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Old 08-15-2008, 07:35 AM   #1
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Melted Service Entrance Wire in Panel


So as a favor to my Realtor, I went and personally inspected a service panel for his father in law who is an elderly person and having issues with half the power going out in his house. No obligations to fix it if it was "over my head". Told him i figured it was probably a loose wire somewhere that was causing half the power to go out. The electric company had been by and said that there was power up to the meter and there was nothing more they could do.

So I opened the panel to take a look, saw the problem almost immediately. One of the hot wires feeding the main breaker had the last 3-4 inches melted/charred insulation. There was a large "bubble" in the plastic insulation and poking at it with my insulated screwdriver (yeah I know, maybe not the best idea) it was rather loose in the terminal to the main breaker. Obviously the lights on that half of the panel were flickering on and off (to my knowledge he just had the one light on next to the panel). I attempted to tighten down the screw on that lug, but to no success. Told him he needed to call an electrician and they will need to replace the wire from the meter pan to at least the main breaker. Possibly need to have the main breaker replaced as well depending on the condition of the lugs.

I didn't figure that they would have to replace the main panel, though it is an older panel but it is circuit breakers, not fuses. Its a 100 amp service with I believe either 4 or 2 gauge aluminum service feeding the panel from a meter on the outside of the house directly behind it.

Couple questions, any idea what might cause the hot wire to become loose in the main breaker lug and to obviously get hot, arc, etc until its no longer make a good contact. From the looks of it, this has been happening for quite a while, I can't imagine that the lug was never tightened down when it was installed (though possible) it just seems very unlikely that it would last this long before giving up. What would an electrician likely replace in a situation like this? Just the bad wire feeding the main breaker and possibly the main breaker? Or would they be looking at replacing an otherwise good panel because of a bad service wire feeding the main breaker? Also, when it comes time to having the electrician do the work on the panel, does the electrician handle the permits and contacting the electric company to shut off the power or is that the Homeowners responsibility? Also, I know this next question may be hard to answer since i've seen variations of this question asked; What might an electrician charge to complete the work on something like this? Is this fairly common or something fairly quick and easy costing less to complete the work?

I am not doing the work on this panel, I know my bounds and don't want to get into replacing wire from the meter to the panel and especially not in someone else's house. In this situation I had no problems having them contact an electrician to do the work.

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Old 08-15-2008, 09:01 AM   #2
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If the main breaker for that panel is no longer available you would need to replace the entire panel.

The loose connection caused all the damage from heat. It may never have been properly torqued or tightened at all. i removed one cable where the end was still round, no indent from the lug screw at all.

As far as permits and coordination with the poco the EC would handle that in my area, yours may differ.

Cost would vary greatly depending on the extent of work and the brand of materials used along with the conditions like open basement wall or framed between studs in a finished wall.

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Old 08-15-2008, 12:01 PM   #3
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If I had the job I would replace the main breaker and all service entrance wiring from the the meter to the panel. Short distance I would replace with copper wiring. Aluminum wiring today has been greatly improved over the older stuff. Al is fine if that is what you want. In many cases the service entrance is SEU cable which makes it more practical cost wise to replace with same. I'm not found of the bare stranded neutral from a workmanship point of view but it works, just kinda awkward.

On the other side of the coin since the poco is going to remove power while the work is done... it is the perfect time for an upgraded panel. Not much cost really unless you have code issues with the existing entrance needing up grade also.
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Old 08-15-2008, 02:23 PM   #4
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If the main breaker was not aluminum rated, electrolysis would cause corrosion of the connection.
This causes the connection to become resistive, which results in heat. This heat in turn is dissipated along the cable., melting the insulation.
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Old 08-15-2008, 07:17 PM   #5
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I never did poke my head outside, but the wire is single conductors run through a raceway or conduit in the bottom of the panel. This is a pretty small house, and its an elderly couple living there, I doubt they would go for a service upgrade in this situation. If it were my house, I would definitely go for the upgrade to 200 amp.

At this point I am thinking it must have never had the lug tightened down in the first place.
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Old 08-15-2008, 07:56 PM   #6
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If the main breaker was not aluminum rated
Main breaker not aluminum rated? What? I'm going to guess this is definitely not it....
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Old 08-15-2008, 11:16 PM   #7
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Yeah I was wondering the same.....never came across one, I believe there are breakers that are designed for continuous loads in industrial applications that might require copper but not sure, I just never came across any.
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Old 08-16-2008, 08:28 PM   #8
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Main breaker not aluminum rated? What? I'm going to guess this is definitely not it....
I lived in a house that was built in the 1930's and it had a main breaker.
Aluminum wiring was just some engineers night mare then.
If you look at the lugs and they are plain copper, they are not aluminum rated.
Suitable breakers have 'plated' lugs!
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Old 08-20-2008, 12:42 PM   #9
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So I got an email from my Realtor saying they got the problem taken care of and it cost them $4,000 for the new panel and service upgrade. I don't know what all was included in that, but its been fixed and no longer is an issue. It would have been necessary to be a selling point when they go to sell the house in a few years, so it was good that it got done.
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Old 08-20-2008, 04:22 PM   #10
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The prices are much higher in your region. A job like that would have cost under $2000 around here unless there was some very unusual conditions.
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Old 08-21-2008, 09:05 AM   #11
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So I got an email from my Realtor saying they got the problem taken care of and it cost them $4,000 for the new panel and service upgrade. I don't know what all was included in that, but its been fixed and no longer is an issue. It would have been necessary to be a selling point when they go to sell the house in a few years, so it was good that it got done.
Wow, that is big bucks. Sounds like another elderly couple got screwed.
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Old 08-21-2008, 10:53 AM   #12
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This thread makes me want to open my service panel and tighten the lugs. Maybe squeeze some Nolox in there to. Maybe I will do it today. Thanks.
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Old 08-21-2008, 12:01 PM   #13
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Wow, that is big bucks. Sounds like another elderly couple got screwed.
Yeah, and here I figured they would have to replace the bad wire, and might have to replace the main breaker. So I told them parts alone I figured would be under $100, then what ever the labor charge is to do the work, etc. Sucks it ended up costing them way more than I figured it would cost, but its done with now and no worries about bad electrical connections in the panel anymore. Also, when they go to sell the house it will be a big selling point that the service has been upgraded.

I think it is a bit outrageous, $4,000; but then again I have no idea what the rate is for the kinda service (panel replacement/upgrade) so I don't know if that is really on-par or just way out of the ball park. Personally if it was my house, I would be doing the work and then just get everything inspected. But not on someone else's panel, don't need to be liable for anything that may happen and not even be related.
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Old 08-22-2008, 10:37 AM   #14
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Every job is different of course, but a service upgrade with new meter can, pipe, conductors, and 200A panel with main should be much cheaper than $4000. It would be in my area. Prices may vary by area. But Mn shouldn't be much different than Wi.

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