FPE and Zinsco Panels

johnmccoll

Member
Location
Cody, WY, USA
Hey guys, wondering how everyone is handling this issue. Are you recommending a panel change 100% of this time? Another option is to feed a sub panel from ine of these to allow for arc faults but, what is the concern for lability with the apparently high failure rates with these panels? I've tried to research this topic, but can't seem to find any independent testing to prove that FPE or Zinsco panels are sub standard. Any thoughts on this topic would be appreciated.
 

zog

Senior Member
Location
Charlotte, NC
Hey guys, wondering how everyone is handling this issue. Are you recommending a panel change 100% of this time? Another option is to feed a sub panel from ine of these to allow for arc faults but, what is the concern for lability with the apparently high failure rates with these panels? I've tried to research this topic, but can't seem to find any independent testing to prove that FPE or Zinsco panels are sub standard. Any thoughts on this topic would be appreciated.
Thats because there isn't any testing to show that they have any higher of a failure rate than other panels/brekers from the same time period. CPSC did an investigation.
http://www.cpsc.gov/en/newsroom/news-releases/1983/commission-closes-investigation-of-fpe-circuit-breakers-and-provides-safety-information-for-consumers/
 

A/A Fuel GTX

Senior Member
Location
WI & AZ
Thats because there isn't any testing to show that they have any higher of a failure rate than other panels/brekers from the same time period. CPSC did an investigation.
http://www.cpsc.gov/en/newsroom/news-releases/1983/commission-closes-investigation-of-fpe-circuit-breakers-and-provides-safety-information-for-consumers/
Anytime the government is involved in anything raises a red flag for me. I wouldn't put any creedence in the report. If I come acrross an FPE or Zinsco panel, an upgrade is in order. I've seen too many failures in the field to not do so.
 
Zog, I can personally say that whereas I have observed failures and replaced a couple of hundred FPE & Zinsco panels over the last 30 years, including probably 20 or 30 that actually caught fire, I can only remember 3 other catastrophic failures of other brands (I recall one Bulldog, and a couple of Murrays, but never a Square D or CH).

To the original poster, I would say: many major home insurers recognize the advisability of replacing electrical services over 20 years of age. (see attachment) I stopped adding circuits to FPE and Zinsco panels many years ago (unless the customer is just too poor to afford the upgrade, in which I would make the repairs for free)
 

Attachments

curt swartz

Electrical Contractor - San Jose, CA
Location
San Jose, CA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
Zog, I can personally say that whereas I have observed failures and replaced a couple of hundred FPE & Zinsco panels over the last 30 years, including probably 20 or 30 that actually caught fire, I can only remember 3 other catastrophic failures of other brands (I recall one Bulldog, and a couple of Murrays, but never a Square D or CH).

To the original poster, I would say: many major home insurers recognize the advisability of replacing electrical services over 20 years of age. (see attachment) I stopped adding circuits to FPE and Zinsco panels many years ago (unless the customer is just too poor to afford the upgrade, in which I would make the repairs for free)
I have been in the trade for about 30 years now and have been involved with insurance work for the past 20+ years. I have not seen very many panels catch fire. The few than I have have seen have not been Zinsco or FPE. Zinsco's frequently have buss connection failures but that seldom results in anymore than some damage to the breaker connection an the buss. I would bet that 99.9% of panel fires are the result of loose connection or poor workmanship and have very little to do with the manufacture of the panel.

I have asked all of the bay area breaker shops that test and sell use breakers about FPE and Zinsco failures. They always state that they don't see anymore failures of these brands that they do any other brand.
 
I have been in the trade for about 30 years now and have been involved with insurance work for the past 20+ years. I have not seen very many panels catch fire. The few than I have have seen have not been Zinsco or FPE. Zinsco's frequently have buss connection failures but that seldom results in anymore than some damage to the breaker connection an the buss. I would bet that 99.9% of panel fires are the result of loose connection or poor workmanship and have very little to do with the manufacture of the panel.

I have asked all of the bay area breaker shops that test and sell use breakers about FPE and Zinsco failures. They always state that they don't see anymore failures of these brands that they do any other brand.
I too have been in business for over thirty years, the first 11 in Oklahoma, the rest here in the Bay Area. 30 years ago, we didn't have readily available digital camera's, as I wish I had documented all the fires and failures. I still replace 2-3 Zinsco or FPE's a month, and though I haven't seen a fire in the past couple of years, I see plenty of arc burns on FPE's (primarily where the 1/2 size breakers seat on the buss) and plenty of Zinsco buss bars either burned through or severely damaged, again where the breaker seated.

