Don't Get Caught Up in the Federal Pacific Debacle...

Home Inspector with Complete Home Inspections, Inc. TN Lic#050

Don't Get Caught Up in the Federal Pacific Debacle...

Federal Pacific Stab-Loc PanelIf you're involved in real estate, you probably had some dealings with the "dreaded" Federal Pacific Electric panels. Lord only knows I have. Having gone to several classes to get my CEU's, invariably the topic is brought up. Home inspectors and instructors parrot one another: fire hazard, arc welder in a box, and so on.

While there may be concerns about FPE "Stablok" breakers and panels, I
Federal Pacific Stab-Loc Panel have yet to see a failure. Having inspected over 5,000 electrical panels in my career, I have seen several failures in other manufacturers boxes so why aren't the tech schools and nay sayers beating the drum about the other guys?

I refuse to get caught up in the controversy. It is counter productive and a total waste of time.   

First of all, Home inspectors are supposed to be non-biased. Their job is to raise red flags in a calm professional manner. I don't see how anyone can be calm and professional while clanging bell and reaching for a firehose.

Home inspectors are to educate. There are approximately 5+ million FPE panels in homes across the US and Canada. If they are so dangerous, why haven't 5+ million homes burned down? Most panel fires are caused either by loose breaker to buss connections or someone doing something stupid inside the box.

Finally, home inspectors are to recommend an action. The simple and the best solution is for the home inspector to inform your client that there is a lot of negative publicity/controversy about this product. It would be in their best interest to have a licensed electrician examine the panel. Period! This takes the monkey off everyone's back and puts it in the hands of a professional. Let the electrician make the decision not you, the agent or your home inspector...

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The Guys with the Hats...

©2010 Michael Thornton | Complete Home Inspections, Inc. |

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Complete Home Inspections, Brentwood TN 615.661.0297

Comments (23)

Dawn Maloney
RE/MAX Trinity Northeast Ohio Real Estate Specialist - Hudson, OH
330-990-4236 Hudson & Northeastern Ohio

Michael, I agree. We have the same challenge with these boxes, but I was thinking - why hasn't there been a mile-long list of fires? Great job bringing some sanity to the subject.

Oct 27, 2010 10:08 AM
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

Hi Michael, while I agree that there's no need to clang bells about this issue, I recommend replacement of every one of these panels.  

I wrote a blog explaining my stance on these here 

Oct 27, 2010 10:15 AM
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Michael, your post shows why you are who is succeeding in this challenging market, and how a true professional handles questionable items that come up.   Great Job!

Oct 27, 2010 10:15 AM
TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc.
Complete Home Inspections, Inc. - Brentwood, TN
Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029

Reuben, I read your post. I have read several hundred articles both pro and con about the panels. I have opened several hundred boxes as a licensed electrician. I totally understand what you are saying.  As a home inspector we operate under the hat of being a generalist and are to raise red flags. I let the electrician do the talking. If he blows the deal, then the ire falls on him...  

Oct 27, 2010 10:35 AM
Al & Peggy Cunningham, Brokers
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage - Brampton, ON
Our Family Wants To Help Your Family!

Well said Michael.  Sometimes it is not what you are saying but how you say it.   Don't paint every box with the same paint... a word of caution is enough. 

Oct 27, 2010 10:40 AM
Kim Darling
Keller Williams Westland Realty BRE# 01864461 - Fresno, CA
CRS,GRI, "Your Home Team" Fresno/Clovis Homes

I appreciate that you are there to inform, not alarm. Give them the information, recommend if further inspection is needed, but don't send the buyers or sellers off the deep end with panic.  You would be my guy if you were in Central Cali!!!

Oct 27, 2010 11:32 AM
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

I've seen two of them in 25 years.  I have also sold a couple of homes where the owners disclosed that they had replaced them.

Oct 27, 2010 11:40 AM
Greg Nino
RE/MAX Compass - Houston, TX
Houston, Texas

well said. my "old" inspector used to write this up EVERY single time he saw it. he'd recommend "replacement" as they caused house fires. We negotiated all new panels about 3 or 4 times before I had heard enough. Negotiating a $1,000 electrical panel everytime is a real pain in the rear end. I finally hired an electrician who was pretty dead on with what you're saying! Great post, glad to see it get featured.

