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Old 01-04-2009, 11:06 AM   #1
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I recently bought a home. The previous homeowner did much of the electrical himself, and most of it is pretty sloppy and not to code. I intend to slowly get things up to code while doing various projects. I will be wiring up a garage, however, I first need to get the main panel cleaned up. I would really appreciate some feedback on this project...

Our home inspector also told us that there was something strange about our meter, though I don't recall what he had said. In any case, I've brought in a couple of electricians for estimates on replacing the panel including main breakers and room to expand.

Here are some photos of what I have now:

My Current Panel
My Current Meter
Picture of messy wiring

The first electrician didn't give me a written estimate, but wanted to scrap the panel and the meter and run the main through a different location and move the panel. He estimated 4-6k. The second electrician said all of that wasn't necessary since the work *was* up to code back in the 70's. He quoted me as follows:

Quote:
SERVICE WORK
1.Installation of 200 amp 40 circuit Main Breaker Square D service panel
2.Installation of 200 amp Main Breaker to match existing
3.Panel will be installed in the same location as existing
4.Installation of ground rods to code
5.Installation of bonding to water and gas systems
6.Installation of correctly sized breakers for each incoming conductors
7.There will be space for additional breakers at the completion of this job.
8.Any hidden defects or code violations can be addressed on separate proposal
9.Due to the volatility in materials and fuel the proposed price is subject to review on date of acceptance.

ALL LABOR, MATERIALS, AND PERMITS: $1388.00
That sounds more reasonable to me, however, what makes me nervous is:

Quote:
NOTES AND SUBMITTALS:
a.All patching by others
b.Any hidden defects can be addressed on a separate proposal
c.Clearance and code required space will be the responsibility of others
Does this mean that there are going to be significant additional costs that pop up midway through the project?

I have done a little electrical myself and I have a degree in electronics. I intend to do much of the work myself AFTER I get the panel replaced and up to code.

I'm afraid to pull the trigger on this work because our funds are limited and I don't want to get stuck half way through the panel change due to permit or code problems increasing the cost. Anybody have any insight?

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Old 01-04-2009, 11:10 AM   #2
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I should add....

Some of the circuits around the house have been modified. For example, the circuit running the living room (3 receptacles and a light fixture) was tapped into by the previous homeowner to wire up the basement with another 4 receptacles and 2 light fixtures. In any case, is this type of thing going to get in the way of the permit for the panel change and result in having to rewire the whole house?

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Old 01-04-2009, 11:35 AM   #3
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With a Dotplot you can figure the cluster in the middle is the true price of doing the job in your Zipcode in Jan, '08.

.....x......xx..x.........x......
|.....|.....|.....|....|....|
0...$1. ..$2...$3..$4...$5

With the two outlying bids, I'd wonder what job they are bidding on; probably not mine. .

For this many bucks and this much uncertainty and this much importance on getting the job done right I'd get a few bids.
(For a plumbing job I had to call 17 plumbers just to get 5 bids).

As an EE/whistleblower/home improvement contractor (in that order) the stuff below seems reasonable.

All patching by others
b.Any hidden defects can be addressed on a separate proposal
c.Clearance and code required space will be the responsibility of others
this last one assuming he does not relocate the panel in such a way that you have to knock out walls to get clearance.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 01-04-2009 at 11:40 AM.
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Old 01-04-2009, 11:47 AM   #4
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NOTES AND SUBMITTALS:

a.All patching by others This should just mean he isnt gonna patch any holes in the walls if needed to pull any wires.

b.Any hidden defects can be addressed on a separate proposal This is the scary one but he is only saying he cant estimate a fix on something that isnt seen until its exposed and his approach to it seems justified and normal.

c.Clearance and code required space will be the responsibility of others
I assume here he is referencing to required clearance and access around the panel itself and shouldnt be an issue. Ask him prior to start if the panel needs moved to meet code or if there are other code violations involved
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Old 01-04-2009, 12:40 PM   #5
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It looks like he is covering himself and you.
Like Sammy said, if he uncovers something hidden, the that will have to be addressed at the time and would be out of the scope of original work.

When I have to cut holes, I try to put the sheetrock back, but I do not repair the patch.
The price would be a steal in my area, with the cost more than $2500.
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Old 01-04-2009, 04:15 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jbfan View Post
The price would be a steal in my area, with the cost more than $2500.
So far, so good. . .

.........x......x....................x
|.....|.....|.....|.....|.....|.....|
0.....1.....2.....3.....4....5.....6

If he says 4 to 6, it means 6.

Assuming prices are more highly correlated to average area income than the actual cost of things,

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&s...p+code&spell=1

you might be able to correct these bids for what area they are given in.
The labor cost books by RS Means Publishing does this.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 01-04-2009 at 07:18 PM.
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Old 01-04-2009, 05:36 PM   #7
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Go with the first guy.

He's going to give you a new, bigger panel and clean up the wiring around it.

The exclusions are normal.

Electricians generally don't patch but to do the panel change he won't have to cut anything.

