Federal Electric Service Panel

lbridges

LifeTime Supporter
Nov 12, 2009
323
Indialantic, FL
Semi-long story so my apology. When telling my management a story I always have to provide them a Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

BLUF: Go out to your home electrical service panel. If it was made by federal electric, call an electrician and spend some $$ to replace it.

About a year ago I had the cable TV company out for some work. At my house the cable system enters the structure next to the electrical service. The service tech mentioned I should replace my service panel, but didn't act like his hair was on fire about it or anything. My service panel was original to the house in 1978 and was made by Federal Electric.

Fast forward a bit and I had a circuit breaker fail "open". This is much better than failed "closed" BTW. I tried to find a local source for a new breaker, but HD & Lowes said they had nothing (but said nothing more than that either). Looking online, I found this site. That got me worried and I found an electrician to replace the panel, and he confirmed that was a wise move if I cared at all about my family or self.

Had my pool finished a few months ago, and while the electrician was here I mentioned the previous service panel and he offered that he probably would have refused to add in the the additional draw for the pool even if he had a 220 circuit breaker to fit - he thought them that unsafe.

I told him about the failed open breaker and he said I was lucky since most of them had failed closed, which in turn started the house fires, etc. We just had a GFCI circuit trip on the front outside outlet, which reminded me of the issue all over. Thought I might share in case anyone else didn't know about the problems inherent in the make/style of my old service panel/breakers.

Bottom Line: I like the people on this site and would hate to lose any, so go check the OEM of your electrical service panel and replace it if needed.
 

Brentr

Gold Supporter
LifeTime Supporter
Oct 18, 2009
2,603
Jacksonville, FL
Good job lbridges :goodjob: , our house is fairly new but there are a lot of older homes with the possibly defective breaker panel. :cheers: :cheers:
 

lightingguy

LifeTime Supporter
Jun 17, 2010
513
Glendale, CA
The first thing I would do is go through and check all the breakers just to make sure none of them has failed "closed". Manually turn them off and test for voltage in the house. (I had 2 out of 10 closed - not good at all)

This doesn't rule out the other issue - which is they are notorious for not tripping in an overcurrent situation.

Obviously local code issues or problems with your mains can increase the price - but a new panel in and of itself is only $2000 installed. If you are comfortable handling the mains you can put one in for a few hundred dollars (if you're not sure - dont - it's not worth it.)

Any idea what year your panel is?
 

Beez

LifeTime Supporter
May 19, 2009
785
Dallas, TX
lightingguy said:
The first thing I would do is go through and check all the breakers just to make sure none of them has failed "closed". Manually turn them off and test for voltage in the house. (I had 2 out of 10 closed - not good at all)

This doesn't rule out the other issue - which is they are notorious for not tripping in an overcurrent situation.

Obviously local code issues or problems with your mains can increase the price - but a new panel in and of itself is only $2000 installed. If you are comfortable handling the mains you can put one in for a few hundred dollars (if you're not sure - dont - it's not worth it.)

Any idea what year your panel is?
It is the original that was installed when the house was built in 1954.

I have already spoken to an electrician, and there are complications which will drive the price much higher than the normal price of around $2000 you quoted. Mainly, the current panel is located inside a closet which does not conform to current code. So the panel will have to be moved...

When I bought the house I knew about the panel and had intended to replace it fairly soon. However, the economy tanked very soon after, and I have been struggling financially ever since. The panel weighs heavy on my mind, but I still can't afford to replace it yet... :(
 

lightingguy

LifeTime Supporter
Jun 17, 2010
513
Glendale, CA
Beez-

You MIGHT be able to convince the city to allow you to do a conversion - not move the panel, just switch out the guts. They will resist at first but sometimes an inspector will weigh the pros and cons of changing it out in budget or leaving a fire hazard in place. You'll never know till you ask....

I ended up having to move the panel to the other side of the property and re-run the mains from the pole as well....

Good luck
 

Sparkmaster

In The Industry
Aug 2, 2008
110
Conway SC
Holy Yahoo.. $2000 to replace a panel.. Where do you guys live.. I need to relocate there and charge those prices.. Man, I do a 200 amp service for about $1000.00.. What does the Electrician do for that?? How far does he go?? Here in Parts of NH, Im only responsible up to the Meter.. Meter can is supplied free and upgrade from meter up is also free.. Other parts are not free but about $110 - $150.

What r the prices for Panels there??
 

lbridges

LifeTime Supporter
Nov 12, 2009
323
Indialantic, FL
Beez said:
I have one of these in my house. :(
Good luck with whatever path you end up following. I did a same-spot panel swap and got whole house surge protection added for $1500.

As suggested, I'd speak to the inspector in person, mention you just found this problem out, and ask for a waiver given the times & finances.

If that doesn't work I'd go up a level (chief inspector, town manager, whatever) and ask "is there are way to appeal", mentioning that it would be a shame to have the waiver turned down just to have someone get hurt in a fire (how close are neighbors, if your place burned, would others too, etc.).

A maybe, maybe not good idea suggestion. Ask if your insurance company if they would help financially - you'd think they would - but that's an industry I don't understand.
 

Isaac-1

TFP Expert
LifeTime Supporter
May 10, 2010
6,711
SW Louisiana
I am in much the same situation, I live in an older house, built in 1902 as a boarding house, last rewired in 1978, and of course it has a Federal Pacific main breaker panel. I was going to get it replaced a few years ago, but was also given a rather high quote, aparently my town has a code requirement stating any new resitential electrical panel must be at least 200 amps which would mean a lot more rewiring, etc.

Ike.
 

