Should My FPE Stab-Lok Panel be Replaced?

Home Inspection Electrical Issues

I see electrical issues frequently during home inspections. FPE Stab-Lok electrical panels are typically found in homes built in the 1960s. From Home Inspector Pro software and am able to advise homeowners quickly on this and other electrical problems uncovered during their inspection. Here’s the verbiage that goes on the inspection report:

FPE Stab-Loc Circuit Breaker Photo from taken during Home Inspection

FPE Stab-Loc Circuit Breaker Photo from taken during Home Inspection

 “ Federal Pacific Stab-Lok model panels are known to have a high rate of failure of circuit breakers. Failure of circuit breakers can result in a fire and/or electrocution. I strongly recommend the Federal Pacific “Stab-Lok” main electric panel be replaced by a qualified electrical contractor.”

Another narrative from Inspectopedia: 
“*** Safety Warning*** I have observed a Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” service panel in the house. This panel is a latent fire hazard: it’s circuit breakers may fail to trip in response to an overcurrent or a short circuit. Failure of a circuit breaker to trip can result in a fire, property damage, or personal injury. A circuit breaker that may not trip does not afford the protection that is intended and required. Simply replacing the circuit breakers is not a reliable repair. The panel should be replaced, and significant expense may be involved.

Since I see these fairly frequently during home inspections, I did some further research on these panels from the experts..  In a class action lawsuit, a New Jersey State Court ruled that the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Company “violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards.   An expert who investigated the potential hazards of Federal Pacific Electric panels stated under UL 489 test conditions, that FPE panels fail to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.  Using UL 289 test conditions, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that Federal Pacific Electric panels may be unfit for homes. The materials used to construct the breakers may be weak. As a result, the breakers may not trip, and the panel could be susceptible to catching on fire.

Most breakers in a home are never called upon to trip, and the homeowner’s perception is that ‘the breakers work fine.’ The same observation could generally be made if there were no breakers (or fuses) at all, just a hardwired system. In the event of an electrical malfunction, however, our safety may depend on proper operation of the circuit breakers.

Electrical Safety Defect

The presence of a Federal Pacific panel in a home should be classified as a ‘Safety Defect.’ The Federal Pacific breakers are primary safety devices of questionable operating reliability. The breaker’s function is to stop certain electrical sequences that could, if allowed to proceed, lead to fire in the building. If an electrical fire hazard develops somewhere in the building, the breaker is supposed to trip and minimize the possibility of fire ignition. If the breaker is defective, fire is more likely to result.

“There is no question but that the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok® panels should be replaced. There is no practical and safe alternative.”
Dr. Jesse Aronstein, BME, MSME, PhD
Consulting Engineer Specializing in Mechanical and Materials Engineering

There appear to be two options for correcting the hazards of having this panel in your home, First is total replacement and second is an Adjustable Retrofit Kits produced by Eaton Corp., Cutler Hammer Products (E-CH) are a patented design new electric panel interior designed to replace aging electrical panels in residential and light commercial applications.
Here is a website with lots of information on the Federal Pacific / Stab-Loc panels .  Please contact me if you have any questions or need an experienced home inspector to help you with your home purchase or sale.

Inspections Done Right

TIME TO WINTERIZE

Living in Colorado Springs has some challenges when going about the annual duty of winterizing your home.  The following tips you will find helpful especially for this environment, some of these tips come from personal and sometimes expensive experiences.

Colorado Springs is a GREAT place to live and the winters are not as brutal as the North Eastern states, in fact we can have days in the 60’s in the middle of winter.  With that in mind please read carefully the tips I propose, they are laced with problems I have seen in my Home Inspections.

