Thread Number: 73123  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Under counter outlets for island
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Post# 965958   11/4/2017 at 09:36 (381 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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I have been trying to come up with some ideas to install outlets on my kitchen island. The old island cabinet had two duplex outlets on the side. When the new cabinets were put in, no outlets were installed, as we didn't want to cut into the side panels of the new cabinets. They just ran the wires up from the floor and capped them off inside the cabinets.

I considered installing outlets inside the cabinets, and running cords through the door. This would solve the appearance issue, but it wouldn't meet code. The other idea I considered is Plugmold installed under the edge of the countertop, which is about 10" wide on each side. This would make the outlets invisible, but would meet code and I wouldn't have to cut into anything. But the price of Plugmold was a bit of a shock.

The final idea I had is to install some angled boxes from Home Depot which are about $20 each (I would install two). This would be cheaper and almost as invisible as Plugmold.

The other issue is GFCI protection. Currently the kitchen has none. I believe that all of the countertop and island outlets are on a single 20 amp breaker. The most straightforward solution is to install a GFCI breaker, but the panel box is from 1976 so it may be impossible to get new breakers. The second solution of course is to install a GFCI outlet at the start of the circuit, but who knows which is the first or where the island wiring falls into it. If the island outlets are first on the circuit, the angled boxes might be the route to go, as they accommodate GFCI sized devices.

Honestly, the island outlets were rarely used but were nice at Thanksgiving to plug in the electric knife for turkey or ham cutting. Been using an extension cord to do that. Also useful for the vacuum cleaner as didn't have to use outlets above counters.

Post# 965961 , Reply# 1   11/4/2017 at 09:58 (381 days old) by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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I guess it varies from state to state for code....

but I have outlets built in under the bathroom sink, of course their GFCI, that's just common sense....but this way the electric toothbrush, razor, etc are plugged in underneath, out of site.....

same for the blow dryers, the cord is routed up into the drawer, open drawer, use appliance, place back, and close the drawer....out of sight, out of mind...

even in the kitchen, under the sink are two powers the disposal, the other for the dishwasher....and oddly enough, they are not GFCI...

if you installed them inside the cabinet, as long as the wire is metal covered conduit, and they are GFCI surface mounts.....I don't see the issue....

but yeah, for things like electric knife or hand mixer, I wish I had outlets on the front of my base cabinets...the kick plate would be a good location, as you mentioned for the vacuum as well....but not all cords are long enough....

Post# 965962 , Reply# 2   11/4/2017 at 10:00 (381 days old) by Yogitunes (New Jersey)        

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I guess it varies from state to state for code....

but I have outlets built in under the bathroom sink, of course their GFCI, that's just common sense....but this way the electric toothbrush, razor, etc are plugged in underneath, out of site.....

same for the blow dryers, the cord is routed up into the drawer, open drawer, use appliance, place back, and close the drawer....out of sight, out of mind...

even in the kitchen, under the sink are two powers the disposal, the other for the dishwasher....and oddly enough, they are not GFCI...

if you installed them inside the cabinet, as long as the wire is metal covered conduit, and they are GFCI surface mounts.....I don't see the issue....

but yeah, for things like electric knife or hand mixer, I wish I had outlets on the front of my base cabinets...the kick plate would be a good location, as you mentioned for the vacuum as well....but not all cords are long enough....

Post# 965966 , Reply# 3   11/4/2017 at 10:18 (381 days old) by retro-man (nashua,nh)        

You should not have problems getting a GFI breaker for your breaker box. They have not changed the insides since the 60's when they were introduced. New ones fit just as well as the old ones.


Post# 965988 , Reply# 4   11/4/2017 at 13:59 (381 days old) by marky_mark (Sitges, Barcelona)        

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The reason that outlets are required in kitchen islands is to discourage the use of extension cords, which can lead to a variety of tripping and scalding accidents.  Coincidentally, you mentioned that you yourself have used an extension cord due to the lack of outlets in the island. 


As for the GFCI protection, if you don't install a GFI breaker at the service panel, then it shouldn't be too difficult to determine the route of the circuit to install a GFI on the first outlet in the kitchen, connecting all other outlets downstream.  If you did need to install a GFCI outlet in the island itself, then how about installing the "ugly" white GFCI inside the cabinets and then connecting the exposed island outlets downstream of that.


