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Old 01-11-2010, 10:06 PM   #1
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


When I purchased this house (late 2008), the home inspection report noted the following about the sub-panel: "Improper wiring to sub-panel, the neutral and ground wires are not on separate bus bars as required on sub-panels."

How significant a problem is this? (...maybe on a scale of 1 to 10?)
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Old 01-11-2010, 10:09 PM   #2
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Bad, not sure how bad on a scale
But if the neutral comes loose power will flow across the ground, energizing items that have a ground plug
---is my understanding

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Old 01-11-2010, 10:46 PM   #3
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


It is not a problem at all if everything is working as it should -> 1

BUT it could kill someone if there is an electrical malfunction with the wiring between the main and subpanel -> 10!

The problem is if a main wire comes loose. And actually that is not a very uncommon problem. I would not feel comfortable with that in my home and would fix it 1st thing. This would be a priority!

And since this was not wired as it should be, I would closely examine the rest of the electrical system for other handiwork.

And this is the thing with many electrical codes / wiring methods. They are there to protect you and your family in the event of a malfunction. A wire comes loose. A wire touches the metal frame of an appliance. There is a bare wire on an old extension cord used outside...

You are protected with wiring done to code. Get it fixed ASAP.
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Old 01-11-2010, 11:12 PM   #4
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


I'm not seeing a grounding (green or bare) conductor to the sub-panel. That's a code violation also. If you have a grounding conductor, it's an easy thing to add a ground bar in that panel and relocate the grounds to it.
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Old 01-11-2010, 11:24 PM   #5
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Right!

That is the most important part - that 4th green or bare wire (missing).
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Old 01-12-2010, 12:43 AM   #6
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


I don't want to be nippick but there are quite few items that need to be addressed here

no marking on netural conductor to the subpanel.

No EGC to subpanel at all { I do not know if that was installed before the code got strict especally after 05 that get really strict with it }

two netural conductors on one hole that is no-no at all.

one of the two pole breaker I can see stranded conductor is not landed properly on the breaker lug termatil { you can see it pretty clear with white conductor there }

missing grounding bar.

For the rest of the building wireing I think it need to be look more closer to verify if that is legit set up.

Merci,Marc
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Old 01-12-2010, 04:17 AM   #7
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Need a little more info. Is this in a detached garage? Is there a ground rod at the building? Are there any other metallic pathways to that building? Although not allowed anymore in most areas, this may be a legit install. I do see a larger(4 awg?) GEC going to the bar, so there may be ground rod driven somewhere. However, as pointed out before, there are a few other things in the panel that also need to be addressed.

Last edited by jerryh3; 01-12-2010 at 07:40 AM.
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Old 01-12-2010, 07:35 AM   #8
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Check the bus bars for a screw down or metal strap connection to the panel (sheet metal) itself. The bus bar that has such a bonding (firm metal to metal contact) you use for your ground wires. The bus bar without that bonding is used for neutrals.

You can "extend" a wire that is not long enough to reach the other bus bar by wire nutting on a short piece (pigtail) of matching kind (white for neutral or bare (or green) for ground) But do not extend two or more wires using just one pigtail of the same size.

Put a band of white tape on the incoming neutral (did you say it was at #4 gauge or fatter?).

Put a band of red or black tape* or stain on both ends of each white wire connected to the hot lug of a breaker (as used for 240 volt circuits).

The latest code doesn't allow it but just the 3 incoming wires (two hots and a neutral) was permitted in the past for detached buildings provided no other metal connection that could behave as a ground such as a cable TV coaxial or a water pipe went between the buildings.

While you are at it, retighten (not using tremendous strength) each and every screw and set screw holding a wire in place. Of course turn off the respective breaker before tightening the screw for the hot wire attached there.

*You can use other colors, too, other than green.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-12-2010 at 07:42 AM.
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Old 01-12-2010, 11:02 AM   #9
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Billy_Bob View Post
It is not a problem at all if everything is working as it should -> 1

BUT it could kill someone if there is an electrical malfunction with the wiring between the main and subpanel -> 10!

The problem is if a main wire comes loose. And actually that is not a very uncommon problem. I would not feel comfortable with that in my home and would fix it 1st thing. This would be a priority!

And since this was not wired as it should be, I would closely examine the rest of the electrical system for other handiwork.

And this is the thing with many electrical codes / wiring methods. They are there to protect you and your family in the event of a malfunction. A wire comes loose. A wire touches the metal frame of an appliance. There is a bare wire on an old extension cord used outside...

You are protected with wiring done to code. Get it fixed ASAP.
It is a possible code violation, regardless if it is safe or not. It should be addressed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jupe Blue View Post
I'm not seeing a grounding (green or bare) conductor to the sub-panel. That's a code violation also. If you have a grounding conductor, it's an easy thing to add a ground bar in that panel and relocate the grounds to it.
If he used metal conduit, the conduit can be used as the ground. The OP did not say. He would still need to install a grounding terminal strip and connect all the grounds to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jerryh3 View Post
Need a little more info. Is this in a detached garage? Is there a ground rod at the building? Are there any other metallic pathways to that building? Although not allowed anymore in most areas, this may be a legit install. I do see a larger(4 awg?) GEC going to the bar, so there may be ground rod driven somewhere. However, as pointed out before, there are a few other things in the panel that also need to be addressed.
Very good observation Jerry. Prior to the 2008 code cycle, 3 wire feeders where allowed, making this a compliant install. But Marc (French Electrician) pointed out some other violations that should be corrected.
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Old 01-12-2010, 11:27 AM   #10
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Thanks all for the great responses! And I thought my biggest concern was having to replace my main breaker box (a Federal Pacific). Oh well...