We're in the same town, so we must just run in different circles :)

As far as the used breaker suppliers, what else would you expect them to say? :happysad:
 
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zog

Senior Member
Location
Charlotte, NC
To the original poster, I would say: many major home insurers recognize the advisability of replacing electrical services over 20 years of age. (see attachment) I stopped adding circuits to FPE and Zinsco panels many years ago (unless the customer is just too poor to afford the upgrade, in which I would make the repairs for free)
I agree that any panel >20 years old should be evaluated and/or replaced due to age, but not due to the brand name. People that test breakers for a living know failure rates are pretty much the same for all brands.
 
I agree that any panel >20 years old should be evaluated and/or replaced due to age, but not due to the brand name. People that test breakers for a living know failure rates are pretty much the same for all brands.
Just to clarify: I didn't say the breakers failed, but there are bussbar failures on both brands, which cause fires. The breakers themselves may be fine, but the connections to the bussbars (FPE, most often 1/2 size breakers) or the bussbars themselves (ZINSCO's poor choice of aluminum alloy) fail at a higher rate then other manufacturers (IMHO). Another problematic brand is the older 1/2 size GE breakers, again where they just don't hold well on the bussbar.

Changing the breakers doesn't alleviate the problem, replacing the panels does.
 

edlee

Senior Member
Even though I don't like them, I haven't come across disastrous failures with FPE panels. The breakers tend to fall out when you take the panel cover off, which is certainly disconcerting.


Years ago just out of curiosity I deliberately overloaded some single-pole FPE 15a and 20a breakers to see what would happen: two 1,500W space heaters on a circuit. The breakers tripped like they were supposed to.

Here in New England I've learned to be careful switching off old Murray 100a or 200a main breakers. Sometimes they won't reset and I've had to go as far as replacing a few of them because even without a load I couldn't get them turned back on.
 
Zinsco and FPE should be changed

Zinsco and FPE should be changed

24 years in the trade, I have found about 10 burnt out Zinsco/FPE breakers/slots. Areas where the customer, or another electrician just moved spots so they were not in the burned/melted copper zone.
I have not found any other brands that had the bus affected.
I would not have one in my house or in the house of someone I loved.
 

readydave8

re member
Location
Clarkesville, Georgia
Occupation
electrician
Here in New England I've learned to be careful switching off old Murray 100a or 200a main breakers. Sometimes they won't reset and I've had to go as far as replacing a few of them because even without a load I couldn't get them turned back on.
By the way, those old Murray main breakers were like that when they were new, I was using Murray in the 80's and had to switch suppliers, changing out too many 200 amp main breakers under warrantee in new houses. Maybe 3 out of 20?
 

curt swartz

Electrical Contractor - San Jose, CA
Location
San Jose, CA
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I have not seen the buss connection failure of the FPE?s but I believe they exist. I have seen may Zinsco buss connection failures. I think I have seen buss connection for almost every manufacture including several Square D QO?s.

Buss failures don?t usually result in the entire panel catching fire. Just the buss and breaker get damaged. Many time they only way to see the damage is removing the breakers. If the entire panel goes up in flames it is usually caused by poor installation workmanship not manufacture defects.

FPE and Zinsco have gotten a bad name. In reality I don?t think they are any worse than other equipment. FPE and Zinsco equipment is very old. In addition to age there are also probably 10 times more FPE and Zinsco panels installed in homes that all other manufactures combined. If you look at age of this equipment and the number of units installed of course there are going to be more failures.

FPE did have an issue with some breakers for a short period of time. This only effected those breakers not every breaker they ever made.

As far as the breaker shops not telling me the truth about the failure rate of FPE and Zinsco breakers I have no idea why they would lie to me. I have sold thousands of FPE and Zinsco breakers to breaker shops. If anything they would rather me think they have a higher failure rate than they actually do to reduce the price they pay me. If the breaker fails testing it gets sent to trash.
 
I have not seen the buss connection failure of the FPE?s but I believe they exist. I have seen may Zinsco buss connection failures. I think I have seen buss connection for almost every manufacture including several Square D QO?s.

Buss failures don?t usually result in the entire panel catching fire. Just the buss and breaker get damaged. Many time they only way to see the damage is removing the breakers. If the entire panel goes up in flames it is usually caused by poor installation workmanship not manufacture defects.

