Many of the defects we find as home inspectors are things that you might be able to live with, or that may represent a cost down the road. Others, need to be dealt with immediately and one of the kings of that category are the Federal Pacific Electric Stab-Lok breakers and the associated breaker panel.
Circuit breakers, when working correctly, disconnect an electrical circuit when too many Amps of electricity are drawn through a circuit. If a breaker fails to trip, this can cause heating of the wire, and eventually fire. Stab-Lok breakers have been shown to fail to trip up to 60% percent of the time. Worst are the 2-pole breakers that serve large appliances, which can become jammed and fail to trip under any circumstances.
Also a concern for home inspectors is that the breakers connect poorly to the bus bars inside the panel. This means the breakers can fall right out of the panel if the cover is removed. For this reason, most inspectors, myself included, will not remove the cover of an FPE Stab-Lok panel. This means that there may be additional unseen defects lurking inside.
The only good advice I can give is to have a Stab-Lok panel replaced by a licensed professional electrician before moving into the home. So, while house hunting, be sure to check the panel. If it’s an FPE Stab-Lok, think carefully about how to proceed. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but you definitely want to have it replaced, preferably by the seller before settlement. If that’s not an option, have it done before moving in.
Electrical defects are among the most potentially hazardous and costly problems a home inspection can reveal. It’s always a good idea to have a licensed professional review any serious electrical issues found during the inspection.