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So I'm almost done the rewiring of several parts of my house -- pretty much done and going to call for inspection next week but I noticed yesterday and today that when I have been finished working in the panel for the day and go to turn back on the main breaker, it doesn't "click" on very well. In fact I have to flip it three or four times with just the right amount of force in order for it to stay "on". I don't think there's anything wrong with the circuits or breakers in the panel (I've probably spent at least $300 on new breakers as part of this renovation) but now that I've flipped the main breaker a few times and got a feel for its peculiarities, is it worn out?

Is the wonkiness in the main breaker a concern or is it somewhat normal for it to need to be pushed up hard to solidly "click" on and stay on? And if I cannot find a new 200A main breaker for sale anywhere, does that mean I need a new panel?

Edit: Yes it's a Federal Pioneer Stab-Lok panel. a 32 space / 64 circuit model. I know these panels are hated but up in Canada I can still buy brand new breakers and the government regulatory bodies haven't recalled the panels... so while I know everyone hates them and they supposedly never work properly, they are legal to operate and I didn't want to replace it.

Update: main breaker failed today in the off state while I was working in the panel. Need to replace panel now to continue renovation.

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    A key question is the age and type (brand/model) of the main breaker. If you do need a new main breaker and can't find an exact 200A replacement, you might (depending on actual loads) be able to use a smaller breaker. In addition to telling us age & type of breaker, a picture showing the entire panel might be helpful. Dec 16, 2021 at 4:36
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    So you spent $300 on breakers for a panel where you know the breakers have a history of serious design flaws? That $300 could have been much better spent. For example, homedepot.com/p/… is $ 159 for a modern 200A panel with 3 single and 2 double breakers thrown in. That may not be the best example - it might (not clear) actually come with a 100A main breaker (but 200A available) but you get the idea. Dec 16, 2021 at 4:59
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    Sorry if this is snarky, but protecting your house and it's contents (living and otherwise) is worth a lot more than $800 + a new panel... 5 second googling suggests federal are not to be trusted, even brand new components inspectapedia.com/fpe/Federal_Pioneer_Panel_Safety.php
    – Aron
    Dec 16, 2021 at 9:15
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    @Aron I agree. But it looks like the Connecticut Electric stuff is properly done, not just a repeat of the old problems. They manufacture replacements for several types of discontinued (some good, some bad, but all old) breakers. But (a) if they don't make a 200A then this is irrelevant anyway (you don't want to put in an old 200A for sure) and even a straight main breaker replacement may require the utility shutoff to do it. But $800 is absurd. RibaldEddie, which utility company is this? Dec 16, 2021 at 13:36
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    $860 plus tax is still cheaper than a house fire.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:48

3 Answers 3

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You misunderstand the FPE problem.

It's not just "bad breakers, replace breakers save the panel". That would be Challenger.

What is wrong with FPE StabLok is inherent to the bus design. New breakers can't fix it - if they did, Schneider or Eaton would've just done that.

Now, when the bus stab problems were exposed, the company was very cunning in how they approached regulators in the U.S. They denied everything of course, and then did a plea bargain where they agreed to stop selling new panels and liquidate their breaker business, and the regulators agreed not to condemn the existing installed base (which would have resulted in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that the regulators could have lost). As such it is legal to install a new-old-stock unit today in the US. I assume they did something similar with Canadian authorities.

There is nothing special about a political boundary that makes the bus stab design dangerous in one place and safe in another. They simply played the regulatory game a little better in Canada.

So yes, this is a scary-bad panel. And you can't fix that, except with an Eaton panel insert that converts it to CH or BR.

As for the breakers, the people who watch this stuff have noted that replacement breakers from China improve nothing on the original "failure to trip" product flaw, which is the second flaw which you are believing is the only flaw.

Separate from that, it is a scary obsolete panel.

Pushmatic is the finest consumer panel ever made, but it too suffers this second problem. You will be paying through the nose on every single part for it. And the currently made 3rd party breakers for those introduce product flaws that were never present in the real McCoy.

Even if you had a Pushmatic, you would have no safety issues but would still be plagued by obsolesence issues, including non-availability of safe replacement parts.

That old panel doesn't owe you anything. It's time. Bite the bullet now, so you can buy breakers for C$9 incl. VAT going forward. This will also save you money and ugliness everytime you need to add an AFCI or 2-pole GFCI breaker, since you'll be able to do that at the breaker on any contemporary panel.

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  • I can buy brand new AFCI / GFCI breakers for this panel. Dec 16, 2021 at 18:00
  • Really? I'm dubious about quality. But in addition, how much do they cost? If regular breakers cost 4x typical cost of other brands, I can only imagine how much a GFCI or AFCI must cost... Dec 16, 2021 at 18:22
  • Note on buying breakers for $9 -- replacing panel will grandfather existing circuits, so you could use plain breakers there, but for most new circuits you'll need CAFCI according to the code, and that's more like $90 (source: had my own FP panel replaced recently). Of course FP panel doesn't have CAFCI breakers at all and you'll have to run armored cable to CAFCI receptacle instead, which might end up costing even more.
    – Eugene
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:17
  • @RibaldEddie Re: "I can buy brand new AFCI / GFCI breakers for this panel." -- there is AFCI breaker for FP, but it is not CAFCI (older version), so it likely won't pass inspection (for a new branch anyway)
    – Eugene
    Dec 17, 2021 at 0:20
  • @Eugene can you link to an explanation please? Dec 17, 2021 at 0:31
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As for the actual question re breaker being wobbly: I would replace it if I weren't planning to replace the panel. The breaker seems mechanically worn out, more from induced vibrations than from turning it off and on I expect. With time in best case it might fail in off position and you will be without power, and in worst case after an especially unfortunate toggle, it might start arching, overheat and start a fire.

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That's a problem. Depending upon the brand of the panel (please let us know), in most cases you should be able to get a replacement main breaker. But you'll need to coordinate with the power company to pull the meter or other ways of disconnecting main power to make it safe (REALLY IMPORTANT) to replace the main breaker.

The action of the main breaker you are describing is not normal.

Please take a couple of pics of your panel and share the brand/model with us and you'll get great answers.

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    The OP mentioned in a comment that he'd have to pay $800 to get the PoCo to shut off the power to replace the panel and now he's going to have to pay that to replace the main breaker in a sketchy panel with $300+ of brand new sketchy breakers. Hmmmm...
    – FreeMan
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:37
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    @FreeMan, yeah, that's nuts, highway robbery. several mistakes where made here, mostly sticking with the stab-lok panel and buying a bunch of breakers for it. Dec 16, 2021 at 15:40

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