Oct 27, 2010 12:17 PM
Lenny Schwartz - Austin, TX

problem i see is that IF an FPE panel causes a problem... we all get sued cause there is so much neg press....   what about REUBEN's post above????

Oct 27, 2010 12:19 PM
Donna Harris
Donna Homes, powered by JPAR - - Austin, TX
Realtor,Mediator,Ombudsman,Property Tax Arbitrator

I've sold several homes with the FP panel. It's amazing how many electricians aren't educated as some have no idea they raise a red flag. I've only had to have one seller ever replace the panel because the buyers were completely freaked out about it, but overall, just like SUV's can flip, people don't stop buying or using their SUVs.  Any electrical wiring can go bad at any time.

Oct 27, 2010 12:32 PM
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

I totally agree about not clanging alarm bells, but the bad press is not without merit. When I remove the cover from one of these FPE panels and three breakers fall out (yes it has happened to me), you're saying that has nothing to do with an inherent design flaw known to exist in these particular panels. Presenting the information to your client in a sane and reasonable manner is just as important as telling them the electric panel is POS.

Oct 27, 2010 12:50 PM
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Ditto what Jim said:)

Oct 27, 2010 01:06 PM
TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc.
Complete Home Inspections, Inc. - Brentwood, TN
Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029

James, I have not experienced that problem. I have seen that happen in Murray and ITE boxes but not FPE. I guess I have been lucky. The only time I recommend replacing a panel, is if I see damage to or arcing on the buss. Even then, I still refer the final decision to a licensed electrician... 

Oct 27, 2010 01:23 PM
Barb Szabo, CRS
RE/MAX Above & Beyond - Cleveland, OH
E-pro Realtor, Cleveland Ohio Homes

Excellent post. Every time I list a home with a FP box I cringe and tell the seller what will likely happen and they are never too happy to hear it.

Oct 27, 2010 01:58 PM
Richard Weisser
Richard Weisser Realty - Newnan, GA
Richard Weisser Retired Real Estate Professional


Any panel can be dangerous if improperly installed or incorrectly wired. Thanks for this thoughtful post about a problem that may not be all that bad after all!

Oct 27, 2010 02:29 PM
Stephen Robert Sliwka
Goden Key Realty - Franklin Township, NJ
Realtor, Somerset County New Jersey

As a licensed home inspector from NJ, I have seen the good, bad and ugly. I have seen FP panels that look in top shape, but I have always recommended a consult with a licensed electrical contractor. I wouldn't want to say that ALL FP panels are bad because I could have gotten a call from the manufacturer. I don't know if FP are still in business. I don't think so.  Challenger took over.

I am also concerned about the present homeowner and would like to be fair to everyone.  At a past home inspection my client started dictating that he wanted the FP panel replaced because his attorney said so. He wanted me to change My report. I did Not. I should say things the way I want to.  That's what I did.  An attorney only knows the law.  He's not an inspector.

Oct 27, 2010 03:08 PM
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

I hate panicky inspectors... and I drop them from my rotation list...  "Just the facts"

Oct 27, 2010 03:12 PM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Your recommendation is exactly what I tell my clients.  There is a lot of negative press and even websites!

My previous house was 37 years old when we sold it.  He aluminum wiring and FPE Stab-lok.  An electrician lived there for 20 years before me, and I lived there for 12 years.  No problems.  The whole neighborhood, no problems.  There are many other neighborhoods here with no problems, and the houses range as old as 50 to as young as 35 or so.

I have seen one failure, but don't know what caused it.  There was a new cooktop on the circuit though.

So, I am with you.

But the clients have to be told!

Oct 28, 2010 04:02 AM
Dan Quinn
The Eric Steart Group of Long & Foster Real Estate - Silver Spring, MD
Dan Quinn

Plenty of bad press to go around on this issue.  I haven't seen one of these in years.  Let the client know of the issue and let them decide.

Oct 28, 2010 05:04 AM
Chris Smith
Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage - New Tecumseth, ON
South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta

Michael, I really have come to appreciate your blog.  Your posts vary from educational (for me) to just plain relaxing (your photos).  Thanks.

Oct 30, 2010 08:24 AM