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Old 10-11-2011, 05:46 PM   #1
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Hello,

I'm new to this forum and home electrical work in general, but I'm a professional automotive service technician and I have several years of experience with automotive electrical systems, as such I have a good understanding of electrical basics, but I'm not very familiar with AC earth grounds systems as I mainly work with DC chassis ground systems so I have a lot to learn when I comes to home electrical wiring.

I live in a four unit apartment building and one of the units burned down in the past due to an electrical fire; I have not had any problems with my electrical wiring yet, but while installing a new sub panel breaker box I found some questionable things that concern me.

I'm unsure if my breaker box is wired correctly because there are ground wires attached to the neutral bus bar and the ground and neutral bars are attached with a jumper. I've found conflicting information about whether or not this is correct so I'm hoping you guys can clear this up for me.

This is a picture of the main breaker panel located in my basement, the main service 200A breaker is located outside at my meter box. This breaker panel feeds two sub panels, one in my second story apartment, and one in the basement. Please let me know if this looks correct, any and all help is greatly appreciated.




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Old 10-11-2011, 05:51 PM   #2
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


You are correct --> that panel is improperly wired.

It appears that the incoming cable is a 3-wire type SEU, and should have been a 4-wire type SER.

There is not much you can do at this point unless you have the entire incoming cable replaced with the correct type, and separate the neutral and grounding buss bars.

Edit to add: Are you SURE there is an outside 200 Amp breaker feeding this?

Post script: What is that panel next to this one for? Where does it get its feed?

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Old 10-11-2011, 05:54 PM   #3
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


The phrases "apartment building" and "while installing a new sub panel" appear in your post.

You might find some of the experts here shying away from answering this one unless there's a pretty good reason why a renter is doing their own electrical in a multi-unit building.
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Old 10-11-2011, 06:01 PM   #4
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


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Originally Posted by Thadius856 View Post
The phrases "apartment building" and "while installing a new sub panel" appear in your post.

You might find some of the experts here shying away from answering this one unless there's a pretty good reason why a renter is doing their own electrical in a multi-unit building.
Perfectly fair question, I live in a four unit building where each person fully owns their unit. Repairs and modifications to each unit fall under the sole discretion of that units owner, while repairs and modification to the exterior of the building and common hallway are voted on and paid for by all four owners.
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Old 10-11-2011, 06:02 PM   #5
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Fair enough. Sounds like a typical HOA condo.
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Old 10-11-2011, 07:00 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kbsparky View Post
You are correct --> that panel is improperly wired.

It appears that the incoming cable is a 3-wire type SEU, and should have been a 4-wire type SER.

There is not much you can do at this point unless you have the entire incoming cable replaced with the correct type, and separate the neutral and grounding buss bars.

Edit to add: Are you SURE there is an outside 200 Amp breaker feeding this?

Post script: What is that panel next to this one for? Where does it get its feed?
Yes it appears that the incoming wire is SEU (2 hot leads with a neutral). The surrounding panels are for the other three units and the common area, these panels are wired in the same fashion.

I'm fairly sure that this is a 200A breaker below the meter but any identification has long since been weathered away, I do know that flipping that breaker kills all the power to my unit. Below are pictures of the exterior meter box and the breaker for my unit.




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Old 10-11-2011, 08:27 PM   #7
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Yup, improper and how did it ever pass inspection? The rules for sub-feeds and separate neutrals and grounds have been in place for YEARS. Back in the mid-1970's we used to have to do it that way!

You might want to get the whole system evaluated, and some proposals to have it fixed.
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Old 10-11-2011, 09:09 PM   #8
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Two points beyond the correct replies already given.

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Originally Posted by SALEEN961 View Post
Yes it appears that the incoming wire is SEU (2 hot leads with an aluminum ground shielding).
The bare conductor in SEU cable is a neutral, not a ground. It is used exclusively for runs between the meter and weather head, and the meter and MAIN panel/disconnect.
As sated, your installation is very wrong.


Secondly, and not to belittle in any way, having a pretty thorough automotive background myself I can tell you that your understanding of DC and automotive wiring has almost zero crossover to AC line voltage house wiring.
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Old 10-11-2011, 09:35 PM   #9
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


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Originally Posted by Speedy Petey View Post
Two points beyond the correct replies already given.

