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Is Your Breaker Box a Fire Hazard?

Circuit breakers, fuses, and GFCIs are safety devices designed to protect you from shocks, overloads, and electrical fires. But millions of breaker boxes installed in the 1960s through the 80s may defeat these life-saving protections.

A Federal Problem
Federal Pacific Electric was a manufacturer of circuit breakers and other electrical equipment. One of their products was the Stab-Lok circuit breaker and some tests showed it failed to function properly in 25-50% of tests. Needless to say, this presents an unacceptable risk of electrical fires. In fact, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, one testing agency estimates that FPE Stab-Lok breakers may be responsible for as many as 2,800 fires, 13 deaths and $40 million in property damage every year.

No Help from the Feds
When the issue was brought to the attention of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission in the early 80s, it said that the data available didn’t establish that the breakers posed a serious threat to consumers. But they added that they didn’t have the budget for exhaustive testing that could lead to a recall. Other testing in the US and Canada reached a different conclusion, but had no power to force a recall so the breakers continued to be installed until Federal Pacific Electric went out of business.

Is it Time to Panic?
Because the CPSC failed to issue a recall and there’s no FPE left to sue or file a warranty claim with, consumers are left with a choice, and it’s not a great one. On the one hand, they can play the odds that their breakers will not fail, and frankly the odds are in their favor…as long as they don’t mind gambling with the safety of their property and family.

On the other hand, they can replace the Federal Pacific panels with ones that are known to be safe. But that can be expensive, from several hundred to over a thousand dollars, depending on the work that needs to be done.

Things to Watch For
Despite their inaction on the FPE breakers (or maybe because of it), the CPSC advises consumers to take safety precautions with all circuit breakers and fuses. They are:

  • Know your electrical circuit and know which outlets and products are connected to each circuit.
  • Never overload any electrical circuit by connecting too many products to the circuit. Be particularly careful not to connect several products that demand high current (such as heating appliances) to a low amperage circuit.
  • Comply with local building codes in wiring or adding electrical circuits. Make sure the wiring and devices used in the circuit are connected to a circuit breaker or fuse of the proper size.
  • Immediately disconnect any electrical product if problems develop. Have the product examined by a competent repair person.
  • Investigate to determine why a fuse blows or circuit breaker trips. Do not simply replace the fuse or reset the breaker. If a fuse blows or breaker trips, it is often a warning that the circuit is overloaded. Check the circuit for causes of overloading (for example, too many appliances plugged in, a malfunctioning product, a short circuit). When in doubt, consult a licensed electrician.

Is There a Win-Win?
Protecting your home and family is never a bad investment but upgrading your electrical service can also add comfort and convenience to your lifestyle.

Many older homes were wired before the proliferation of modern electronics and appliances were popular. While today’s codes specify 200-amp or more service, 100 amps (or less) was common before the internet and gourmet kitchens were everybody’s must-haves.

If you’re having issues with too many devices and not enough outlets, are adding high-demand appliances like a new range, oven, an entertainment center, or air conditioning, or are planning an addition or remodel, that’s the time to upgrade your electrical panel and service to meet those demands, and you can save time and money by having it all done together.

Allstar is Here to Help
Allstar Electrical Services specializes in service panel upgrades and modifications. We’ve done hundreds of service panel upgrades on homes and on commercial/industrial properties of all sizes and uses. Our service features first-class work by licensed professionals who know the latest code requirements and the best ways and equipment to meet them. And we do the job with minimal downtime and disruption, as well.

We're proud of our track record and our fine service, exceptional workmanship, and detailed clean-up when the job is done. Contact us via email or call 303.399.7420 to schedule your service today.