As for the island outlets themselves, if you didn't like the standard exposed outlets, there are a variety of pop-up and pop-out outlets available.  I have also seen them located behind a small hinged "drawer" to disguise them.  I also saw something on This Old House where a designer didn't want to install outlets in the island due to aesthetics, but was required to do so in order that the island meet code.  So she found this neat little magnetic flap that installs flush on the side of the island, completely concealing the outlets installed behind it. 


Post# 966049 , Reply# 5   11/4/2017 at 20:52 (381 days old) by cornutt (Huntsville, AL USA)        

What brand is the panel?

Post# 966072 , Reply# 6   11/4/2017 at 22:16 (381 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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Square D panel. I just kind of assumed that new breakers wouldn't fit, as I heard someone talking about how they had a power surge that messed up their breakers and had to get a whole new panel because new ones didn't fit. But maybe they had some panel whose manufacturer was no longer in business.

Good ideas in this thread, thanks. I will check again to see if outlets in cabinets are allowed. If not may go the angled box route. The exposed outlets don't bother me as much as cutting holes in those solid wood panels.

Post# 966099 , Reply# 7   11/5/2017 at 00:34 (381 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Square D shouldn't be a problem.

This house here has a Federal Pacific breaker panel and breakers. They went out of business years ago because of a spate of faulty breakers that could arc and start fires. I had an inspector check out this panel and he said it looked like it had "good" breakers. No signs of arcing. But if I ever need to run new circuits, I'll have to replace the panel, probably with a Square D.

It's not too hard to tell which outlets are mother and daughter. The first outlet in the circuit will have an extra lead going to the next outlet. The last outlet won't have one. This does require shutting off the breaker and pulling the outlets out of their boxes, but once done it's easy enough to replace the first outlet with a GFCI one. I did this in my kitchen and master bed/bath, as well as the guest bath, and a few outlets in exposed places outside.

Post# 966114 , Reply# 8   11/5/2017 at 04:22 (381 days old) by iej (Ireland)        

Can you go wirh pop up outlets? Or a marble top section that lifts ?

My major concern about side outlets or anything that brings cables down beyond the edge of a counter top is toddlers and kids pulling them.

All it takes is an appliance with hot liquid - a kettle, a coffee pot or any kind of hot device and you have a serious scalding accident.

I know the wiring regulations here and fittings are different but I just went with socket outlets like this:

Since 1980, wiring regs here require RCD / GFCI protection on every outlet circuit anyway so that is a non issue. We just do it with either a combined RCBO (circuit breaker and gfci in a single module) or one RCD (GFCI) covers a whole row of breakers. (The older way).

The hob (cook top), oven and extractor hood also get GFCI protection here these days too. Iíve never found it any issue and itís a bit reassuring to know itís that bit safer, even if it might seem overkill.

Post# 966160 , Reply# 9   11/5/2017 at 09:20 (380 days old) by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

John (Combo52) did something brilliant with his Corian counter on a very long peninsula that doubles as prep area and buffet. He installed a strip of outlets UNDER the front edge on the working side so outlets are facing down (good in case of spills), but are easily seen for lining up prongs and outlets by bending slightly and plugs are not sticking out (in the case of older plugs where the cord is in line with the prongs instead of perpendicular to them like in newer plugs) to catch on clothing. The cords do not snake across the counter to outlets anywhere and having them almost invisible from the guests makes for a nice presentation at serving time.

You could run the lines up the ends of the inland to feed two circuits and connect them into the strips.

Post# 966301 , Reply# 10   11/5/2017 at 21:27 (380 days old) by cornutt (Huntsville, AL USA)        

Unless that Square D panel is really old, there are basically two model series, Q0 and Homeline. Both are still made and your favorite big-box hardware store carries breakers for them. Replacing them is not that hard (but SHUT OFF THE MAIN first!) I have a Q0 and I put in a 20A GFCI breaker for a whirlpool tub circuit. Piece of cake.

Federal Pacific: If that's a Stab-Lok panel, you need to get rid of it pronto. These are known fire hazards. The double pole breakers, including the main breakers, have a known design problem that can cause them to jam if a short circuit occurs; not only will the breaker not trip, but you won't be able to shut it off manually either. You could have a jammed one and not know it until you need to shut it off. Some fire insurance policies will not pay if they find out that the house had a Stab-Lok panel. Underwriters' Labs revoked their listing on these panels after they found out that Federal Pacific had rigged their tests to make it look like the breakers worked when they actually didn't.

