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Old 11-19-2010, 09:26 PM   #1
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New Service + Rewire 300 sq. ft. guest house


Hey everybody,

I'm new to the forum, first post. I thank you all in advance for your advice and apologize in advance if I breach etiquette in any way, I don't intend to.

Here's a rundown of my project:

I just graduated college about six months ago and with nowhere to stay, and limited funds I ended up moving down to South Carolina where my mom had recently (four years ago) purchased a serious fixer-upper on close to two acres. Her and her husband live in the main house, which needs a whole mess of work itself, and I live in a little cabin/guest house about 30 yards away, situated right next to the three car garage my mom uses as a studio.

Neither the cabin, nor the studio have their own electric service anymore, we're running off a series of extension cords from the main house (unsafe I know) and just getting by.

The guesthouse itself is a little less than 300 square feet, two 11' square rooms, and a 9x5 bathroom addition off the backside. There's an old 125-amp service panel, and outside is the old meter base, which is still wired to the weatherhead and drip-loop and up to the transformer. On the exterior wall also runs the ground line to a single grounding rod (not up to code).

I have big plans for the space and have been given the go-ahead by the owners to dig in. I want to raise the ceiling, pushing up the rafter ties, and tear out the old wood paneling and re-insulate and drywall the inside. The bathroom needs it's plumbing redone, and a hot water heater, and I want to create a small kitchenette in one of the rooms. I also want to do a full rewire while the stud walls are open. My plan as of now is to install a new 300-amp meter base tied to a 200-Amp main panel in the guesthouse, and run another SE cable through the ceiling, across the 1ft. gap outside and into the garage, to it's own 100-amp panel. I'm going to fully wire the guest house, for future kitchen appliances, and everything, and in the garage for now I'm just going to install a GFCI breaker and a raceway along one wall. And a new up-to-code grounding system for both buildings.

I worked three seasons at a cannery in Alaska, where we did all our maintenance and I became the de facto plumber, I've cut and thread pipe and done industrial grade jobs, but I've never done any serious electrical work.

I bought and read cover to cover Wiring a House, in the For Pros by Pros book line. It was great, and I feel confident about proceeding for the most part. I've looked into it, and in my county you don't need a licensed electrician to perform any of the work although it is advised, as long as it's up to code you can do it all yourself.

I'm anticipating at least a few comments discouraging the amateur DIY-er from proceeding with such a major, and dangerous undertaking. And I completely understand the concern. We're on a very tight budget and when calling electricians and pricing the installation of a new panel only, to be tied into the existing lights/receptacles the cheapest quotes we got were around $800.00, just for one panel in the cabin. I fought for the opportunity to do the job myself, replace all the old, very likely squirrel compromised wiring, and get more bang for our bucks.

My concern right now before I start budgeting for the job, and getting on the phone with the building inspector's office, or the power company is the existing meter base and aerial service entrance. It's still hooked up from the meter base to the transformer, there's no meter installed, and no power run into the old panel, but I'd like it out of the way so I can start from scratch. When I conceived this project I was imagining working in a sandbox not connected to live power in any way, and I would prefer to do it that way and not have the meter or panel turned on until all the wiring was in place and inspector approved.

After all that lengthy exposition, basically my question is this: How do I address the existing service entrance, and does my reasoning in other regards seem sound to you seasoned pro's?

Thanks so much, and sorry for filling up all that space for a one sentence question.

-Matt

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Old 11-19-2010, 09:29 PM   #2
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Quote:
How do I address the existing service entrance,
since I tend to not read long posts thoroughly and might have missed it:

do you need permits in your area?
can a non-licensed non-owner person do electrical work in your area?

I went back and caught another small bit:

If you want and need to power totally disconnected from the house, call the power company and have them cut the feed at their end. Some areas do it for free, some have a small fee. I suppose there are some the charge way too much but I haven't run across any of them yet.

