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Old 02-27-2011, 10:11 PM   #1
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


I recently moved into my girlfriend’s house, which she bought about three years ago. It is a four-bedroom three-story masonry Philadelphia row house. The electrical service is connected to a 100-amp Bulldog Pushmatic panel in the basement. The Pushmatic is pretty old, however it the good news is that it does have a 100-amp main breaker at the top and it does not appear to have a split-bus, however I’m not sure of this because I did not remove the cover. A much newer 60-amp Cutler-Hammer subpanel mounted right next to the Pushmatic panel. I’m guessing that the former owner added the subpanel because he ran out of spaces on the main panel and maybe he could not find tandem “space saver” Pushmatic breakers. The subpanel installation appears to be a diy or handyman job, but overall it is pretty good. The conductors connecting the two panels run through metal conduit and when I looked inside the subpanel I found the wires were neatly arranged and it did have a proper floating neutral bus bar. However I did just discover a major problem the other day when I noticed that there are no double-pole breakers on the main panel other than the main breaker (the house has natural gas service). I then noticed that there were two new-looking 30-amp Pushmatic breakers at the bottom of the main panel (directly across from each other). When I turned them both off I then realized that those two separate 30 amp breakers feed the subpanel.

So my questions are as follows: How dangerous is the fake double pole breaker situation? Is the Pushmatic panel dangerous in and of itself just by virtue of being so old? Do we need to have a new panel installed immediately? Or can we live with this for a little while?

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Old 02-28-2011, 12:44 AM   #2
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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I then noticed that there were two new-looking 30-amp Pushmatic breakers at the bottom of the main panel (directly across from each other). When I turned them both off I then realized that those two separate 30 amp breakers feed the subpanel.

So my questions are as follows: How dangerous is the fake double pole breaker situation? Is the Pushmatic panel dangerous in and of itself just by virtue of being so old? Do we need to have a new panel installed immediately? Or can we live with this for a little while?
I don't understand what you mean by fake double pole breaker. Isn't this just a breaker that feeds the sub? Why are you calling it fake?

The panel is okay, no rush. Mine was inatalled in1963 and was in use until a year or so ago.

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Old 02-28-2011, 01:14 AM   #3
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


Sounds pretty strange, I'd yank the covers off of everything and take a look. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the 60A panel is feeding the older panel, though you probably would have figured that out by now.

I think the OP is saying that among other things, the "main breakers" aren't linked together the way they often are on double pole breakers.
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Old 02-28-2011, 07:42 AM   #4
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


Two single pole breakers are only a safety hazard to a worker who might only turn one off thinking the panel was dead. They will still function as 30 amp breakers and protect the wiring. I would not consider it an urgent danger, but it should be addressed.
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Old 02-28-2011, 04:29 PM   #5
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


The same worker safety concerns surround "Edison" circuits. Edison circuits have an additional concern which may or may not apply in your case: if the neutral becomes disconnected, the equipment on one side tries to dump current into the equipment on the other side. If the loads are mismatched (say a hair dryer vs. a 100 watt bulb) the voltage available to the lighter load could approach 240V.

Last edited by mysterylectric; 02-28-2011 at 04:39 PM.
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Old 02-28-2011, 05:43 PM   #6
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


Never heard of them referred to as EDISON circuits. They are more commonly called multi wire branch circuits.
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Old 02-28-2011, 06:08 PM   #7
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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I don't understand what you mean by fake double pole breaker. Isn't this just a breaker that feeds the sub? Why are you calling it fake?
They are two separate 30-amp single pole breakers on the main panel, and while I think they are on opposite bus bars, I'm not sure. It should be a two pole 60-amp breaker with a linked "common trip" mechanism. That means that if there is a problem in the subpanel it is possible that only one breaker could trip.
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Old 02-28-2011, 06:27 PM   #8
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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Originally Posted by johnk88 View Post
They are two separate 30-amp single pole breakers on the main panel, and while I think they are on opposite bus bars, I'm not sure. It should be a two pole 60-amp breaker with a linked "common trip" mechanism. That means that if there is a problem in the subpanel it is possible that only one breaker could trip.
How go you get that it should be a double pole 60 amp but now your using 30's? Two 30's is the same as a double 30. A double 60 is the same as two 60's.

Okay, so they are on opposite sides of the panel?

