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cfetzer

01:18PM | 09/13/05
Member Since: 05/09/05
3 lifetime posts
Bvelectrical
Hello everyone,

I'm going to start finishing my basement soon and I need some advice about my switchbox.

This is my current setup (and is what came with the house, which I purchased two years ago.)

The house is just over 30 years old. It has 100 amp service and the switchbox is tapped out (no empty breaker slots and all breakers that are installed are in use.) Also there is what looks like a small sub panel mounted right next to it with a switch that controls an outdoor Jacuzzi.

Here is the main concern: A few months back, I had a contractor come in and install a new stairwell running down into the basement. While he was working on that project, I asked him to run a 220 outlet up to the kitchen because my wife and I were planning on purchasing an electrical stove to replace an aging gas stove. First of all, when he opened the switchbox, he found out that I only have 100 amp service. But, while taking a look at the whole configuration, and especially the sub panel next to the main box, he found that the sub panel is connected directly to the main electrical wire that comes into the house. I think the way he put it was that it was installed "before" the main switchbox and cut-off. He mentioned that this didn't sit right with him, as it might be hazardous for the sub panel to be installed in such a way (might be a problem if there was a heavy power surge, or something like that.)

This concerns me, but the contractor was not an electrician, so I don't know if he's correct, and he did say that he could be wrong, but it just didn't seem right to him based on what he's seen in his profession.

Anyway, the contractor told me that it might be a good idea to think about upgrading to 200 amp service if I was thinking about finishing the basement. I asked what the cost was and he told me that it could cost in upwards of $2000, but he'd have to check with an electrician buddy of his to find out. I asked if there was a more inexpensive way to handle the problem, and he mentioned that I could have the box replaced with a box that has more switch capacity, (and get rid of the subpanel while I'm at it.)

What I need to know, are the following:

What do you think about what I told you regarding the sub panel being installed the way it is? I'm not sure if I got the term correct, I think he called it a sub panel, but what it is, is a small box (looks like a mini-switchbox) containing a couple of breaker switches that links directly to the main power source, and it's connected before the main cut-off. Quite frankly, if this is as bad as the contractor made it seem, I'm very surprised the home inspector didn't "ding" this when I went through the purchase process.

I also need to know your thoughts about upgrading from 100 to 200 amps? I understand that 200 would be the way to go and it's no doubt where I would like to be, but it sounded very expensive. What exactly is involved with making such an upgrade? Is another wire from the electrical company pulled into my house, thereby bringing me up to 200, and/or is a new box installed as well?

I greatly appreciate your responses!

Chad

Billhart

02:51PM | 09/13/05
Member Since: 04/25/05
1915 lifetime posts
The first thing that you will need to do is to have a load demand calculation done.

Here are two sources.

http://www.taunton.com/finehomebuilding/pages/bh0019.asp

http://www.selfhelpandmore.com/homewiringusa/2002/definitions/demandcalc/index.htm

But with an electric stove and hot tub there is a very good chance that you will need a 200 amp service.

As to your existing panel what is the brand name and model if they have it listed.

I am guessing that you have what is called a split bus panel. That has up to 6 "main breakers". One of those will feed a 2nd bus which has all of the 120 v loads. The other 5 are used to feed heavy duty loads, such as stove, WH, AC, etc.

Also you might have an outside disconnect near the meter.

STOP

I miss read your message, it is just the sub-panel that is wired directly to the meter.

There are some type of systems where that is legal, but I suspect that most likely that it was not done legally in your case.

"Depending" on details it is often not much more to upgrade the whole service that just replacing the panel.

In general you own the mast, the meter socket, the wire in the mast, and the wire from the meter socket to the panel.

The power company owns the meter, the arial cabel (assuming that it is overhead drop).

But that will very from power company to power company.


cfetzer

05:46PM | 09/13/05
Member Since: 05/09/05
3 lifetime posts
Hello Bill and thank you for your response,

The switchboxes are of the following brands:

Main: QO Load Center by Square D (cat. no. QOC-20M Series E4)

Sub: HomeLine Load Center (cat. no. HOM2-4L70)

I was wrong about where the sub goes. Looks like it goes to the AC unit outside.