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Old 11-19-2010, 09:39 PM   #3
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I will need permits before I start any of this stuff, and it's a lot of stuff. I'm not sure how my being a non-owner will affect that stuff, but I checked my county's website and you don't need to be licensed, I assume as the immediate family of the owner, and a resident I will be able to get permits, or at least get them in my mother's name.
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Old 11-19-2010, 09:53 PM   #4
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How to address the existing service entrance...

Well my FIRST proposal would be to simply call the power company and ask to have it turned on. If the poco has not removed their portion, they apparently don't consider it permanently discontinued.

300 square feet is NOT huge. A 3-car garage is larger than that. 200 amps? One of my first major projects was electrical conversion of a 7000 square foot carpet factory into a 6-, 7-, or 8- bedroom (depending on how you counted) residence. Four panels, 200A main. Why do you reason 100A is insufficient for your closet?

Unless the existing panel is in horrible condition (or it's Federal Pacific or Zinsco), it probably is NOT financially logical to replace the entire thing just for the heck of it.



That said, if you INSIST upon having it removed, you simply call the power company and ask them to come remove their portion. Then you attach a chain to it, hook the other end to a big truck, and drive away.

Okay, that's probably not the most orderly means of disassembly, but it gets my point across. Once the power company disconnects it, it's just hardware. You can remove it in any way you see fit.



Seriously though, I can't quite understand why you're proposing to install a 200amp service in something the size of a garden shed.
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Old 11-19-2010, 11:15 PM   #5
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There are a few reasons...

300 square feet is not huge, you're absolutely right. But I do want to turn the building into a fully functional domicile, with an electric range, a half-fridge, and a slim washer/dryer combo in the bathroom. The book I read recommended not installing anything less than 200 amps, and only dealing in multiples of 100, which precludes the use of the existing 125amp panel. I know that's probably excessively cautious but I'd just as soon do it as well as it can be done even if it is overkill.

The best reasoning is for future plans. Chiefly the 3-car garage, which is indeed larger than 300 sq. feet, is not used as a garage, my mother is an artist and she uses it as a studio. When I do all this work I'll be bringing not only electricity into that building, but plumbing as well. They have plans of using the space as a printing shop, with a lot of computers, and expensive electronics in the future. And there has been talk of building an additional workshop on the other side of the cabin which would eventually need power for any number of tools, drill press, chop saw etc. So we're trying to plan for the future and while the walls are all open and I'm wiring new service I want to ready everything for planned expansion.

That said:

I went ahead and estimated the necessary amps for the guesthouse w/kitchenette appliances, and lighting and a couple small appliances in the garage, and it came out to about 75 amps, so 300 amps definitely seems excessive at this point so I suppose I should consider 200Amp service, with two 100-amp panels for now and worry about additional service, for possible additional buildings when they're actually built.

Does that make more sense?

And thanks for the advice, I figured it was as simple as calling the power company and asking them to remove their end. As far as asking to just have it turned back on, the wiring on this whole property is suspect and I'm using the guesthouse as a sort of sandbox to practice in before moving on to even bigger renovations in the main house my mom lives in, which also needs to be rewired.
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Old 11-19-2010, 11:28 PM   #6
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Hey, if you've got the money, go for it - this is a world of "whatever" for me when it comes to others' projects. I will say I wouldn't necessarily count on that book to size your service. 200A is the largest "normal" size here, and that includes places with "electric everything"

May I ask how many people will be using this "workshop" at a time, followed by how many tools each of those can simultaneously operate?



Sorry if I seem like an arse here, but this has become one of my pet peeves over the years - pretty much since I watched them "renovate" my high school by demolishing most of the functional parts and replacing them with "government-funding-approved" substitutes. Apparently the new "energy-efficient" mechanical systems absolutely need TWO THOUSAND AMPS even though the old, power-hungry building functioned perfectly fine on 600A for 48 years.