Here's some additional info:
  • The thicker bare wire in the middle of the left bus bar is a grounding wire, which attaches to an exterior grounding rod. (You can just see it exiting the bottom of the box in original posted photo).
  • This sub is for a work shop addition attached to the house. It powers a dedicated A/C (air handler and compressor), lights and outlets.
  • The sub is sourced from a branch off the meter, not connected to the main breaker box (see attached photo below).
  • I can't see that either bus bar is grounded to the breaker box itself. However, the box label shown in the attached photo indicates a location for "box bonding" (#1).
  • The box label also seems to indicate the top of the right bus bar for "service ground."
Given the feedback already received, I'll be re-seating the double breaker with the wires not seated properly (both wires had this problem). I'll also properly indicate the incoming neutral and hots and re-check all the breaker connections (thanks AllanJ for the DIY-friendly instruction).

Questions:
  • Can I use the right bus bar as my ground bar, or do I need to add a separate bar?
  • How do I use the "box bonding" hole to ground the box to the ground bar?
  • Once the above questions are resolved, is the remainder of the job to just move the ground wires from the existing bar to the ground bar?
I do plan this as a DIY project. Thanks for the continuing support and expert feedback!

Dan
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Old 01-12-2010, 12:22 PM   #11
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Is that gizmo up top with the yellow star a breaker with a button or handle that lets you turn the panel completely off? Not just a reset button.

If so, assuming that the incoming #4 wires go directly to the meter, then this is not really a subpanel and the combined grounds and neutrals are proper. (If you turn off the main house main breaker, is this "subpanel" still alive?)

With no main manual disconnecting means in the "subpanel" and its being wired directly to the meter lugs, you would have something dreadfully wrong.

What does the box bonding hole look like? Is it threaded to accept a screw that will dig into the box surface beyond without causing the bar to lift off of (and split irreparably off of) its plastic moorings?

If you were to separate the neutrals and grounds making the right bar the ground bar then you would have to move the fat bare wire over to the right also. Also make sure that the left and right bars are unbonded from each other.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-12-2010 at 12:47 PM.
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Old 01-12-2010, 12:30 PM   #12
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
deleted g
Hmmm... I think this lost something in the editing.
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Old 01-12-2010, 12:55 PM   #13
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Question

Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Scuba_Dave View Post
Bad, not sure how bad on a scale
But if the neutral comes loose power will flow across the ground, energizing items that have a ground plug
---is my understanding
I don't know about "Energizing" the Grounds. But the (sub) panel, if Grounded, will pick up all of the cumulative "Debris", and will, overheat. Yes. Become hot. Sometimes, very Hot (temperature wise), especially if there are many non-linear loads on the various branch circuits.
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Old 01-12-2010, 01:33 PM   #14
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
Is that gizmo up top with the yellow star a breaker with a button or handle that lets you turn the panel completely off? Not just a reset button.
It's the main breaker for the box. (better photo attached)

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
If so, assuming that the incoming #4 wires go directly to the meter, then this is not really a subpanel and the combined grounds and neutrals are proper. (If you turn off the main house main breaker, is this "subpanel" still alive?)
The panel isn't connected to the main breaker panel in the original house. Sorry if I confused the issue with improper terminology. Given this is a separate "main" breaker panel, is it still necessary to split the grounds and neutrals?

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
With no main manual disconnecting means in the "subpanel" and its being wired directly to the meter lugs, you would have something dreadfully wrong.
By this, I assume you're refering to the first question about whether there's a main shutoff in the panel. Since there's a main breaker, shouldn't be a problem (unless I'm misinterpreting...).

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
What does the box bonding hole look like? Is it threaded to accept a screw that will dig into the box surface beyond without causing the bar to lift off of (and split irreparably off of) its plastic moorings?

If you were to separate the neutrals and grounds making the right bar the ground bar then you would have to move the fat bare wire over to the right also. Also make sure that the left and right bars are unbonded from each other.
The box bonding hole starts with the metal bar, then a same-sized hole through the underlying plastic, then to a smaller hole through the back metal of the box. Beyond that is wood. (Photo attached; hard to capture...) I can't tell whether the rear hole is threaded, but looks like it'd accept a screw of the correct size.

Regarding unbonding from each other, this seems to be a problem. The silver metal band seems to connect both bus bars. Would it be appropriate to simply disconnect the right bar, and mount it to the box a bit to the right, or lower?
=====================

Again, since I've clarified that this isn't technically a "sub," but rather a separately-wired second "main," can I simply avoid the re-wiring and keep the grounds and neutrals on the same bar?
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?-img_3417.jpg   Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?-img_3416-1.jpg  
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Old 01-12-2010, 03:13 PM   #15
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Neutral & grounds on separate bus bars?


This panel appears to be a Main panel fed direct from the meter base
Top is a main 100 breaker, being fed with 3 power feeds, 2 hot & a neutral
Then a grouding wire is attached to a ground rod

So this appears to be a Main panel IF it is not being fed from the other panel via a 100a breaker
That is the key

So grounds & neutrals can be mixed
Grounds can be doubled, neutrals can not

Careful remarking those top wires as they are HOT at all times
DO NOT go near the screws !!
I would not be too concerned with that, its obvious which is which
The issue is if the panel is ever replaced

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