Post# 966319 , Reply# 11   11/6/2017 at 00:07 (380 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

My grandmas house had a Square D panel from the early 70s if not the late 60s. They were the QO breakers still made today. You should have zero issue getting breakers for your panel from 1976.

Post# 966664 , Reply# 12   11/7/2017 at 17:57 (378 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

SquareD introduced the QO breakers in 1955, but has made circuit breakers since the 30's. The HomeLine series began a number of years later.

The QO line is considered a premium product, as is Eatons CH line of breakers and panels.

Post# 966666 , Reply# 13   11/7/2017 at 18:04 (378 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        
Square D introduced QO breakers in 1955

Wow, that's a bit older than I was expecting. Their design has really withstood the test of time if they've been around that long. They've been redesigned some over the years though, how much, I cant say for sure. My grandma's QO breakers from the late 60s early 70s didn't have the little red trip indicator that ones I've seen from at least as far back as 1980 did, though.


Reading around on electrical forums in the past, several have complained about QO breakers having issues with burned up busbars due to a loose connection with the breaker. I've never experienced that. 

Post# 967097 , Reply# 14   11/9/2017 at 22:22 (376 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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Mine I believe is QO Series. The breakers on mine do have the little window that shows red when they're tripped. I didn't realize the QO line was that old although I knew breakers dated back awhile. Most homes here in the 1950s still had fuses though.

Good to know I can get new breakers, and even GFCI breakers for it.

Post# 967170 , Reply# 15   11/10/2017 at 13:58 (375 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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I've done my homework on Federal Pacific and what I learned it that they had a production problem along the way, and that products produced before a certain date were OK. Apparently the later stuff was crap. The stuff here is early FP, and they do trip as they should in the event of an overload (I do that occasionally in the kitchen with too may heat producing gadgets at once, like microwave + coffee maker + toaster oven all on one circuit.

When I replaced the electric smooth top on the kitchen counter, I tapped off one of the 220 volt legs, and ran it to a Square D breaker box under the counter. That way I could install a 15 amp breaker and run that to an outlet under there for the electric ignition for the gas cook top. It's a two breaker box; I may run another leg to an outlet outside the counter to power things like ... coffee makers and stand mixers. Probably using hard conduit or armored cable.

Post# 967359 , Reply# 16   11/11/2017 at 15:38 (374 days old) by fan-of-fans (Florida)        

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Hmm, I don't recall seeing Federal Pacific panels here. Most I've seen were Square D or GE though I haven't paid much attention. I know the old house that was next door had a Crouse Hinds breaker panel that I doubt was original (it was demolished last year). Another neighbor's house built in 1997 has a Challenger panel. I thought both were rather unusual brands to see.

As far as too many appliances on 1 circuit I know I've used at least the waffle iron, a warmer, coffee maker and had the hood lights on at the same time and didn't trip the 20A breaker and supposedly they are all on the same one, the ceiling lights are separate and the outlet behind the fridge as well as the freezer outlet in the pantry are on another 20A circuit.

Post# 967377 , Reply# 17   11/11/2017 at 17:23 (374 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        
Waffle iron, a warmer, coffee maker, and hood lights

I think a 15 amp circuit could handle that load with little to nothing to spare. Coffee makers typically draw 7 amps, I'd be surprised if the waffle iron drew more than 5, the warmer is probably a couple hundred watts if that, and hood lights are maybe another 100 watts give or take.

Our kitchen is only wired with 3, 20 amp circuits plus a later added 50 amp 240v circuit for an electric range. One circuit has all the can lights plus a microwave that draws 15 amps (as confirmed by the Kill-A-Watt meter). Nothing else load intensive can ever be used on that circuit because of that (it used to trip regularly before appliances got moved around). Another circuit has the pendants and chandelier over the table on it, as well as dishwasher, and garbage disposal. Typically just a toaster is plugged in on that circuit, the coffee maker used to be plugged in there as well. The third circuit serves one counter outlet and the fridge, the fridge draws a few amps at best, which leaves plenty in reserve for the commercial Bunn that draws 11 amps and a hot water machine.
There is an outlet in the island and it's tied in with a circuit that serves half the dining room, an outlet in the living room, and one outlet above in the master bedroom. It's a very hodgepodge circuit but almost never gets overloaded due to what it serves.

