In your case, your electric panel should be replaced

Originally published in The Capital Gazette

by Jim Rooney

We are selling our home and just had a home inspection. The home we have been in for over 20 years has a Federal Pacific electrical panel with which we have had no trouble but the home inspector said was dangerous and should be immediately replaced. This is shaping up to be a major problem with this home sale. What is going on and what should we do? We are at a loss.

The first thing I can tell you is that you are lucky people not to have had a major fire during the time you’ve occupied that house with that electrical panel in it.

Federal Pacific Electric panels have a record of 62% failure rate. That number would probably be higher as some problems may have never been reported.

When I see one while performing a home inspection I won’t even remove the front panel - called the dead front - to examine the connections. At 62% failure rate it’s not if but when this panel will fail and a fire results. I’ve been hooted and hollered at by home sellers and Realtors because of this position but I never want to read about a house fire caused by a failure of a panel in a house that I have inspected.

I read the papers very carefully when it comes to house fires and their causes.

I am also aware that the electrical code is basically the fire code and I have been schooled in it by hours of classroom courses given by senior electrical inspectors from here and different parts of the country over the years. I marvel at the encyclopedic knowledge of these instructors. Ever since computers and the internet have become a part of our lives researching things of this nature have become amazingly simple.

That being said when it comes to those who purport such knowledge ignorance is no excuse. I tell people who argue with me about those panels that it’s true, you don’t have any trouble until you do. Then it’s big trouble.

Your electric panel should be replaced. There is no need to fool around with such danger. We all have become complacent to the lethality that lingers with each wall outlet in our homes if dealt with incorrectly. We joke about our first introduction to the tingle of an electric shock from a toaster or a hairdryer but no one jokes about electrocution as there are no survivors of it. The only folks I know who keep any nationwide statistics on electrocution are the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. I called down there once with a question about how many get killed with electricity in the home and where exactly and a cheerful voice came on the line with “Death Statistics!” for a greeting. If you’re not prepared for it that line alone gives you a jolt.

Call around or get references from neighbors as if you have an FPE panel that needs replacement your neighbors probably have too and some may have. The good news is now that we have computer access you can check on virtually anyone you want to hire for work on your house by going to the DLLR (Department Of Labor Licensing and Regulation) and see if they are on the up and up. I have learned that about 30% of the folks who say they are licensed to do this or that aren’t.

So beware. If an unlicensed person shows up to you house and screws something up the Maryland Home Improvement Commission can be of little help and finding the fellow to sue may be lots more than it’s worth. And that’s what the scofflaws count on.

Keep the mail coming. If you've got a question, tip or comment, let me know. Write "On The Level," c/o The Capital, P.O. Box 3407, Annapolis, MD 21403 or email me at

Date : 9/24/2017