I typed my first posting while I was at work, but I'm at home now and am able to take another look at the layout. The sub-panel isn't connected directly to the meter. It's mounted directly next to the main, and it is drawing power from the main. I'm guessing that because the contractor "dinged" it, it must be because it's hooked into the main power line before the main cut-off inside of the actual main switchbox.

As far as my power coming in, I have a single aerial line coming to the house, and attached to the outside meter. Are you saying that if I call the electric company (ComEd in Chicago) that they’ll run an extra line or a bigger line to my house for a cost? Or is it possible that I already have 200 amps, but only drawing 100 amps from the meter? Not sure how this works, but if not then is this something that the electrical company would charge me for doing? Just as an FYI, it’s building code in the town where I live that all residential dwellings must have 200 amp service. I’m sure that because my house is over 30 years old and was built before that code was specified, then my 100 amp service is “grandfathered” so to speak. Because of this I’m thinking the electric company isn’t required to provide 200 amps as a free upgrade, unless it’s already there and I don’t know it, and hence not using it. Is there any way to find out if I am being supplied 200 amps to the meter?

If my power line is capable of 200 amps, then what is the process of taking advantage of this service in my home? New box, or new meter? What does an electrician do when 100 amps is upgraded to 200 amps? I’m only asking because I’m very interested in knowing how it all works, and how it’s all put together (I’m an IT/Computer-guy by trade, so I’m always interested in the “technicals”.)

I apologize for what are no doubt “newbie” questions. I can only offer that I am learning, and greatly appreciate the information!

Thanks,

Chad


Billhart

06:56PM | 09/13/05
Member Since: 04/25/05
1915 lifetime posts
Typically the power company will replace the triplex (overhead cable) at no cost for some nominal fee. But that varies by the power companies tariffs.

But first the mast, and conduit from meter to the panel has to be check to see if it is big enough to hold the larger wires needed for the 200 amp service.

If so it is realitively easy.

But there can be number of complications. Such as the mast needs to be replaced and it goes through the roof. The location of the meter no longer meets power company requirements. The height of the mast is not high enough to meet current code and that can be complicated other construction.

For example my next door neighbor is getting ready to do a major remodel. This drop goes right across my driveway and lands on the gable eve.

That was done long before my house was built and when it was the driveway was raised 4ft. So the cable is fairly low and I asked them to install a through the roof mast so that the cable can be raised.

Now in their case they only have a fairly small conduit so that it needed to be completely redone anyway.

Now I helped the electrican do upgrade on a friends house. In that case the service was still 80 amps (1950's house. But over the years the planel had been upgraded to 100 amps and new conduit run from the panel to the meter and it was big enough to reuse.

And the meter had been replaced with a 200 amp meter. But it used an old exterior cloth covered cable to run to the eve and it started arcing when he started moving it.

And the gable end did not have any overhang so he was able to run a new mast up the side with out messing with the roof.


Billhart

07:01PM | 09/13/05
Member Since: 04/25/05
1915 lifetime posts
If the 100 amp service is enough (although I doubt it with electric stove and jacuzzi) then I would not replace the panel unless it was damaged.

The QO is a very good panel.

I would just install a sub-panel and install it correctly. That might mean moving a couple of circuits from the main panel to the sub-panel so that there is space for a breaker to feed the sub-panel.

And there are a couple of other options depending on the details of the main panel. In some case you can use the main panel as a feed through so that the sub-panel does not need a feeder breaker, but it is still protected by the main breaker.


cfetzer

07:03AM | 09/14/05
Member Since: 05/09/05
3 lifetime posts
Again, thank you for the information.

Just a side note, once we found out that the current panel was tapped out, and there was no room to install a new 220 breaker switch, we decided against the electrical stove. The contractor also recommended against it, based on the load that it would put on the system...(with AC/hot tub/and stove running with TV etc, breakers will start to flip.)

So, we didn't get the electric stove.. As I sit right now, even with the A/C running, TVs, Computers, lights on...etc, we rarely flip breakers...almost never, in fact.

I'll probably look into what you advised and get a larger sub that can handle some extra switches. This will allow me to install new switches that handle basement-specific requirements.

Again, many thanks!

Chad
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