Post# 967781 , Reply# 18   11/13/2017 at 18:42 (372 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

In addition to FPE, Challenger (aka Zinsco, GTE/Sylvania) panels are of poor quality. These were considered "budget" brands of equipment.

Post# 968055 , Reply# 19   11/15/2017 at 08:19 (370 days old) by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Unfortunately the side of the counter that I easily can put & use my small appliances for has NO Electricity! So that forced me to use a power bar stretched across the counter to that portion of it, via cord plugged into a distant outlet (w/ a ground-fault eliminator, no less) to utilize my stuff...

Tables at libraries that I have seen have outlets in the middle of them, hence the wiring is enclosed in a center support leg below it, and maybe a need to actually move these tables has also accordingly gotten eliminated from what I've seen... (Not that I need to w/ my dining room table, but my wife & sometimes daughter want to watch TV in the kitchen, and the only appropriate place was an INAPPROPRIATE place, which is in the corner by the stove (plugged into that only existing stationary outlet, so we'd never replaced that TV, there, after it had plummeted off that counter that fatal one last time... And it was a small flat-screen that simply came loose from its mountings after its constant falls!...)

-- Dave

Post# 968067 , Reply# 20   11/15/2017 at 08:34 (370 days old) by DaveAMKrayoGuy (Oak Park, MI)        

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Like I said, I need outlets on THIS portion of the kitchen counter, hence supplied by power-bar via cord plugged a distant away, in the corner near where my stove & cooking are done--and convincing a TV be put there as opposed to that other area where it would be in the way of something important like cooking was only (despite the safety issue, as well) met by opposition, so there is none added to that area, besides, you can carry your food out to the living room & eat there... Where also we have a big screen and a couch!

-- Dave

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Post# 968098 , Reply# 21   11/15/2017 at 12:18 (370 days old) by artcurus (Odessa)        


As an FYI, NO FPE breakers/panels are safe. New production still carries the same basic faults as the older ones.

Listen to what we are saying. GET RID OF THAT BOX, especially if you have a family/kids. It's not worth risking a house fire and their lives.

After the second near miss with my 1950's parent's house, we replaced the box. During the summer with the a/cs running, you could hear the box buzzing, and the dead panel was almost too hot to touch. When the box was pulled, we found the buss bar almost melted.

Post# 968112 , Reply# 22   11/15/2017 at 13:45 (370 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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I disagree, but I'll look into it (again).

In any case, most of the small appliances in this place are on power strips with built-in circuit breakers. Occasionally I'll trip one of those (usually where a microwave and a toaster oven on on same strip).

And, as I recall from my previous research, it's not the older ones that are the problem. It's the newer ones. Not that any of them are that new.

Post# 968145 , Reply# 23   11/15/2017 at 16:32 (370 days old) by Artcurus (Odessa)        


as a final note, many insurance companies will not insure a house with an FPE panel.

Post# 968156 , Reply# 24   11/15/2017 at 17:48 (370 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

Looked at another house with my aunt today, built in 1961 and to my surprise had a QO breaker panel that looks to be original from 1961! That's now the oldest one I've seen, though looking at that, my grandmas could've been from 1960 when the room addition was put on, given it looked just like this one but was a little smaller and had a 60 amp service instead of 100.

Looking closer at the panel you can see three different variations of the QO breaker, the oldest ones having no trip window, then some newer ones probably from the 70s or 80s with the trip window, and the newest ones probably 20 years old or less with the Square D logo on them.

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Post# 968172 , Reply# 25   11/15/2017 at 18:31 (370 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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My insurance company never asked so it's never been an issue. When I bought this house 20 years ago, the inspector mentioned the history of FP failures but he was clear that there would be signs of problems - that is arcing inside the panel, presumably on the "Stab-Loc" blades that I gather are what make contact with the wiring. He said he took apart the panel and saw no such signs, so it was good to go.

The previous owner was a very conscientious if not obsessive compulsive craftsman and I doubt he would have put up with a faulty panel, especially since he did a lot of welding around the property and in the workshop, which also has an FP panel. With the loads he was probably drawing I figure the stuff would have melted down long ago if it was going to.