DOORS and WINDOWS

Check the weather striping on your doors and windows, bad gaskets or weather striping can let in cold air and also moisture.  On the exterior of doors and windows check the caulking around the trim and especially the tops.  In winter snow can set on top of the trim for extended periods of time, if the caulking is deteriorated moisture can be introduced into walls or deteriorate trim and siding.

exterior trim1exterior trim2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROOF GUTTERS

Clean your roof gutters and down spouts of leaves and debris, clogged gutters can cause ice dams to form along roof edges and force moisture under roof shingles or behind facia and other trim.  This can lead to moisture inside the attic space or deteriorate trim which can be costly to repair.  Make sure down spouts drain roof water away from foundation and the ground itself is draining away from foundations, unlike the photo below.

clogged gutter1clogged gutter2foundation drainage2

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPRINKLER SYSTEM

You should drain or blow out your irrigation system (especially if it is PVC) after the growing season and hard frosts start to occur.  The bad part of frozen and broken pipes is they don’t appear until spring when you re-energize your system.  Poly piping is more flexible and forgiving but still should be blown out.  If you don’t have an air compressor and the knowledge call a professional, it can be cheaper in the long run.

YARD MAINTENANCE

Yard maintenance in Colorado Springs in winter can be challenging, the winter temperatures can vary from blizzard to spring conditions within a week.  In dryer winters you should water lawns and young trees a few times, or when spring arrives you find a lot of dead grass or trees.  With that in mind, when you do water make sure to disconnect your hoses from the hose bibs after use.  Hoses left connected can cause hose bibs to freeze and rupture, when thawing occurs and you hear water running inside your walls you will remember, I should have disconnected that hose.
Flower beds close to your house should be cleaned, lots of dead leaves is a great food source for mold which can lead to mold spores which can invade your home.

FIREPLACE

Fireplace chimneys should be cleaned every year to prevent build-up and chimney fires.  Make sure your damper is working freely, after you start a fire and the room fills with smoke is not the time to remember your damper.  Make sure your spark arrester is in good condition and vent cap is attached well.  Spark arresters are important especially in areas such as Colorado Springs due to the dead and often times dry foliage  in the winter time.  Brush fires are fairly common in winter in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area.

fireplace cap

FURNACE

Furnaces should also undergo an annual cleaning by a professional, this can prolong the life of a furnace and makes the furnace more cost effective to run.
Keep your furnace filter cleaned and make sure you have plenty on hand, they are inexpensive and can save money on your utility bills.  Make sure your venting is well attached to your furnace and water heater.  If blizzards occur check to make sure your roof vent is clear to prevent carbon monoxide from building up inside your house.  If you have an old thermostat consider changing to a programmable thermostat  the wiring is usually lo-voltage and color coded the same as your old thermostat and easy to install.

CARBON MONOXIDE & SMOKE DETECTORS

One issue i come across a lot during my home inspections which can be a show stopper when selling your house is the absence of Carbon Monoxide detectors.  Change the batteries in detectors and if you don’t have Carbon monoxide detectors consider replacing your old smoke detectors with the new combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector.  Many deaths have been attributed to Carbon Monoxide.  The new detectors are about $45.00, what is a life worth?

Building a Tamper Resistant Radon Test

 

I too struggled on the best approach to a tamper resistant and affordable method to deploy my Radon Gas Detectors from Pro-Lab.  I took a trip to my favorite home improvement center and took with me a Radon Gas Detector bottle.  I went to the plumbing department with an idea of what I wanted to build.  The following is a list of items with photos and approximate costs to put this together.

2- 1 1/2” OD Crumb Cups         about $4.00
1 stick of aluminum angle         about $8.00
2- 1 1/4” PVC Couplings           about $1.00
2- 1 1/4” PVC Plugs                  about $2.00
1 bag cable ties                        about $3.00
1 cheap Tripod                         about $5.00

Parts needed for Radon Bottle HoldersCrumb Cup

Aluminum AnglePVC CouplingPVC Plug

 

You could substitute the Aluminum angle for some other product ( I just had the aluminum on hand) and the Tripod I found at Goodwill ( part of an old portable projection screen ) for about $5.00.