Of course, the newfangled "crank this handle around and around until your face turns blue then push this little black 'ON' button) computerized main circuit breaker monitors and records current - continuous load for the one year I stuck around after the renovation never went above maybe 350A per phase
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Old 11-20-2010, 12:22 AM   #7
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Quote:
As far as asking to just have it turned back on, the wiring on this whole property is suspect and I'm using the guesthouse as a sort of sandbox to practice in before moving on to even bigger renovations in the main house my mom lives in, which also needs to be rewired.
a sandbox infers playing. You cannot afford to have such an attitude. It will kill you in the little house just as fast as in the big house if you do something really wrong. You need to act like a screw up can kill you...


because it can.
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Old 11-20-2010, 12:26 AM   #8
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He wants to prewire the entire place with the power turned off...

I never went through that stage, but I can see its value as a learning experience... and he's certainly not going to get hurt playing with wires that aren't attached to anything.

So long as he "looks up" (or asks on here or one of the other electrical forums) anything he's unsure of, it's not unlike the way I learned - except I was working with live stuff.
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Old 11-20-2010, 12:51 AM   #9
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Alright. So... I may have misread some of this so bare with me. You want to have 200 amps just on the guest house alone? In a 300 square foot guest house I would be blown away if you could even clear 100. Most residential houses have 100 amp services. Anyway. What does your mom use the studio as. No sense in putting a 100 amp panel in if she is useing the studio as a painting room or whatever. 100 amps would be good for your average DIY mechanic.
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Old 11-20-2010, 02:17 AM   #10
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Hey again,

Thanks for all the response. I'll try to respond in order.

Emolatur- You definitely don't sound like an arse, I think it's a very good point about the size of the service. I had priced Siemens panels online and was looking at roughly 200 bucks for a 200 amp panel, and closer to 60-70 bucks for a 100 amp panel. Not an insignificant savings, and I don't have the money so going for it as you phrased it is probably a mistake. My understanding is it's against code to install anything less than 100 amps, so that's fine for the cabin as you all point out.

Gottabekb - As far as the studio, right now it's just painting and she's getting by on maybe 15amps via extension cord. That's no good as it's run outside in the grass/leaves for about a 30yard run and is just iffy, the garage needs it's own electricity, most importantly it needs it's breakers in the actual building. I'll probably need to install a cutoff panel outside next to the meter on the cabin, because I was planning to then run the service from the meter base through the cabin's attic about 25 feet over into the garage and down the wall, a total of roughly 40 feet, I believe if a panel is more than 5 feet from the meter it needs a cutoff panel? The book I have says "expect to pay around $500.00 for this switch." I would like to avoid that. It seems the best way would be to hold off on wiring the garage, and when I do wire the garage, have the utility run brand new dedicated service to it. Does that sound right to you guys?

Anyway to both, if 100 amps will more than accommodate the cabin, I'll save the $150 on that panel for sure. And maybe I'll scavenge the 125 amp panel that's pre-existing and use it for the garage later.


And to Nap, I absolutely understand your concern. I didn't mean to infer I'd be playing around, I meant I'd be using the guesthouse as a trial run/learning experience for future work I intend to do in the house. A small-scale experiment. I do intend to prewire it with no live current, and wire it up to or above code so that I can take those skills on to the next job.

Lastly, can I run SER cable from the main 100amp panel in the cabin into another 100-amp panel in the garage (a separate structure), and rightly call it a sub-panel? Which is to say what would an inspector say? This would save me from needing the $500 cutoff panel, or separate service to the garage.

Thanks again, you guys have been extremely helpful.

-Matt
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Old 11-20-2010, 02:21 AM   #11
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Hey again,

Thanks for all the response. I'll try to respond in order.

Emolatur- You definitely don't sound like an arse, I think it's a very good point about the size of the service. I had priced Siemens panels online and was looking at roughly 200 bucks for a 200 amp panel, and closer to 60-70 bucks for a 100 amp panel. Not an insignificant savings, and I don't have the money so going for it as you phrased it is probably a mistake. My understanding is it's against code to install anything less than 100 amps, so that's fine for the cabin as you all point out.

