My house has a surface-mounted service panel. When I run a new circuit, must I run conduit into the joist area before I can begin running NM-B cable? Somewhere I read that NM-B cannot be exposed on a basement wall. At the moment though, I can't find that in my copy of the NEC, so I remain open to being wrong.
The following links show three views of my panel:
http://gennick.com/panel1.jpg (front view)
http://gennick.com/panel2.jpg (left-side view)
http://gennick.com/panel3.jpg (right-side view)
The panel was put in two years ago by an electrician, who swapped out my old, 60-amp, 4-fuse box. Since then, I've added two circuits, one for each of two bathrooms. Those circuits are the two conduits you see in the photo. In each case, I ran conduit containing THHN up to the joist area, to a 4-inch box, and then ran NM-B to the bathroom outlets.
I don't have a lot of room to put in more conduit, and I wonder whether I really need to (or should) use conduit at all. On the one hand, it doesn't seem right to have exposed NM-B coming that far down the side of the box. On the other hand, the electrician two years ago ran one NM-B cable out the right-hand-side. It's the white one you see in panel3.jpg. So maybe ok to do that?
I did realize the other day that the electrician also ran most of the cables out the top of the box. Frankly, I hadn't thought about that. If I go out the top, does that obviate the need for conduit? Does it matter that the cables are exposed for a couple inches before entering the joist area?
Bottom-line, do I need to use conduit when running a new circuit, or does code allow me to run NM-B from the joist area down through one of the knockouts on the side of the box? What would best-practice be? How would you run the cables coming out of this box?
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