How to Identify Federal Pacific Electric & Zinsco Panels
In a 2005 class action lawsuit, a New Jersey court determined that Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) “violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The violation occurred because FPE cheated during its testing of circuit breakers in order to obtain Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval.” Even though Federal Pacific is out of business, they are causing electric shock and fire hazards around the country. Most FPE owners don’t realize they’ve been using a defective electrical panel until they get a home inspection, or until an electrician points it out.
Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers: Investigation Finds Decades of Danger (NBC News)
Click here for the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Company Class Action Lawsuit Settlement Information.
If you lived in New Jersey, owned an FPE “Stab-Lok®” electrical panel, and filed your claim before April 20, 2005, you would have been eligible to receive compensation and relief.
Unfortunately, the time has passed for you to receive any kind of monetary damage or other relief if you own a FPE panel. Still, you may be able to seek advice and guidance from a private attorney. We’re not lawyers, but we are electricians who are concerned about the safety of homeowners and their electrical panels. First, you need to know if you have a Federal Pacific Electric, or an equally worrisome Zinsco electrical panel.
How to Find Your Fuse or Breaker Box
You probably already know where your electrical panel is located, but if not, you’re going to want to look for a metal box in your basement, hallway, or garage.
The box is normally attached to a wall, at around chest/eye level. The box will have a front door that can usually be opened by lifting up a little handle.
If you are still having trouble, look for electrical wiring on the outside of your home and where it enters the home. Then go back inside and look for the box in the surrounding area.
Sometimes, the circuit breaker or fuse box is located outside of the home. Ask your neighbor where theirs is located because yours might be in a similar spot. Apartments may have electrical panels in cupboards, closets, and hallways.
If you can’t locate your electrical panel or have any questions about its location and/or condition, contact your local electrician.
How to Identify a Fuse Box vs Circuit Breaker
First, you want to know if you have a circuit breaker or a fuse box. If you have a fuse box, you will see roundish fuses that look like mini lightbulbs screwed into sockets in the fuse box. When you overload a circuit in a fuse box, the fuse will blow and you will have to find a replacement (same size and amperage). You can tell which fuse needs replacement because the metal inside will be melted or the glass top will be discolored (brownish purple).
If you have a circuit breaker, then you will see rows and columns of black switches. When you overload a breaker box, you will have to flip the switch that is different from all the rest. Move the “black sheep” breaker to the full “off” position, and then flip it to the full “on” position so it’s not feeling left out anymore.
How to Identify a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Panel
Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) manufactured millions of circuit breaker panels that were installed in homes across North America from the 1950s to the 1980s. Some are still in operation today.
This is concerning since the company cheated its testing and inspections to get the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label, a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. As a result, millions of FPE breakers were installed even though they were unsafe. They may work for years without showing any danger signs, but just one short circuit or overcurrent can cause overheating and a dangerous electrical fire. Subsequent testing revealed that FPE panels failed to trip in many cases. Failure to trip leads to overheating and fire.
You can determine if you have a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panel by going to your circuit breaker box and looking at the outside or the inside of the access panel door.
There is normally a label and logo on the outside of the box that says “FPE,” which stands for Federal Pacific Electric. Open the panel door and look at the inside cover information. There will be clear markers that say “Stab-Lok®” and “Federal Pacific Electric Company.” Normally, there are red strips across each of the “Stab-Lok” breakers.
All FPE Stab-Lok® breakers are unsafe and are known for not tripping and other problems. If you have a FPE Stab-Lok® panel, don’t wait; call a professional electrician.
NOTE: If your panel says “Federal Pacific Equipment Inc.,” that is a different company, so double check.
WARNING: Never attempt to repair or remove any circuit breaker or fuse box. If you suspect a problem with your circuit breaker or fuse box, contact your local electrician right away.
Federal Pacific Panels are one of the most dangerous electrical panels you can have (click here for more information on identifying unsafe electrical panels). We replace these types of panels all the time. Contact Gold Medal Service for more information.
How to Identify a Zinsco Electrical Panel
It’s unlikely that you have a Zinsco panel, since most of them have been replaced and they were primarily installed in the Western states, but they were once very popular.
Over time, home inspectors and electricians have found that these electrical panels are extremely unsafe, including some Sylvania electrical panels. Similar to FPE malfunctions, failing to trip during arcing and overcurrent conditions, Zinsco panels can overheat and cause melting and/or fires.
Locate your electrical panel box and look for any panel labels that say “Sylvania,” “Zinsco,” “Sylvania-Zinsco,” or “GTE-Sylvania-Zinsco.” If you have a Federal Pacific, Sylvania, or Zinsco label, call your local, trusted electrician.
Look for any melting, discoloration, or any other problems with your electrical panel while you are looking for labeling information. Regardless of who manufactured your circuit breaker or fuse box, discoloration and other external signs of damage should NEVER be ignored.
When breakers melt, they can lose the ability to trip a circuit. If that happens, the overcurrent or short circuit situation can turn into a fire unless it is stopped manually.
There are dangerous electric shock and fire hazards associated with both Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) and Zinsco circuit breakers and electrical panels.
Click here for more tips on identifying GTE Sylvania (Zinsco) Electrical Panels and Circuit Breakers.
What Should a Homeowner Do?
If you have a Federal Pacific Electric (FPE), Zinsco, or any outdated or damaged electrical panel, call your licensed, local electrician right away! These electrical boxes are the main piece of your electrical system and can cause serious harm to your house and household. The best way to fix this problem is to schedule a complete panel replacement, although sometimes a simple repair is all that’s needed. Visit IsMyPanelSafe.com for more information on FPE, Zinsco, and outdated panels.
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