How do I Know if I Have a Federal Pacific Panel?
So what is a Federal Pacific panel? How do you know if you have one? And will it "pass a home inspection?"
Your Federal Pacific Electric panel will likely say "FPE" on the front metal door on a sticker for Federal Pacific Electric. These panels were commonly installed in the 50s - 80s, so the sticker may not be clear. Inside the door you will know it's a Federal Pacific Electric panel if you see orange handles on the breakers. The last tell-tale sign of a Federal Pacific Electric panel is the label "Stab-Lok."
Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok Panels are a Fire Hazard
There's ample data from home inspectors, fire safety professionals and electricians across the nation declaring these electrical panels as a hazard. The most comprehensive report was done by J. Aronstein, a Consulting Engineer in New York. His extensive investigation is published in a 30-page report linked here: Hazardous FPE Circuit Breakers and Panels. On the cover of this report is the summary statement:
FPE and replacement brands of Stab-Lok circuit breakers have a high defect rate. They do not provide the level of circuit protection required by the NEC (National Electrical Code). Homeowners should be alerted to this safety defect and advised to have it corrected. FPE Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels should be replaced unless the occupants are informed and willing to live with the resulting increased risk of fire and injury.
At Tri-County Inspections we put things into everyday terms so that our client feels comfortable knowing, in everyday terminology, what's going on with their home. In common terminology, the biggest concern about Federal Pacific panels is that they don't trip reliably. Have you ever had a breaker trip? Maybe too many things going on in the kitchen? A toaster, an oven, a microwave, an air fryer, coffee maker and electric skillet all going at the same time? That overloads a circuit which is designed to trip before catching fire. Without the breakers tripping correctly, that's what causes fires. Recently, we did a home inspection in Cleveland for a home with a Federal Pacific Electric panel. We were not surprised to find evidence of an electrical fire in the attic. The fire was started when a light fixture overheated and the breaker did not trip.
Will a Federal Pacific Electric Panel "Pass a Home Inspection?"
To answer the question most people ask - "Will a Federal Pacific panel pass a home inspection?" The quick answer is no. The long answer is still no, but with explanation.
A home inspection is not a pass or fail. When a client asks if it will "pass a home inspection," it is possible our client is confusing a home inspection with a home appraisal. The home appraisal is done for the mortgage company and certain requirements need to be met in order for the mortgage company to approve the loan - including safety requirements of the property. Unlike an appraisal, the home inspection is for the buyer to understand the condition of the home. The inspection puts the buyer in a position to potentially negotiate more with the sellers. Learn more in our post "Why Pay for a Home Inspection When I'm Already Getting a Home Appraisal".
A home inspection is not like a car inspection or E-check. In a home inspection our inspectors review each component of the home and note the condition of each - such as good condition, normal maintenance needed, consult a professional and/or replace. In many cases the inspection report will say something like "Peeling paint observed at various areas, suggest scraping and painting as needed as part of normal maintenance." Or "if concerned, recommend review by a qualified contractor for repair or correction as needed."
An FPE Stab-Lok Circuit Breakers Does Not Fail a Home Inspection
In the case of FPE Stab-Lok circuit breaker panels we make note that the breaker panel needs to be replaced. In home inspection terminology, that does not mean it "fails a home inspection." However, there is no reason for us to recommend further review by a licensed electrician. A Federal Pacific Electric panel is a safety hazard and the only recommendation is to replace it. Home Advisor has the service listed as between $561 - $1,628 in the Cleveland, OH area using 2020 data (see image).
It is still up to the buyers how they want to proceed with their intent to purchase. So we wouldn't consider it a "failed inspection." The buyer's real estate agent will walk them through the options and determine what's best for the situation. Does the buyer expect the seller to replace the FPE Stab-Lok panel as a condition of purchase? Does the buyer expect the seller to make concessions for the cost of the new electric panel? Does the buyer adjust their offer to account for incurring the costs after the transaction?
In a market with so many competing offers the realtor's advice could be to eat the cost, rather than risk opening negotiations that could be rejected. This would be a great case for the seller getting a pre-listing home inspection to reveal this as a known issue and reduce lengthy and stressful negotiations. All offers would have been made knowing the panel needed to be replaced.
If you're a seller and want to move along a multiple-bid situation, give your prospective buyers the confidence to waive the inspection contingency with a pre-listing home inspection.
A pre-listing home inspection is a home inspection the seller pays for before listing the home and can reduce the stress of wondering what the buyer's home inspection process will reveal, while giving the seller the advantage of listing all known issues with the property before offers are made.
Waiving a home inspection could put you at an advantage for winning in a multiple bid scenario - but could you be "winning" a home with more problems than you can handle?