There is however no central A/C here (doesn't need it) and I'm careful to keep loads under what the wiring/breakers can handle.

And like I say, on occasion I have tripped various breakers, sometimes on purpose, and not seen ANY problems.

If there is a fire here and it can be traced to the FP panels I suppose the insurance company might try to refuse payment, in which case they'd have a lawsuit on their hands because they never even brought it up and accepted the premiums for two decades.

Oh the the main breaker for the home (service entry) is FP as well. When I bought the house I'd only seen it briefly and mistakenly thought the main breaker was really fuses, and the insurance company flatly told me they would not insure a home with fuses on the main panel (probably on the sub panels as well, although we didn't discuss that). Once I had a chance to visit again, I confirmed the main service was through breakers, and the insurance company agreed to insure it. They never brought up whether it was FP or anyone elses. I figure the main breakers are not "Sta-Bloc", but rather some sort of screw/compression connection and so don't suffer the issues that the subpanels with Sta-Bloc connections MIGHT have.

Yes, when I go solar or need to upgrade the electrical here I'll replace the FP panels and breakers. Until then it's not gonna keep me up at night.

And as for other panels be so superior to FP... at work we have a big panel with mostly Square D or compatible breakers. Well, we were having equipment failures, and finally someone noticed that panel wasn't only warm, it was HOT to the touch. Turned out to be a faulty breaker, and once replaced the problems went away. Again, not an FP panel or breaker. So it's probably not a bad idea to monitor the temp of any breaker panel, especially if you're drawing a lot of amps.

Post# 968178 , Reply# 26   11/15/2017 at 18:53 (370 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

In August of '73 we had a new electrical service installed.

The old service had a Wadsworth fuse box (100 amp) containing main for lights, range, and six plug fuses. There were also three "safety switches", two Square D (dryer, dishwasher & disposer), and an American Switch for the water heater. The triplex cable going from the house to the pole was undersized, and one day the range, dryer, dishwasher, a couple room ACs, and probably the water heater were all on. This heavy load caused the cable to overheat, which then shorted out, melted in two, and then fell into the yard. The transformer then blew, which caused the substation circuit breaker to cut out, causing a power outage for several blocks around.

The electrician installed a new service which included a new cable, meter socket, and an FPE breaker panel (200 amp). I noticed that the breakers seemed to be loose on the busbar, moving up and down. A couple of the breakers got weak after a few years, and would trip at less than their rating. I also noticed the breakers for the air conditioning would get hotter than they should. Later in the 70's I installed a sub-panel which was a Cutler-Hammer brand. The difference in quality was easily apparent, the CH being much more solid. The FPE was in place until about five or six years ago when I had new Eaton CH equipment installed. When I tore out the FPE panel there was some heat discoloration on the busbar, but nothing charred or melted.

The sturdiest circuit breakers are the bolt-on, rather than the plug-on type. These are ususlly only found on the industrial grade panels, which are somewhat more expensive, so rarely used in a residence.

Post# 968220 , Reply# 27   11/15/2017 at 20:11 (370 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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After posting I did some more research on the FPE issue. I found a lot of dramatic stuff, as well as a very well organized treatise. I link to that below.

If I could sum up the issues, here's a "Stab" at it "LOL"

1) Panel design: FPE panels have some design issues that can lead to later problems. Aluminum instead of copper bus bars stood out. Copper is a better conductor, and probably stronger as well. Also the "Stab-Loc" attachment design, which is how the breakers connect with the buses, doesn't provide maximum material contact, just on the edges. Some panels have spring mounted bus bars, which don't provide a stable enough installation.

2) Breakers: FPE breakers appear to have some things backward. Whereas with other breakers is is sometimes advised to toggle the breakers periodically to keep them "limber" and better prepared to trip under overload or short conditions, FPE breakers react negatively to this exercising and it can increase their tendency to fail under overload or voltage surges.

3) Panel size. As with many older panels, FPE panels were designed to an earlier code. Later codes require more space inside the panels for wiring etc. This problem is with many older panels, but might be an additional reason to replace and FPE panel.