I cut the angle to 30” long to maintain the appropriate distance between the Radon bottles.  I drilled a hole in the center of the PVC plug the size of the pop rivet I used and attached one plug to each end of the angle.  Then using clear PVC glue, glued the couplings to the plugs.

I drilled a hole in the center of the angle to attach it to the tripod and also drilled opposing holes near the top of the couplings for the cable ties.  Take one cable tie and attach the Crumb Cup (upside down) to the top of the coupling.
 

Rado InspectionRadon Inspection In Progress

 When assembled and ready to deploy the Radon Gas Detector bottles, with the tripod setup, remove the caps and place them in the bottom of the coupling.  This will allow the top of the bottle to be level with the top of the coupling.  With the caps below the bottles you never wonder where you put them.   Place the Radon Gas Detector bottles in the couplings and install the other cable tie.  If you notice I have used red cable ties which I purchased in an electronics store, which the general public is not aware.  It would be difficult to block air flow to the Radon bottles.

  To retrieve the Radon Bottles use a small pair of side cutters and cut the long cable tie, (the short tie acts as a hinge) replace the caps and don't forget to fill out the rest of your "chain of custody report".  After I retrieve the samples I remove the bolt which holds the angle to the tripod so indeed it is very compact.

These stands are very compact, light, affordable and easy.

Don’t forget  to give the occupants good instructions on the closed house conditions required 12 hours prior to test and 48 hours for testing period.
 

Sprinkler Systems and Wood Siding

Sprinkler systems are very convenient and the newer timers have many programing features and options.  What about the sprinklers in relation to your structures?

If your house or building structures are made of wood or wood products and the sprinklers are not correctly adjusted,  the siding can become saturated and lead to decay or even produce mold growth.  After all the main ingredient needed for mold to grow is water.  As part of the INTERNachi Standards of Practice  I  examine the siding or exterior wall coverings for water damage or intrusion in all my inspections.

Even with masonry or brick exterior walls with a good paint or sealer, over time miss-adjusted sprinklers can create an avenue for water intrusion into your home or building, which if nothing else can lead to a maintenance nightmare.

My recommendation is to check the coverage of your sprinkler heads once a month and adjust as necessary to prevent  a large repair bill.  A little maintenance now can save you $$.

The photos below show the results of prolonged exposure to miss-adjusted sprinkler heads. This siding will have to be replaced and repainted (it sure is easier to adjust heads).

Winter is fast approaching the Front Range of Colorado, make sure you have your system drained by a professional  or if you have an air compressor and the knowledge you can do it your self (MAKE SURE YOU KNOW HOW).

 

deteriorated sidingdeteriorated siding

Concrete Movement at your Driveway

 

Colorado Springs has a variety of soils, the Briargate area has lots of sand while other areas have lots of clay.  Sand allows rain water to peculate or drain easily while clay does not and some clays are expansive or swells when wet.  In my Home Inspections it is not unusual to to find concrete drives that have a elevation difference of an inch or more and is considered a trip hazard.  This elevation difference is usually because water has found its way under the concrete or in some cases due to improper compaction when the house was built.  For the sake of this article we will say because of water intrusion.  When the house is built there is a joint between the garage floor slab and the drive slab, typically an expansion joint material, which is a fibrous material is placed between the concrete for a separation.  The problem is over time this fibrous material will deteriorate which will allow water under the concrete slab and if the soil is expansive then you get movement of the slabs.

In Commercial projects these joints are caulked with a polyurethane two part caulk which remains flexible when cured, you have no doubt seen these joints while walking into the malls or doctors office.  The same type caulk is available to home owners in a one part which can be purchased from your home improvement centers.  The caulk is available which will fit into a standard caulk gun and it comes in many colors but concrete Gray is the most common for this use.  By caulking the joints you can extend the life of your concrete by many years.  The photos below from a recent Home Inspection shows a condition in which most of the fibrous material has deteriorated and will lead to concrete movement.  If you are not handy with caulking of this type (it is tricky) call a caulking professional it will save you money in the long run.

