When the electric current inside of your home gets out of hand, circuit breakers are designed to stop the flow of electricity before it becomes a serious hazard. However, the circuit breaker in your home might not be doing its job to keep your family safe.
It turns out, if you have one specific brand inside your home, then you're at a higher risk for a house fire than your neighbors with different breaker boxes. There have been problems with these breaker boxes for years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission knows it, but still no recalls are being issued.
The breaker box in question is a called a Federal Pacific Electric Stab-lok Breaker. We'd heard about some homes in the Midwest having problems with the brand so we decided to investigate. It turns out, it's likely hundreds of these circuit breakers are in homes all across East Texas.
They're tucked away inside of homes built between the 1950's and 1990's. Electricians say the Federal Pacific Electric Company's electrical panels were some of the most commonly used panels in the country. They were installed in millions of homes across America.
"If you see this, it's bad news," explains Ryan Maresch of Proton Electric.
Maresch was the very first electrician we called about these circuit breakers. He is not only familiar with the problem, but also says he can think of dozens of local homes that have these faulty breakers inside.
"Would you, as an electrician, put one of these circuit breakers in your home?," we ask Maresch. "No. No," he replies.
Maresch says he considers the Federal Pacific Electric breaker unsafe because instead of stopping an electric overload, they continue to force power through the wire. The breakers have been traced to house fires across the country, including a blaze in Ohio.
"It could be fatal or catastrophic. They just simply will not trip. Many of them don't," he says.
This year in East Texas, there have already been numerous house fires attributed to breaker boxes. The Smith County Fire Marshal's Office says that often times, when they get on scene, a home's breaker box is already disintegrated so unless the homeowner knew beforehand, there's no telling if a Federal Pacific Electric panel is to blame.
So how do you know if your circuit breaker is leaving your home and family at risk?
"It's real simple. Right here you have an emblem... Federal," says Maresch while pointing to a round red sticker on the breaker box door.
It can be a round emblem or simply read "Federal Pacific Electric" in a straight line. There's also another way to tell.
"These are obviously black and brown [switches.] Another model or color we're going to look for is orange [switches] with a black imprint of a [number]," explains Maresch.
"Really, the breaker panels and the circuit breakers or the fuse boxes are not out in the open. So it's not something that crosses your mind on a regular basis," says Paul Findley of the Tyler Fire Department.
Findley says fire investigators often learn about strange electrical occurrences inside of a home but only after it's too late.
"That could be anything from frequent occurrences of tripping breakers or blowing fuses to a wall outlet, maybe, that's discolored or warm to the touch," he explains.
In 2002, a judge in New Jersey ruled that Federal Pacific Electric "knowingly and purposely distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet ... standards as indicated on their label."
The company has since gone out of business, but the hazard they left behind could still be sitting in your or your neighbor's home.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has conducted their own investigation into these breakers. The agency investigated the breakers for two years in the 1980's, then re-opened that investigation and closed it again in 2011. They said they didn't have enough information to establish whether or not the circuit breakers were a "serious risk."
However, local electricians disagree--- saying they would never put one of these circuit breaker panels in their own homes. If you do have a Federal Pacific Electric circuit breaker in your home and you'd like to have it replaced, Maresch suggests budgeting about $2,500 for a new breaker box and labor. He says it doesn't always cost that much, but you should expect to spend close to that.
Tuesday, August 26 2014 5:57 AM EDT2014-08-26 09:57:06 GMT
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