FPE itself was found to have falsified product testing for certification by a variety of underhanded methods. Why this did not result in a nationwide product recall is a subject for debate. Apparently budget constraints with the CPSC in the early 1980's as a given as a reason for not launching a recall research effort and ultimate recall requirement. And by that time FPE was out of business.

Now, as far as my house goes.... I don't make a habit of playing with the breakers, so they have limited mechanical insult, at least for the last 20 years. Also, like I said, I have observed various FPE breakers tripping under overload, including a 30 amp circuit that goes to the patio kitchen and adjacent fish pond area. In fact there's a vintage GE window/wall AC unit in there that will reliably trip the 30 amp FPE breaker inside the main house. So I don't use that AC unit. I have never detected a heat problem in either of the FPE panels (there's another one in the workshop). And as I said, when I bought the place, the inspector said he'd checked out the panel in the house, pulled some breakers, and didn't see any sign of heat/arcing/distortion damage. He was a pretty thorough guy, leaning towards giving the negative side on most things, so it did give me some piece of mind. If I had to do it again, I would have opted to dump some more cash into the house to replace the panels and the knob and tube in the month before I moved in. Woulda coulda shoulda.

All that said, I've decided that the FPE panels are on their way out. The question is when. When I moved in I noticed there are other issues, such as knob and tube wiring to half of the older parts of the house - the rest of the house and the addition are more modern - including rigid conduit, armored conduit, and NM cable. There are some things that were done very well, such as the large diameter rigid conduit running from the main service breakers to the house panel in the entry, and then more rigid conduit to the newer wiring and then on out to the workshop (underground, it's a separate building). So there is some good stuff here. The FPE panels, not so good.

So I have to decide how much work is necessary at this point. Minimally, the house panel has to be upgraded (I want more breakers in it anyway). It currently has a 2 pole 40 amp breaker running to the workshop. So even if I keep the FP panels (there are two, one for lighting, the other for outlets) in the workshop a while longer, upgrading the house panel will provide a new 40 amp dual pole breaker for that which while it might not address minor overloading that gets by the workshop panel, at least will trip in the face of massive electrical surges, which are the really scary ones.

After that, upgrade the service to the home from 100 amp 2 pole to 200 amp 2 pole.

Then, replace what remains of the knob and tube in half of the older part of the house with 3 wire grounded.

Finally, replace the FPE breaker panels in the workshop.

Along with all this I have an eye to putting in solar power on either the house roof or the workshop/garage roof. I don't want to do that, however, until the panel/wiring issues are addressed. However it might make sense to involve a solar contractor for advice as to the best combinations to accept later solar power infrastructure. Better than redoing everything and then finding it needs to be redone again to accommodate solar power generation.

When? Probably not until I retire which could be as early as next year. Might take a couple of years, though.

One though I had along the way here... on this issue... over the past decade or two I've been conserving electricity, with more efficient appliances (two fridges), as well as replacing incandescent lighting, first with CFL's and then to LED's. This means less load on the breaker panels and probably reduces a little the chances of a failure.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. I still think the current (no pun intended) situation is safe, but it could be safer and it will need to be addressed.

Post# 968222 , Reply# 28   11/15/2017 at 20:29 (370 days old) by Artcurus (Odessa)        


If you don't believe us, do this.

Kill the power to the house and take the dead front off the box. Take each circuit breaker out one at a time and inspect the buss. There's a better than 60% chance that your'e going to find scorch marks and evidence of overheating.

Post# 968224 , Reply# 29   11/15/2017 at 20:39 (370 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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I believe that was already done 20 years ago.

But let's just assume there are scorch marks and the panel needs to be replaced. I'm still going to wait about 2 yrs before that happens.

Post# 968397 , Reply# 30   11/16/2017 at 18:16 (369 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

I forgot to mention that one time I turned the 200 amp main on the FPE to off to add a breaker, and the power did NOT go off! I had to push it back up to on and back to off to disconnect it. Very disconcerting to say the least.

Post# 968404 , Reply# 31   11/16/2017 at 18:39 (369 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Well, my solution for that problem (main breaker not disconnecting) would be to pull the meter - which is right next to it.

Post# 968428 , Reply# 32   11/16/2017 at 20:36 (369 days old) by neptunebob (Pittsburgh, PA)        
Pushmatic was another one...