Tom Camp

 

This joint is not as deteriorated, but needs to be replaced.Deterioration found during home inspection in Briargate

Frost Proof Hose Bibs

 

I live in Colorado Springs and perform Home and Commercial inspections along the Front Range.  In one of my home inspections I walked into a basement bedroom and was struck by a particular odor. It was that musty moldy odor one dreads,  after further investigation I discovered a “frost proof” hose bib located in the ceiling along a back wall had not been so “frost proof”.  In the photo below the split that is visible is due to a failed valve.

Note the length of this valve which is 18” long, the actual shut off is at the back of the valve which leaves 18” of pipe without water in it which is sufficient for winter conditions.  This valve however had failed leaving water in the pipe and subject to freezing.

The owner had to remove the carpet, a section of drywall and insulation, mitigate the mold in the wall cavity and have these items replaced.

The question remains, is your “frost proof” hose bibs operating correctly?
One good check is to operate your hose bib, when shut off a small amount of water should drain out. This would be the water in the 18” of pipe, because remember the valve is in the back of the unit.  

Even in the middle of winter we can have 60 degree weather which is a good time to water trees or wash your vehicle, don’t forget to disconnect the hose from your hose bib or you will be inviting disaster.

I hope this helps to prevent a catastrophe around your home or business.

 

failed frost proof hose bib  close up of split from freezing

 

 

Your Defensible Space

Here in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region  has been a beautiful and wet spring and summer.  The grass is tall and green and the wildflowers tall and beautiful. I hate to say it, but fall is on the way and with the changing of the season. All the tall green grass and wildflowers will soon be changing to a crisp brown, which makes a great fuel for the spread of wildfires.

The area around your home should be a defensible space or zone, which can be maintained to reduce the spread of wildfires not only to your home but your neighbors as well.  As a home inspector I look for these issues  so I can inform the home owners of the danger.

The sketches below are taken from the InterNachi website and shows specific areas and distances from your home and how to prepare your landscape whether native or domestic to prevent the spread of fire.

With your home in the center, your roof and gutters should be kept clean form dried leafs and pine needles, and the first fifteen feet from your house should be kept clear of flammable materials such as firewood and grasses. Zone 2 from 15 feet to 125 feet, large trees and shrubs should be at least 10' apart and tree limbs should be trimmed to a height of 10 feet. The ground should be cleared of dried leaves, pine needles branches or other flammable materials.  Zone 3 is less restrictive, but trees should be kept healthy.

Colorado Springs is a beautiful place to live, please help keep it that way.

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FIRE EXTINGUISHERS IN MY HOME?

Do you have fire extinguishers in your home? SHOULD YOU?
During the course of a person’s life, you will probably never use a fire extinguisher.
By the same argument you may never have your home’s smoke detector activated.

Safety features such as AFCI Breakers, GFCI outlets, CO Detectors and Smoke Detectors (which I check  inspect during my Home Inspections) are required by code for you and your families protection. You may never need them, but given the alternative (the possible life of a loved one) it is a comfort to have them.

Which brings us back to the fire extinguisher, in my home I have two ABC type fire extinguishers one exiting out of my basement and one as I go into the garage. I may never have to use one but it may save my home or a loved one from disaster.

It is important however, if you have fire extinguishers to know how to operate them and keep them maintained.  Some fire extinguishers have a pressure gauge built in and the gauge should remain in the green.  These can also be refilled or re-pressurized.  Fire extinguishers can be purchased from your local home improvement store ranging from $20.00 to $70.00.

In commercial applications fire extinguishers are required to be inspected & re-tagged once a year, so for your home your fire extinguishers should be checked once a year along with the batteries in smoke and CO detectors

In having a fire extinguisher available and caught quick enough you might be able to prevent the loss of your home.  Just remember good judgement is curtail  in situations such as this, DONT RISK YOUR LIFE!

Always have an escape plan rehearsed by your entire family.

fire extinguisher types