They your just talking about it being fed with 2 separate breakers right? There really isn't anything wrong with that technically. I'm not sure if there is an issue with that in a more recent version of the code or not. I know there is relating to MWBC's.
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Old 02-28-2011, 07:04 PM   #9
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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Originally Posted by mysterylectric View Post
Sounds pretty strange, I'd yank the covers off of everything and take a look. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the 60A panel is feeding the older panel, though you probably would have figured that out by now.
I attempted to remove the cover from the old Pushmatic panel, but one of the screws at the top of the cover won't budge and I don't want to attempt drilling it out. Its for reasons like this that I need a professional electrician to do the job, I'm just wondering how long I can hold off. I know that once I bring a pro in here to look at this situation, he is going to recommend installing at least a new panel, and probably a whole new service entrance, and that's going to cost some $$$.

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I think the OP is saying that among other things, the "main breakers" aren't linked together the way they often are on double pole breakers.
The 100-amp main breaker at the top of the Pushmatic, which appears to be original to the panel, is a proper double pole breaker with a single button in the middle, "bridging" the two columns of breakers (it is my understanding that the bus bars in this type of panel are parallel to each other, meaning that they don't alternate from side to side in a zig-zag pattern like they do in a modern panel). Its just the two 30-amp breakers at the bottom (60-amp total) feeding the subpanel that are not linked to each other to produce a common trip mechanism.

Last edited by johnk88; 02-28-2011 at 07:08 PM. Reason: spelling error
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Old 02-28-2011, 07:17 PM   #10
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


Quote:
Originally Posted by johnk88 View Post
I attempted to remove the cover from the old Pushmatic panel, but one of the screws at the top of the cover won't budge and I don't want to attempt drilling it out. Its for reasons like this that I need a professional electrician to do the job, I'm just wondering how long I can hold off. I know that once I bring a pro in here to look at this situation, he is going to recommend installing at least a new panel, and probably a whole new service entrance, and that's going to cost some $$$.



The 100-amp main breaker at the top of the Pushmatic, which appears to be original to the panel, is a proper double pole breaker with a single button in the middle, "bridging" the two columns of breakers (it is my understanding that the bus bars in this type of panel are parallel to each other, meaning that they don't alternate from side to side in a zig-zag pattern like they do in a modern panel). Its just the two 30-amp breakers at the bottom (60-amp total) feeding the subpanel that are not linked to each other to produce a common trip mechanism.
Defiantly do not drill that out. If your uncomfortable, then an electrician is not a bad idea. If you want; You carefully put a couple drops of penetrating oil on the screw. Then try it in a bit, don't use so much that it is dripping all over the place. Make sure your using the right size screwdriver. If your service cable is near that screw, don't do anything where you could slip and jab it with the screwdriver.

As long as one breaker is on the left and one is on the right, then there isn't really a problem. Yes, there is no zig zag to the panel. Technically, it doesn't make any difference if there is a common trip. Yes, that's the right way to do it, but I can't see any problems it will cause. Your going to have junction boxes all the time that have 2 circuits in them. Anyone that is working on it should know enough to test and make sure it is all off, if they don't they should not be touching it. This isn't a problem that should make you rush out and pay for a new panel.

The lowest I've heard for a new panel and 200A service is around $1,000. I've heard numbers well over twice that in some parts of the country.
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Old 03-01-2011, 06:04 PM   #11
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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How go you get that it should be a double pole 60 amp but now your using 30's? Two 30's is the same as a double 30. A double 60 is the same as two 60's.
I goofed. You are right they are two 60-amp breakers. I was not at the house when I made that post and I got confused. I was also thinking about a single 30 amp breaker that is one space from the bottom on the Pushmatic that doesn't appear to be connected to anything. But that's a whole other problem.

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Okay, so they are on opposite sides of the panel?
Yes they are.

Last edited by johnk88; 03-01-2011 at 06:24 PM. Reason: clarification
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Old 03-01-2011, 06:16 PM   #12
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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Defiantly do not drill that out. If your uncomfortable, then an electrician is not a bad idea.
I'm not going to drill out the screw or attempt to remove the cover by any other means. At this point there isn't any point in me doing so because I've already decided that I need a real electrician anyway. Part of being a good DIY'er is knowing what your limits are, and when its time to call a professional.