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Every house in our neighborhood built in the early 1970's had a Pushmatic breaker panel. The breakers were pushed in to reset rather than toggled. Eventually, you could not buy the breakers anymore so we had ours replaced a few years ago with a GE panel. Most people had to have their service replaced over this. I don't know if Pushmatic was made by Federal Pacific. I have also seen Westinghouse circuit breakers, but I think those are now Cutler-Hammer.

Post# 968466 , Reply# 33   11/16/2017 at 23:38 (369 days old) by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

I have one panel that is pushmatic and the second one is an name I can't remember and to get a new breaker for it last year I was quoted $70, sorry no.


I plan on replacing both panels soon, found a reversible panel that will allow bottom feed which will work great in my application.

Post# 968470 , Reply# 34   11/16/2017 at 23:59 (369 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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In a way, fuses were a safer solution than breakers, provided you ruled out the human factor... such as putting a penny in the socket in place of the blown fuse.

I remember decades ago an electrician opining that circuit breakers were not necessarily a good thing. Perhaps he was thinking of all the different failure modes they can experience. In one of the discussions I found, the description of how a circuit breaker trips under large voltage surges was that it was like it was designed by Rube Goldberg.

Post# 968499 , Reply# 35   11/17/2017 at 08:37 (368 days old) by chetlaham (United States)        

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Almost- increased current (over loads and short circuits) not voltage surges. Residential breakers do not respond to over voltage conditions or voltage transients.

Post# 968501 , Reply# 36   11/17/2017 at 08:46 (368 days old) by chetlaham (United States)        
Pull the meter

chetlaham's profile picture
Wise warning- if its a smart meter there is a chance the power company might show up- don't do it if the thought presents itself to those reading! Smart meters will alert for a loss of power, and some even have tilt sensors to deter tampering (jumping the jaws, oldest trick in the book).

Post# 968544 , Reply# 37   11/17/2017 at 13:45 (368 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Oh, I suppose I could call the power company before pulling it. And yes, it's a smart meter.

And yes, I mean current spikes. Amps.

Post# 968566 , Reply# 38   11/17/2017 at 15:43 (368 days old) by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

I've pulled my  Smart Meter with no issues.

Post# 968583 , Reply# 39   11/17/2017 at 17:27 (368 days old) by chetlaham (United States)        

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Did you contact the power company first?

Post# 968585 , Reply# 40   11/17/2017 at 17:28 (368 days old) by chetlaham (United States)        

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@Sudmaster: No worry :) Yes, always call the power company first.

Post# 968599 , Reply# 41   11/17/2017 at 18:47 (368 days old) by MattL (Flushing, MI)        

Absolutely ------> Not!   None of their business what I do in my home.

Post# 968611 , Reply# 42   11/17/2017 at 20:23 (368 days old) by chetlaham (United States)        

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But its technically their property (the meter and seal anyway)- hence why they can raise heck if they catch someone.

Post# 968629 , Reply# 43   11/17/2017 at 23:02 (368 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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I imagine in a court of law they might have to prove that the intent was to defraud the power company, as opposed to the intent of making the electrical system safer.

Also, the last time I checked, the little wire seal on the band that holds the meter to the wall was broken. I know I didn't do that, but it seems like a very flimsy bit of bracelet charm.

Post# 968763 , Reply# 44   11/18/2017 at 16:30 (367 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

Pushmatic was originally a product of Bulldog Electric, starting sometime in the 30's. Later the company was purchased by ITE Imperial, which was aacquired by Gould, and is now owned by Siemens. They were not associated with FPE in any way. I worked in a building that had these to control the lights, and some of the breakers were hard to operate.

Westinghouse/Bryant sold their distribution equipment division to Cutler-Hammer, which is now owned by Eaton Corp. They are now known as the BR model of panels and breakers. The CH is the premium Cutler-Hammer style.

My grandfather in Mississippi had a Trumbull Electric Co. circuit breaker panel in his house, which was wired in 1948. Rarely see this brand anymore. The brand became part of GE.

Some buildings have older panels that had row of fuses, with light switches next each one. They were not common in houses, but used in many large buildings such as stores and schools.

