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Federal Pacific Electric breakers recalled: Are you safe?

Imagine you are lying in bed and you begin to smell smoke coming from upstairs. You open the door to the attic only to find a cloud of smoke filling the area. With a properly working circuit breaker, this shouldn’t happen.

fpe-breakerA circuit breaker is an automatic device for stopping the flow of current in an electric circuit as a safety measure. Circuit breakers are meant to keep you and your loved ones safe from fires. If the current flowing into the lights and appliances in your home grows too strong, it can short out the wiring and cause a fire. However, it appears that Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) breakers, which are typically found in homes that were built before 1990, could actually lead to a fire.

Circuit breakers are supposed to trip during an overload or a short circuit in order to stop the flow of electricity and prevent a fire. FPE breakers, however, fail to trip, leading to very dangerous situations. According to reports, FPE breakers may be associated with as many as 2,800 electrical fires each year in the U.S.

Firefighters, home inspectors, and insurance companies around the country are completely aware of this issue, and because of this problem, many of the insurance companies are actually refusing to cover homes that have FPE breakers.

To test your circuit breaker, just follow these four easy steps:

  1. Open the electrical box. You will notice a row of black switches corresponding to a different part of your house – hopefully they are labeled so you know which switch goes to which part of the house. These are the circuit breakers.
  2. Turn off or unplug all electronic devices that are powered througer you are testing. This will help you avoid a short in case of a surge.
  3. Check the appropriate circuit breaker to see if it’s off. If it is, it’s more than likely doing its job. Turn the circuit to the “on” position. If it trips back to the off position within a few seconds, then the problem is probably with the wiring itself, in which case you will need the help of a professional electrician.
  4. Set a multimeter to the “Volts AC” position. Touch one prong to the breaker’s terminal screw and the other prong to the ground screw. Observe the indicator on the multimeter – if the light doesn’t turn on or it doesn’t show anything on the readout, then there’s no power flowing and the circuit needs to be replaced.

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