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The lowest I've heard for a new panel and 200A service is around $1,000. I've heard numbers well over twice that in some parts of the country.
I've talked my girlfriend into at least letting me get estimates from electricians. It will be expensive because we need to have all new service installed. But the good news is that we may only need 100-amp service because the house is small and the "big three" appliances: water heater, range and dryer are all gas-fired.
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Old 03-01-2011, 07:01 PM   #13
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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I've talked my girlfriend into at least letting me get estimates from electricians. It will be expensive because we need to have all new service installed. But the good news is that we may only need 100-amp service because the house is small and the "big three" appliances: water heater, range and dryer are all gas-fired.
Yes, you may be fine with 100, but the cost difference is often trivial. Also code in some areas now requires 200 amp service. Even if it isn't code it is worth it; if you ever sell - I feel 200 Amp is more appealing, I suspect some people look at 100 and think it will need an upgrade.

If you ever decided to add a hot tub, bathroom steam generator, electric heater for the garage, compressor, welder, instant water heaters, etc. you may need the extra capacity. Not that you can't run those things on 100A, but they are just some things that can end up pushing you over the limit.
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Old 03-01-2011, 08:11 PM   #14
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


When I'm talking to the electrician I'll keep you recommendation in mind regarding 200 amp service. You're right in saying the cost difference is insignificant, however I feel that 100 amp service is appropriate for a Philadelphia row house of less than 1500 square feet with natural gas service. Also, our code does not require 200 amp service for a house of this size.

There is no garage, and a hot tub would take up at least half of the back yard. We're just happy to have off street parking for one car. If you were wondering, yes I am the one who has to park on the street.
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Old 03-01-2011, 08:52 PM   #15
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Fake Double Pole Breaker in Pushmatic


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When I'm talking to the electrician I'll keep you recommendation in mind regarding 200 amp service. You're right in saying the cost difference is insignificant, however I feel that 100 amp service is appropriate for a Philadelphia row house of less than 1500 square feet with natural gas service. Also, our code does not require 200 amp service for a house of this size.

There is no garage, and a hot tub would take up at least half of the back yard. We're just happy to have off street parking for one car. If you were wondering, yes I am the one who has to park on the street.
LOL. I hate street parking. I love our driveway, it has room for 2 smaller cars next to each other plus a 2 car garage.

I can defiantly understand why there would be little need for 200a service in that situation. It would almost be like putting 200a service in a condo, there is almost no way you would ever use it.

I don't know the exact current prices on things, but the things that would be different (with 100 vs 200) would be;
a. the cable from the mast head to the meter to the panel. (and the mast head would be larger)
b. the meter socket
c. the main breaker /panel

Just to give you some ideas on what materials cost, regardless of if you go 100 or 200 amp, I'll throw some numbers at you;

Last time I bought 20 feet of service entrance cable in aluminum, it was about $10 for the size for 100A. So maybe double that for 200A service. The difference in a 100 and 200 meter pan, I doubt is much at all, it is a larger box with larger terminals (meter pan might be $30-$40). The panel, well even a really nice panel (without breakers) in 200 A is around $140 and that is for a huge 42 position Cuttler CH. Lower end panels and 100a panels will be less.

So you can see even with top of the line materials for 200a service we are maybe talking about $200 in materials.

NOTE: There could be very valid additional charges for things I am not considering, such as if your cable up to the mast head needs new conduit put in, that conduit can be expensive. Or if new conduit from the meter pan to the house needs to go in. Things like that can add considerably to the base cost I mentioned.

Any of the homeline panels will be much cheaper than a CH or I forget the name of the high end panel in the other major brand.

The other difference with the homeline panels vs the CH panels is the cost of breakers. CH breakers are close to $7 each, vs around $3.

The homeline type of panel really is fine and is quite inexpensive, a 100a box with 20 breakers is going to be around $100.

Of course they will mark up the materials, I just thought I would give you a ballpark of what these things cost retail. So if the guy tells you it is 6 hours labor and estimates a cost of $2,00, you will know he is trying to get you for about $300 a hour. Just make sure it makes sense, there could be a valid reason for a high quote; e.g. there is some reason your project will take a lot of additional hours.

Most electricians prefer you buy from them, as they like using what they are familiar with (not that it makes a big difference), but I would suggest asking them before you buy anything on your own, if you thought about doing that to save money.

There are lots of good honest electricians out there, lots of great guys here on the forum. I'd just get a few bids.

I really only started talking about this because It seems in the larger cities that people tend to get these really high quotes on service upgrades for some reason, perhaps that is what the market will bear. If you get high quotes, might be worth calling someone outside the city a few miles.

Also, Make sure THEY get a permit, not you. Don't skip the permit for this, it is your main source of recourse / enforcement if it is done wrong, and helps you know that it is done correctly, because it will be inspected.

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Last edited by jamiedolan; 03-01-2011 at 08:58 PM. Reason: can't type today...
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