The hidden defects are normal. Lest's say he puts everything back together and discovers that something had been fed or refed improperly. He doen't know 100% until he starts taking things apart. Don't worry about it.

The clearance won't be an issue unless the picture is deceiving. 3' in front of the panel.

The messy wiring doesn't look dangerous, just a little messy.
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Old 01-04-2009, 05:46 PM   #8
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Its an opinion and I respect it but 220/221 can you elaborate why 4K dollars more from the first electrician is valid?
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Old 01-04-2009, 05:55 PM   #9
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Moving the panel create significantly more work. All the branch circuits need to be moved now. Did he give a reason why he wanted to move the panel?
Leaving the panel where it is means all the branch circuits just get installed into the new panel without having to extend and reroute them.
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Old 01-04-2009, 06:06 PM   #10
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It doesn't matter if it were to code in the 70s or not. Once you start to tear it out, you can't put it all back like it was. You have to install it to current code. In my opinion, the second estimate seems a bit dodgy, in that it only addresses changing the panel, not the service cable or meter itself. How about those branch circuits crammed into the pipe on the left? That should be addressed as well. I don't think it is worth $6000, but I'd pay a little more than $1400 to get a new meter/main, new service cable, circuits brought into the panel properly, oh and new mast and weather head.
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Old 01-04-2009, 06:08 PM   #11
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That existing panel is an old "Split-bus" type that has no "main" breaker. One of the breakers (blue handles double-pole on the right) controls the rest of the bottom half of that panel.

The proposal from the 2nd guy sounds about right, except he is selling you 2 different main breakers? Nothing mentioned about changing out the meter box and/or outside service drop? He was on the right track, but the price is a little on the low side, IMO. Also, get a clarification from him regarding the Square D stuff. It looks like a Homeline job to me, and I would have quoted using the QO stuff. That might account for some of the lowball price.

AS for those exclusions, as others have pointed out, he is simply covering his butt.

Clearance = required working space, and he has no control over what you do with that space after he is finished. Basically, you have to set aside a clear space at least 30" wide and 3 feet deep directly in front of the panel in which you can't store or build anything to ensure adequate working space.

Patchwork exclusion is normal as well. While we attempt to install electric wiring, equipment, etc without the need for patchwork, it sometimes is necessary, and I can tell you that his price ain't including any.
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Old 01-04-2009, 06:11 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
Moving the panel create significantly more work. All the branch circuits need to be moved now. Did he give a reason why he wanted to move the panel?
Leaving the panel where it is means all the branch circuits just get installed into the new panel without having to extend and reroute them.
What was the reasoning behind moving the box? 200 amp should be more than enough.
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Old 01-05-2009, 09:09 AM   #13
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Quote:
What was the reasoning behind moving the box?
I'm sorry, I wasn't quite clear. The first electrician didn't want to move the panel much, but he wanted to re-route the main lines going into the panel. Let me explain.

The panel is in a small, 6ft wall which is simply some 2x4s with wood panel over one side. It's not a "real" wall. He had suggested moving the panel so that it could be recessed into the wall should I ever want to finish my basement.

The logic behind re-routing the main lines coming in had to do with the meter outside. He wanted to "scrap" the current meter for a new one (pictures below) and raise the main line on the outside of the house to 14ft (it's currently 12ft which I believe used to be okay.) Doing this he felt would mean the the main line coming in should come in at a different external location.

The second electrician said moving the panel--recessing it--would be making things more difficult than they need to be as all the subcircuits might not fit. He also didn't think replacing the external meter, putting it into conduit, or raising that external line to 14ft was necessary since it was to code when it was done and it's on the non-driveway side of the house.





The part I still don't understand is *why* I should replace the meter... is it old? Less efficient? My home inspector also suggested that I may want to do that.

I guess I should get some more estimates and try to understand what exactly I need to do. This is my first home and my first "estimate" so I'm learning as I go. You guys' are very helpful and I very much appreciate all the information you provide.

So it sounds like what I should be getting estimates on is replacing the panel with a 200 amp panel (should I be concerned about what type? What is "Square D"?). Replace the service meter (why?).

There is clearance around the panel, however, if I wanted to re-frame the wall it's mounted on or replace the wood panel with drywall, would that need to be done before the new panel is installed or could it be done later?

Last edited by MicahPDX; 01-05-2009 at 09:32 AM.
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Old 01-05-2009, 09:40 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MicahPDX View Post
The part I still don't understand is *why* I should replace the meter... is it old? Less efficient? My home inspector also suggested that I may want to do that.
While it is legal, I don't like the exposed service cable above and below the meter. It wouldn't take but one good bump to have a disaster. Also, as the meter ages, it will be harder for the power company to find replacement parts. There is a type of meter socket installed in my area that the utility no longer has parts for, so when they break down, well too bad, gotta change a service!

In my opinion, if you are going to change the main panel, you should update the whole service, including the meter.
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Old 01-05-2009, 10:41 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by InPhase277 View Post
It wouldn't take but one good bump to have a disaster.
No one quite seems to understand the potential danger of unfused service do they?



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