Breaker Spotlight: Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers

Federal Pacific circuit breakers have been around since the late 1940s. The Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) was one of the most common manufacturers of circuit breakers for three decades. FPE panels were installed in millions of American homes, and many homes today still contain circuit breakers from this long-gone company.

If you have an older home, it may still use a Federal Pacific circuit breaker. An FPE panel has the name or logo on the front cover. Stab Lok should be printed inside near the center of the panel, and the breakers will have a red strip that runs across the front.

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The Federal Pacific Electric Company

The Federal Pacific Electric Company started selling circuit breakers in the late 1940s. The company received its first patent in 1949. FPE sold one of the most popular circuit breakers at the time, and most residential builders used Federal Pacific products.

Eventually, due to several reasons including product quality assurance and poor management, the company went bankrupt in 1979.

However, the name was so well known that Reliance Electric Company bought the name and the remaining assets. Shortly thereafter, Exon acquired the company.

What Is a Circuit Breaker?

Circuit breakers protect electrical circuits from damage due to excess current, such as when the circuit becomes overloaded. Once the breaker detects the fault, it trips itself to interrupt the current flow.

Federal Pacific is the brand name for breakers made by the Federal Pacific Electric Company. The original 1949 Federal Pacific patent on these breakers made them safer than many models existing prior to this time. This special safety feature made it a very popular circuit breaker.

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Are Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers Still Common?

Yes, Federal Pacific circuit breakers are still used today, even though the company no longer exists. If you’re wanting to find a replacement circuit breaker from the Federal Pacific Electric Company, you’ll need to find a company that sells used or refurbished circuit breakers. There are many reliable suppliers who offer reconditioned Federal Pacific circuit breaker models.

Reconditioned FPE Circuit Breakers

The old FPE circuit breaker models tend to have a few modern safety concerns. In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a report that some FPE circuit breakers couldn’t pass certain modern safety tests and often malfunctioned.

The Underwriters Laboratories (also known as UL) tests products based on areas such as their design, functions and manufacturing. It found that some of the Federal Pacific circuit breakers were incorrectly marked as having passed the UL safety tests. There were some issues with UL tests on Stab Lok breakers for a short period during the transition of company ownership.

Because of this, it is recommended you replace some of the older FPE circuit breaker models with reconditioned models. The reconditioned models contain upgraded features that meet all new safety code requirements.

Manually Operated vs. Electrically Operated Circuit Breakers

You’ll find that many FPE models can be operated either manually or electrically. It’s important to know what these two types are before you buy one, as that they each work differently.

A manually operated circuit breaker requires direct attention by the user. You need to use a handle to charge the springs in the circuit breaker. An electrically operated circuit breaker is one that uses an electric motor to help charge the circuit breaker. You don’t have to worry about doing so yourself.

While electrically operated circuit breakers might sound easier, they can be more difficult to understand and troubleshoot at times due to their intricate make. However, they tend to work better than manually operated ones.

Replacing a Federal Pacific Circuit Breaker

Many homes built before 1990 still contain Federal Pacific circuit breakers. You’ll also find many older homes still have a Federal Pacific service panel that can only be used with a Federal Pacific circuit breaker. Don’t mix new circuit breaker models and service panels. Instead, if you need to replace one look for reconditioned Federal Pacific breakers unless you want to switch out the entire system.

These reconditioned FPE circuit breakers are available for almost all older FPE models. You can find ones that have manual or electric operations and different frame and trip amperages.

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Conclusion

Federal Pacific circuit breakers still provide great service even though they don’t produce new breakers. You might even consider, for a new build, using refurbished Federal Pacifics, as they are a reliable brand that will serve your needs for decades to come.

Parts are also readily available in the event something fails. Any contractor today should have the experience and knowledge to work on these common breakers.