Meet Pam Willis, a fellow homeowner in the process of updating her vintage mobile home. We are honored to have her contribute to MHL! Today, she discusses her experience with a Federal Pacific Electric Panels (breaker box). These panels were used extensively between 1950 and 1990.
Federal Pacific Electric Panels
Little did we know when we moved into our 1975 Marshfield mobile home in 2013, that we had a fire hazard lurking in the form of our electric panel. My husband and I are pretty handy, but we don’t mess around with electrical work, and always call a professional. So, when we needed electrical work done in order to install central air, we called our electrician, Mark. Thank goodness Mark was on the ball, and pointed out that our electric panel was sub-standard. He also pointed out where a wire had overheated at some point in the past. Whew.
We had a Federal Pacific Electric Panel, and that panel was in the bedroom right next to the bed! Our electrician recommended that the panel be replaced, as it was a fire hazard. That started me on a search for information about these panels. I also Googled Images for Federal Pacific Electric Panels, and the photos of burned out panels were horrifying.
Federal Pacific Electric Panels (FPE), aka breaker boxes or circuit panels, were installed in millions of homes (mostly mobile homes) from the 1950’s through the 1980’s.
Electricians, home inspectors and fire inspectors began to notice that the panels were failing, causing fires. Experts now say that these panels can work just fine for many years. However, just one over current or short can cause the circuit to overheat, and thus, cause a fire in the home.
According to IsMyElectricPanel Safe.com the following issues and malfunctions can occur with Federal Pacific Electric Panels:
- Wires may be crowded inside the panel box.
- Bus bars may be spring-mounted.
- Breakers may be still active when in the down position.
- Split-bus breakers may no longer meet updated safety codes.
- Breakers may unexpectedly trip when the deadfront cover is removed.
- Breakers may have loose connections to the bus bars.
- Breakers are often jammed within their sockets, which can cause overcrowding within the panel.
- Breakers can easily split when placed into sockets.
A Class Action Lawsuit was filed in New Jersey in 2005 against Federal Pacific Electric. The New Jersey State Court found that FPE had committed fraud. The Court found that Federal Pacific Electric “knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards.” You can read the Class Action Settlement here.
An expert who investigated complaints about the FPE panels determined that the breakers failed to trip at a much higher rate than those that met UL standards.
According to a report, some Federal Pacific Electric panels failed to operate properly nearly 60% of the time in the event of a power surge. Source
Zinsco Breaker Panels
It also bears noting that there have been problems with another brand of Circuit Breaker Panel, namely ZINSCO.
Outdated Zinsco breaker panels can be found in many older mobile homes. According to usinspect.com, problems with Zinsco Panels include:
- Certain parts of the panel contain aluminum.
- The connection between the breakers and the bus bar are not solid.
- Bus Bar corrodes easily.
- Breakers may appear to be off, but internally are still conducting power.
Replacing the Panels
We arranged to have our electrician change out our panel for a new (and UL tested) Square D panel the next week. Having the panel changed added a bit to the cost of having our Central Air installed, but certainly was worth the peace of mind. I don’t mind admitting that I was a bit nervous for that week while we waited for the electrician to come back and change the panel. There we were, in our little mobile home bedroom, sleeping right next to that darn panel.
Square D Panel
Keeping Friends and Family Safe
Two years later, my sister was looking for a mobile home to purchase. I went with her to look at the various offerings. One of the first things I looked for was the electric panel, making sure it wasn’t a Federal Pacific or Zinsco.
Here’s an informative video that can help you determine if you have a Federal Pacific or Zinsco breaker box:
Is Your Electric Panel Safe?
Thank you so much for reading Mobile and Manufactured Home Living!
Written by Pamela Willis