The bare conductor in SEU cable is a neutral, not a ground. It is used exclusively for runs between the meter and weather head, and the meter and MAIN panel/disconnect.
As sated, your installation is very wrong.


Secondly, and not to belittle in any way, having a pretty thorough automotive background myself I can tell you that your understanding of DC and automotive wiring has almost zero crossover to AC line voltage house wiring.
No offense taken, I realize that I have a great deal of ignorance when it comes to home wiring and I don't plan to touch anything I don't 100% understand. I won't do anything without understanding the theory behind doing it that way because there's a big difference between knowing to do something and knowing why you do it.

Right now my comfort level ends at the main breaker box where I can shut off all the power, I have no intention of working in the meter box where there will constant hots as I don't know enough about working on them to ensure my own safety.

Thank you for the ground/neutral correction that piece of misinformation would have left me scratching my head eventually.
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Old 10-11-2011, 09:43 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by kbsparky View Post
Yup, improper and how did it ever pass inspection? The rules for sub-feeds and separate neutrals and grounds have been in place for YEARS. Back in the mid-1970's we used to have to do it that way!

You might want to get the whole system evaluated, and some proposals to have it fixed.
This is what I had feared because all the lines in run through a cement wall and the cement was poured over the wires so redoing this will be very costly and a long process.

I am very aggravated by this because when I moved in 10 years my mom had the building inspected and the building inspector failed to notice any of this stuff. Unfortunately I was 11 at the time so I had no interest in electrical wiring and didn't double check the inspectors "work".

What are the associated risks of a system that's wired like this and how urgently would you say this system needs to be looked at and fixed, I only ask because I probably won't be able to afford to have someone fix it for a few months if this is going to cost what I think it will and in the 10 years I've lived here we haven't a problem, but all that means is we're overdue.

If this needs to be addressed quickly I could get the money but, it would be easier if I could wait. I just want to understand my options and the risks involved.

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Old 10-11-2011, 10:17 PM   #11
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


I just looked over everything around the breaker boxes again and there is a 4 gauge copper ground wire the comes through the poured concrete wall with the SEU cables that attaches to our water meters. Would it be up to code if I ran extensions from that ground wire and ran them into each breaker box to provide a ground for the ground bus bar and removed the jumper between the ground and neutral buses?
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Old 10-11-2011, 10:27 PM   #12
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No, that would be a violation. You can NOT use the grounding electrode conductor as an equipment grounding conductor.
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Old 10-11-2011, 10:36 PM   #13
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No, that would be a violation. You can NOT use the grounding electrode conductor as an equipment grounding conductor.
Ok, that's good to know. We have five main breaker boxes in the basement, does each panel require it's own grounding wire and grounding rod or can they share one wire/rod?

I'm thinking if I could just have new ground wire run in instead of replacing the SEU cable with SER I could save a lot of money and just drill a small hole in the wall to run the cable through instead of knocking out a 18"x18" section.

I'm sorry I'm asking so many questions, I'm new to this and I really do appreciate your help.
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Old 10-12-2011, 05:29 PM   #14
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Ok so if I understand how my main meter panel is wired based on what I know about the breaker panel and the wires I can see going to/from the meter panel then it's currently wired like this:



As you have confirmed that is not correct, and if I understand you correctly my wiring should be run in the following fashion:



Please let me know if what I've drawn looks correct, or if I need to make any corrections.
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Old 10-16-2011, 06:40 PM   #15
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Breaker Box Ground/Neutral Connection Help


Can someone please verify if what I've drawn looks correct? We're having a condo association meeting to discuss getting everything brought up to code and I need to make sure I can accurately describe what needs to be corrected. Also since several building inspectors didn't notice this I'm going to personally make sure it's done right so I need to make sure I have a good understanding of what a correct system is.

Also the two cold water pipes on the side of the building with the breakers boxes have a grounding strap on them but the two on the opposite side of the building for the other two units do not have any grounding straps on them. Shouldn't these water pipes have ground straps as well?

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