Post# 968934 , Reply# 45   11/19/2017 at 14:53 (366 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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The British method, as I understand it from working briefly in Ireland, is to include a fuse or breaker in every plug, as well as fuses or breakers on the circuits. It was explained to me that the reason for this is because of the way buildings are wired in the British Isles. I think it was described as more of a loop than a branch system. I've also seen this in some imported Asian items. like small fans or Xmas lights. It also seems to be done now on some larger items, like portable air conditioners and such, with built in circuit breakers and/or GFCI on plug. Considering that there are so many potentially defective panels and panel circuit breakers installed in so many homes, this is a good thing.

It still won't prevent someone from overloading a circuit with too many appliances, even if each one is fused, but it would help prevent a defective appliance from setting the home on fire.

At some point, however, you cannot make any system 100% fail safe, or fool proof. And safety features only protect against those failures they are designed to protect against. The big variable is human. Reminds me of the aphorism: nothing can be made fool proof because fools are so ingenious. There is little, for example, to prevent a homeowner from putting in a bigger circuit breaker in a panel on a circuit not designed for the higher amperage, other than perhaps different form factors for different size breakers (which I'm not sure is the practice in the industry). Such as a 20 amp breaker for a 15 amp circuit, or worse.

This post was last edited 11/19/2017 at 21:17
Post# 968949 , Reply# 46   11/19/2017 at 17:07 (366 days old) by marky_mark (Sitges, Barcelona)        

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Yep, British plugs all have replaceable cartridge fuses from 3 Amps (700 Watts) to 13 Amps (3000 Watts) depending on the power of the appliance.  Appliances beyond those ratings are generally hardwired or a special plug is sometimes used.  British plugs are used in many countries around the world, including Ireland, Cyprus, Singapore, Hong Kong and many counties in Africa and the Middle East, but those countries generally use the branch circuit as in the US.


In the UK, the ring circuit is often used.  This means the cable doesn't terminate, as it would in a branch circuit, but actually goes back to the panel, meaning both ends of the cable are connected to the breaker.  This means thinner cable can be used, as the current flows both ways and the circuit breaker for general socket circuits is normally 32-Amp 230-Volt, 7400 Watts.   An American branch circuit of 120-Volt 15 or 20 Amps gives 1800 or 2400 Watts.  So overloading should be less likely on the British system -- unless all the load is at one extreme end of the circuit, or if there is a break at one end of the circuit, or if an unfused 2-way plug adapter is used to connect two 13-Amp appliances through a single 13-Amp socket, none of which would be detected by the circuit breaker. 


Here in Spain, the German plug (no fuse) was adopted decades ago (similar to French but totally different to both the Italian and the Swiss for example) and traditional Spanish sockets (which used to have fuses) are rarely seen now.  We have 16-Amp sockets, 16-Amp circuits connected to 16-Amp breakers, meaning each outlet can supply the circuit's maximum of 3680 Watts.  In the UK, 16-Amp socket branch circuits are sometimes used, too.  I am interested in electrical systems in the UK, USA and Spain.  They all have their pros and cons regarding safety and convenience.

Post# 968965 , Reply# 47   11/19/2017 at 18:38 (366 days old) by sudsmaster (East of SF, West of Eden, California)        

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Japan has a sort of hybrid system: 110 volts like the USA, but 50 Hz like Europe. I didn't notice fused plugs in Japan when I visited in the 1990's, though. And I brought home a boom box I bought there that has a "normal" plug and runs fine on our 120 v 60 Hz standard. Most modern stuff probably will adapt to the different frequency, except of course for stuff like older US AC powered clocks that use the line frequency as a time keeper.

Ah yes, the ring circuit. I didn't quite understand it when my Irish co-worker mentioned it, but it makes more sense with your explanation. He made it sound like it was inferior to the US standard, or maybe that was just my interpretation of his somewhat apologetic attitude. Or maybe he thought the extra fuses were just a bother. I don't know. It does sound like a good idea to me for the USA as well.

I took another look at the house FPE panel today. The 20 and 15 amp fuses look like the same form factor. For some reason I thought the patio/pond area was on a 30 amp circuit, but it's really on a 20 amp breaker. It would not surprise me if the previous owner, who seemed to be a meticulous workman, put in a step larger gauge wire whenever he added a circuit. That, and the rigid conduit he ran under the house, and the stainless steel window screen he put in the patio, make me feel like when he had a choice, he took the high road. He probably learned that from his job: facilities manager for a calculator factory that used to be nearby.

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