker View Post
    That is not what I'm doing.

    "No deficiencies were seem" - this does not say things are safe. Of course if some client wants to assume I'm saying that it's his business. It's similar to when I say there's a water stain and people assume there's a leak - not necessarily.

    "The roof looks great" - does that mean there's no leak issue? Not necessarily.

    It's important that people understand what you're saying and what you're not and that they do so before you leave the job.
    You contradict yourself here??? Relax, we all step in **it every now and again! Just don't keep wading around in it! Step up and wipe your feet!

    Last edited by Lou Romano; 06-02-2011 at 11:59 AM.

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Farrell View Post
    Man up, if you do not see a problem but you have concerns because of any reason, tell your customer the concerns you have. Do not leave the customer in a gray area just to protect yourself.
    Donald, If I had a concern then I must have seen something. If I didn't see a problem then I wouldn't have a concern. Or am I not seeing something here.

    Eric Barker, ACI
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Lou Romano View Post
    You contradict yourself here???
    Lou, I see no contradiction. No matter how much emphasis I put on something, either verbally or written, some people will hear or read what they want to. A few years ago a client's wife complained to the BBB about my not going in the attic even though I had comments and photos in the report proving I was in there. I wrote that the crawl space access was blocked with a 2x4 that even her husband was unable to remove. But regardless of that, and a photograph, she claimed I refused to go into the crawl. So, despite how important it is to get people to understand what you're saying, a few of them just are not going to hear it.

    As for the remainder of your post - sorry, but I lost your drift.

    Eric Barker, ACI
    Lake Barrington, IL

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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Eric.

    I apologize if I miss read your append. Or maybe I just read into it something that was not there.

    If I am asked to check out a panelboard and I know, historically, that there have been failures (rather catastrophic) then I believe it is incumbent on me to inspect each panelboard and BC with the knowledge of potential failures.

    If I don't find any, then I would tell the customer that at this point in time I see no concerns, but I would strongly urge you (Mr. Customer) to consider replacing this panel because of past failures.

    For example, in my own home, I found a 240V 30 Amp receptacle for a welder (I know this because welder was written on the wall). When I backtracked the BC, I found that it was connected to the dryer circuit.

    I know 210.23 prohibits loads greater than the the BC rating. In this case, both the dryer and the welder were 30 amp devices.

    I also know that 210.23(B) says that no one single load can be greater than 24 V on this circuit.

    When I went to remove this extension of the Dryer BC, I discovered that one leg of the welder BC stayed hot, even though the I had tripped the breaker manually. The net of it was that the dryer breaker had blown away one leg of the circuit. After the the blow-out, the breaker fused in the closed position so it could not open regardless of the handle position.

    The panel in question is an ITE split bus panelboard.

    I guess my point is that a cursory inspection would have revealed no apparent failures, yet there was a very serious condition on that panelboard. Had I not known that split-bus panelboards are notorious for failures I would not have dug deep enough to expose the failure.

    So, I guess I am just "Hypersensitive" to "no apparent failure" while knowing the danger is there.

    Again, I apologize.


  30. #30
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Donald, We're on the same page.

    Eric Barker, ACI
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    Default Re: FPE panel

    Home inspectors in Canada need to be careful about what they say about Federal panels.
    There are probably more Federal Pioneer panels in my area than any of the other brands. There are no known issues with these panels, and the breakers stay put pretty well.
    We don't have thinline breakers for these, so breaker pins jammed into the wrong slot is not an issue. The newer models have speed screws and a loose-fitting deadfront that is easy to remove and replace.

    A Federal Pacific panel in Canada will be 40 years old or more. These were manufactured in Toronto, again a different product than the ones we hear about here and on other US websites.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  32. #32
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    Chicago, IL
    Posts
    2,797

    Default Re: FPE panel

    Michael Thomas
    Paragon Property Services Inc., Chicago IL
    http://paragoninspects.com

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