Is it time for new breakers?

Based on online reading, breakers last from 30 to 40 years assuming they don’t get tripped or suffer surges often. Less than that if they have tripped often, run "hot" or in a lightning prone area without suppression.

So, if your breakers were installed before 1984 it’s time to re-assess them.

Separately, some homes before then were built with Federal Pacific panels and those need to be removed ASAP, and anything else which used the stab-loc design. 

Definitely get whole-house surge suppressors. They won’t prevent every surge but will keep your fire alarms, Wifi thermostats, automated light switches and compute controlled washing machine running longer.

As of the 2020 NEC Arc-Fault breakers were required, and the 2023 requires even more devices be GFCI protected. Fortunately if you skipped the first generation AFCI, the second generation (CAFCI) is smarter and more reliable.  All of these are important safety upgrades you might as well make.


I am an electrician by trade, I installed a square D QO panel in my house in 1990. There is no need whatsoever to replace breakers. Why would I spend all that money to upgrade when it isn't required? New housing has to follow current code. which is a money driven business. 

My house was built in 86 and had Federal Pacific which I replaced in the 90s. The new arc fault breakers are $40 each. Old style is $8. When I replaced my panel I remeber the new panel (200amp) was about $150 and the breakers $4 each. I did it myself on a Saturday. If you have 20 breakers at $40 each that is $800. Not really outrageous but seems a lot to those of us used to paying 1/10 that.

A problem that my neighborhood has is the gas meter is directly below the electrical panel--not allowed by code now. So if you call an electrician to replace your FPE breakers, he will have to bid the job to move the box and bids have all been well north of $10K.


@carlsbad2 I had no idea FP was still bein installed in 1986, I thought they went out of business by 1980. 

You are definitely not wrong about how much more expensive breakers are now than they used to be.  In 2023 the new code adds GFCI requirements for a lot of appliances that used to not.  Washer, dryer, range, microwave, etc. and each of those adds $20 to the breaker costs as well.

@erik_squires And I forgot to second how good your advice is to replace the FPE breakers.  One neighbor did thermography and had half a dozen hot spots. Hot spots can runaway like a redplated tube.  Heat raises the resistance which makes more heat and reduces voltage and some appliances want to pull more current and next thing you know you have a fire.  

I replaced them before I knew how bad they are since I was rewiring the garage and didn't have room in my 100amp box.  FPE breakers were then available at home deepot "rebuilt" for about 3x the price of new quality breakers.  I assume that you can still buy them.  but you shouldn't.  bite the bullet and put in a new service box.  


@carlsbad2 Your friend got lucky, as were you.

I do want to warn readers that breakers do get a little warm in use. The breaker that runs my HT system gets to around 80 degrees or so. It’s considered normal.

Even if you don’t have a thermographic camera or thermometer, it’s worth touching every breaker and the exterior of your panel a couple of times a year and feeling for anything warmer than a puppy’s belly. :)

My house had been a rental for about 15 years before I bought it.  At some point I made up my mind to replace all the switches and most of the outlets, and I'm so glad I did, cause there was a lot of things to discover. 

Federal Pioneer had a reputation in the 80's for being the worst in the industry, our company never installed them.

Honestly had no idea they were one of the "big 5" manufacturers of panels, or that stab-lok design was still in use up until 1990.

@erik_squires great advice.  My career moved up thought power plant engineering and I still touch most everything I monitor to check for unusual temperature or vibration.  But you do have to know what to expect.  Don't tough a 500 degree pipe for example.

Anyone who doesn't know Erik's reputation should be coming around to understand it now.  His advice in this thread could save your house.