Beez

LifeTime Supporter
May 19, 2009
785
Dallas, TX
Sparkmaster said:
Holy Yahoo.. $2000 to replace a panel.. Where do you guys live.. I need to relocate there and charge those prices.. Man, I do a 200 amp service for about $1000.00.. What does the Electrician do for that?? How far does he go?? Here in Parts of NH, Im only responsible up to the Meter.. Meter can is supplied free and upgrade from meter up is also free.. Other parts are not free but about $110 - $150.

What r the prices for Panels there??
Actually, $2000 is high for where I am, but I have heard the figure of $1500 from several sources. I know someone who would probably do it even cheaper than that, but I still have the problem of moving the panel.

For those that suggested talking to the inspector/city about the problem... You wouldn't suggest that if you were familiar with Richardson, TX!!! Major sticklers, they won't budge on the smallest thing. Contacting them would be inviting disaster. Unfortunately, I'm SOL until I have the funds to make the upgrade. The only bright side is the panel has been here for 50+ years, and the home inspector I used before I bought the house took the panel off and didn't see any signs of arcing so I'm hoping it will go a few more years...
 

Beez

LifeTime Supporter
May 19, 2009
785
Dallas, TX
Sparkmaster said:
No Basement?? Whats on the other side of the closet? Exterior wall?? How about a Outdoor panel?
Nope, no basement, it's Texas! We don't have no stinkin basements... :mrgreen:

Other side of the closet is a bedroom wall. That's probably where it will have to go, we just don't want it there smack dab in the middle of the wall. But realistically there isn't anywhere in the house where it wouldn't be smack dab in the middle of a wall... :roll:


EDIT: That basement crack is a joke... I'd love to have one, but the limestone prohibits it!
 

lightingguy

LifeTime Supporter
Jun 17, 2010
513
Glendale, CA
I was quoted $2000 from a couple companies in Southern California to replace the meter. It had to be moved to the other side of my house though for access. That included the permits, etc.

I ended up doing it myself - the city traded me a new set of mains for installing a digital meter so.... Win win I thought.

I know inspectors can be a pain in the rear. They spend all day listening to people tell them why they dont want to bring something up to code and become very rigid. If you are able to have a quiet conversation sometime you might be surprised.

On the other hand - these panels dont just burst into flame for no reason. Going through your house to make sure the big draw appliances - microwave, fridge, washer, dryer, water kettle, etc - aren't on the same circuits will go a long way towards mitigating the issue.
 

Beez

LifeTime Supporter
May 19, 2009
785
Dallas, TX
lightingguy said:
On the other hand - these panels dont just burst into flame for no reason. Going through your house to make sure the big draw appliances - microwave, fridge, washer, dryer, water kettle, etc - aren't on the same circuits will go a long way towards mitigating the issue.
Good point, and I'm mostly covered here. The only thing that worries me a little is the air conditioner. It briefly dims the lights every time it fires up...and it is 100+ degrees here lately! Oh well, nothing I can do at the moment... Thanks for all the responses though! :wave:

...and thanks to lbridges for the thread to help me keep it in mind! :goodjob:
 

ShockerLU3

Well-known member
Jun 27, 2010
80
Toms River, NJ
These things are notorious in the industry. I've heard tales of literally welding with them. The facility I work in was originally opened in 1929 so I have have some experience with this garbage. You have a very good point about sudden combustion for no reason. In addition to splitting up large loads you may also want to do some other maintenance. You can shut off each breaker, one at a time, and tighten the screws. Loose screws are well known "hot spots" in electrical equipment. Just use a tester to make sure there is no voltage on the screw before applying the screwdriver. No need to electrocute yourself to prevent a different electrical problem. If you're nervous about this type of work, ask around. You'd be surprised how many people have experience with this and can show you the way. Good luck and be careful.

BTW, the dimming lights is a very common occurance. Even in newer houses with larger panels the start up of the AC just saps the supply. I wouldn't worry so much about it.
 

bk406

Well-known member
Dec 3, 2009
2,690
Central Massachusetts
ShockerLU3 said:
BTW, the dimming lights is a very common occurance. Even in newer houses with larger panels the start up of the AC just saps the supply. I wouldn't worry so much about it.
If this happens, it is an issue. It usually means that the electrical service is not big enough for the house. It can occur in houses that only have 100 amp service. If this happens in new houses, the electrical needs to be looked at. It's not normal.
For comparison, I have 2 large air conditioners (2 zone) and heat pump for the pool with 200 amp service. All 3 have kicked on at the same time numerous times. Never had a light dim, ever.
 

cheddar85

Well-known member
Feb 18, 2010
271
Houston, TX
Man, I never would've thought to bring this up here! I've known about it for quite some time, and believe me, get rid of it if you have one! I found this out the hard way several years ago. I had to do some rewiring in our wellhouse, so I shut off the breaker. I started pulling out the well pump outlet (220V!) and one little slip of the screwdriver gave me a very nasty shock! That was the only time it ever failed to open when it was shut off, but that was all it took. We also had a few fail open, but luckily none ever failed to trip when necessary!

Maybe that's why I have heart problems now... :(


BTW, bk406 is right. It's not normal, and needs to be checked out before any serious problems arise. When they do, it's probably already too late.
 

Ohm_Boy

TFP Expert
May 1, 2007
1,344
Orlando, FL
Light dimming is usually only a major problem where lights and outlets are combined on a circuit which contains an inductive load. If lights and receptacles are on separate circuits, there shouldn't be an interaction. But a motor will draw 5-7 times its normal current upon startup, so it will stress a 15 amp circuit feeding a 10 to 12 amp air conditioner.