FPE and Zinsco have gotten a bad name. In reality I don?t think they are any worse than other equipment. FPE and Zinsco equipment is very old. In addition to age there are also probably 10 times more FPE and Zinsco panels installed in homes that all other manufactures combined. If you look at age of this equipment and the number of units installed of course there are going to be more failures.

FPE did have an issue with some breakers for a short period of time. This only effected those breakers not every breaker they ever made.

As far as the breaker shops not telling me the truth about the failure rate of FPE and Zinsco breakers I have no idea why they would lie to me. I have sold thousands of FPE and Zinsco breakers to breaker shops. If anything they would rather me think they have a higher failure rate than they actually do to reduce the price they pay me. If the breaker fails testing it gets sent to trash.
Never said every bussbar I've seen fail resulted in a fire. Never said I'd never seen a Square D busbar fail.

If you wish to leave FPE & ZINSCO panels in place for your customers because the've gotten a bad rap, you're free to do so.

I will continue to recommend they be replaced, and believe the evidence is there to backup the recommendation. There are probably 10's of thousands still in use here in the Bay Area, but I wouldn't have my family living with either brand.
 

norcal

Senior Member
Surprisingly, Zinsco bolt-on seems to be OK, but since they are only avail. as used & quite expensive, last one was a 20A 2-pole for $140 that was way older then the 1976 Sylvania panel it went in, it's time for them to go...

In the early days of Zinsco, they did use a plated copper bus, & the 3? plug-in panels were copper w/ a really weird bus arrangement.
 

cowboyjwc

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Simi Valley, CA
I have been in the trade for about 30 years now and have been involved with insurance work for the past 20+ years. I have not seen very many panels catch fire. The few than I have have seen have not been Zinsco or FPE. Zinsco's frequently have buss connection failures but that seldom results in anymore than some damage to the breaker connection an the buss. I would bet that 99.9% of panel fires are the result of loose connection or poor workmanship and have very little to do with the manufacture of the panel.

I have asked all of the bay area breaker shops that test and sell use breakers about FPE and Zinsco failures. They always state that they don't see anymore failures of these brands that they do any other brand.
I'm gonna say that I have 35+ years and 23 of those as an inspector and I'm right there with you. Most of the failures I see are on commercial panels and of various manufactures. Most of the failures are caused by maintainance issues.
 

growler

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,GA
Hey guys, wondering how everyone is handling this issue. Are you recommending a panel change 100% of this time? Another option is to feed a sub panel from ine of these to allow for arc faults .
What's going to be the cost difference between up-grading the panel and adding a sub-panel?

I would normally try to sell the up-grade because I think you are saving the customer money in the long run and maybe their life. If you add a sub panel and a year from now that main in the FPE goes bad how much is this going to cost the customer or even if it's just the 30 Amp dryer breaker. Now is the chance to sell an up-grade for very little price difference.
 

zog

Senior Member
Location
Charlotte, NC
If you want to get technical FPE breakers without a Pink UL label and a white dot on the handle are not UL listed.
http://inspectapedia.com/fpe/FPE-Hazards-111202_small.pdf
That was an interesting read, however I questions the authors test methods and motive.

His testing was on old breakers he pulled out of demoed panels that had been in service for 30+ years. Then he conducted trip tests (Specifics of the set up were not given) at 135% and 200% and lists failures at those points (Duration of the test and equipment used also not given).

Molded case low voltage circuit breakers are typically tested to UL standard 489. UL uses the following test goals to determine if a breaker is considered to be safe (incompliance with their safety standard):
?The breaker must interrupt the maximum short circuit current two times.
?The breaker must protect itself and the connected conductor and the equipment it is installed in.
?After having been tested the breaker must be fully functional and pass a thermal calibration trip test at 250% of its rated ampacity; and pass a dielectric withstand test at two times its rated voltage or a minimum of 900 volts.
?The tested breaker must also operate properly and have continuity in all of its poles.

NEMA AB4, which is also a standard for testing MCCB's, requires testing at 300% of the rating. Not sure where this 135% test comes from, while I dont have a stab lock TCC, if you look at typical curves of similar breakers the breaker should trip somewhere in the 500 seconds to "never" range due to allowable design tollerances.

I am just an industrial air and vacuum breaker guy so maybe I am missing something here, but his testing sounds bogus to me. I know there are a few guys here that have extensive OEM MCCB design and testing backgrounds, would like to hear your thoughts. I find this stuff interesting.
 
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