Gottabekb - As far as the studio, right now it's just painting and she's getting by on maybe 15amps via extension cord. That's no good as it's run outside in the grass/leaves for about a 30yard run and is just iffy, the garage needs it's own electricity, most importantly it needs it's breakers in the actual building. I'll probably need to install a cutoff panel outside next to the meter on the cabin, because I was planning to then run the service from the meter base through the cabin's attic about 25 feet over into the garage and down the wall, a total of roughly 40 feet, I believe if a panel is more than 5 feet from the meter it needs a cutoff panel? The book I have says "expect to pay around $500.00 for this switch." I would like to avoid that. It seems the best way would be to hold off on wiring the garage, and when I do wire the garage, have the utility run brand new dedicated service to it. Does that sound right to you guys?

Anyway to both, if 100 amps will more than accommodate the cabin, I'll save the $150 on that panel for sure. And maybe I'll scavenge the 125 amp panel that's pre-existing and use it for the garage later.


And to Nap, I absolutely understand your concern. I didn't mean to infer I'd be playing around, I meant I'd be using the guesthouse as a trial run/learning experience for future work I intend to do in the house. A small-scale experiment. I do intend to prewire it with no live current, and wire it up to or above code so that I can take those skills on to the next job.

Lastly, can I run SER cable from the main 100amp panel in the cabin into another 100-amp panel in the garage (a separate structure), and rightly call it a sub-panel? Which is to say what would an inspector say? This would save me from needing the $500 cutoff panel, or separate service to the garage.

Thanks again, you guys have been extremely helpful.

-Matt
I cant help you on the Cut off panel. I havent heard anything about that. If you have that 125 amp panel still that should be MORE then enough to wire the Studio and Your Cabin off of. A typical residential house is lucky if it uses half of the 100 amps.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:08 AM   #12
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"cut off panel" . . . I haven't heard it called THAT yet.

If the interior part of the service entrance is longer than 'reasonable', an outside disconnect is required. Unless the last 2/3 code revisions have finally definied 'reasonable', this is up to the guy doing the inspection. 5 feet sounds believable, but a friend's house has it run about 20 feet! (then again, I doubt that place was ever inspected...)

The subpanel theory is basically correct, but I strongly encourage you to read more on it. SER isn't properly going to be installed overhead OR underground, so unless the garage is attached to the cabin, like, structurally, you're going to need something else (such as USE... or if the subpanel is small enough, UF... or individual THWN in conduit...) When/if you get to that point, be sure to ask for details in here, as there's a bunch of other details to consider, mostly related to grounding.

You COULD get a 200A double-lug meter base, run one set of lugs into your cabin, the other to a 100A disconnect, then from there, underground, to the garage.

You could also get a 4-space "meter main" (which is a meter base with a small breaker box built in), and use 2 spaces for the cabin, the other 2 for the garage (remember, we're talking 240 here, so one 'circuit' takes 2 spaces.) In this case, BOTH panels would be wired as subpanels...

A 100A feedthrough panel in the cabin, with the feedthrough lugs feeding the garage.

You've got a number of options, and $500 for a 2-pole 100A disconnect is an absurd price, btw.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:31 AM   #13
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You COULD get a 200A double-lug meter base, .
really? Happen to have a part number or a link to one? I know I looked for one a few years back and could not find one, at least by the manufacturers allowed in my area. They would be handy if I could find one.
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Old 11-20-2010, 01:18 PM   #14
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I'm looking for a 200A one that has double lugs. I found a 320A Milbank one. I know I've seen them around here, I've just never needed one myself so I don't have a model/source right off the top of my head...

the local electrical supplier closed two hours ago so I won't be able to pick their brains until Monday.

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