Federal Pacific Panels
If a house has a Federal Pacific panel, it will be a talking point during the inspection, and should be called out on the report. Federal Pacific panels were a very common type of panel and breaker system in North America from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. There were a series of lawsuits against Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) that found the company had bypassed the appropriate safety standards with their Stab-Lok breakers. Essentially, breakers are supposed to shut down the circuit when too much electricity is pulled through, and FPE breakers were not reliable at breaking. When a breaker does not shut down correctly, power can continually course through the circuit. The electricity will continue to run and can destroy the wires, causing arcing and fire. On top of this, if the breakers fail, you can not turn off those circuits via the breakers.
Challenger panels were introduced by Sylvania (Zinsco) in the early 1980’s and were installed in thousands of homes until the late 1990’s. Sylvania, the manufacturers of Challenger panels and breakers, had bought FDE after the series of lawsuits. You may see where this is going. The biggest safety concern with Challenger panels, is actually the breakers. Over heating and failure are the primary concerns with Challenger electric products.
Why they are called out during the inspection
Safety concerns. It’s pretty straight forward. Our inspectors will always call out FDE and Challenger panels as defective in our reports due to the overheating and fire concerns. We always recommend that electric panels that are safety concerns be checked out by a licensed electrician.
What to do about it
If either of these panels come up in the inspection report, or your house has these panels, the best thing to do is get an electrician out and have them assess the situation. Getting a licensed professional to evaluate and estimate the repairs needed should point you in the right direction. That being said, for the FDE panels, it is probably going to be a full panel and breaker replacement. For Challenger panels, you are more than likely looking at replacing all the Challenger breakers, but not necessarily the panel itself.