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Bcoleman6 01-17-2008 03:18 PM

Replace main panel? And lots of other ?s
Background: House was built in 1962 and has 125 Amp service. The main panel is ungrounded, but some of the circuits are grounded to a water pipe (the previous owner had run copper from the pipe into the attic and then attached to a grounding bar. At which point he ran copper from the grounding bar to various circuits or outlets when he/she upgraded.) The house did pass inspection, but I don't think they saw the grounding bar as it was covered by insulation.

So I am going to remodel the basement and need space for more circuits. I am considering two options.

1. I would like to replace the main service panel. The current one is old, small and generally in poor condition and the main breaker is outside. Can I replace the main service panel because the main breaker is outside? Meaning are the main lugs still hot with an external breaker? I also plan to ground the box and replace ungrounded circuits with GFI breakers. I have an electrician coming out Monday, but would like to do as much myself as possible.

2. Install a sub panel. Still ground the main box and replace with GFI breakers.


handyman78 01-17-2008 06:03 PM

Ben, since you have an electrician coming for the job you may want to leave it up to them. Not to be sarcastic but if you aren't sure of the answer to these questions- "Can I replace the main service panel because the main breaker is outside? Meaning are the main lugs still hot with an external breaker?" you should not be replacing such a large item yourself such as a service panel, both for safety and for quality of installation reasons. After the electrician places a grounded panel in place, you probably can wire individual circuits if you have some electrical experience.

220/221 01-17-2008 06:28 PM


Andy in ATL 01-17-2008 06:55 PM


Originally Posted by 220/221 (Post 89433)

Never say you are going to have a 'trician come out. Makes us hurt.:laughing:

Gfci on all circuits that don't have a good "Earth" ground in an old house is a good thing for more than one reason.

Bcoleman6 01-17-2008 08:58 PM

3 Attachment(s)
No worries, the reason I have an electrician coming out is because I was not sure if I could do the job. Now I am pretty sure I can. The one question I couldn't find the answer to is about the main lugs. I am 99% sure the answer is the lugs would not be hot. Otherwise what’s the point of the breaker, of course if I am wrong I could die:eek: ; therefore I decided to ask.

I have included pictures. One thing I did discover is the box is grounded, I didn't have time to check where it is grounded to. As you can see either way I am also out of room on the neutral/ground bar.

So what do you think the best course of action would be? I still plan of having the electrician come out. If cannot do the upgrade at least I might have an idea of different options to discuss with the guy.

Thanks for all your help.:thumbup:


darren 01-17-2008 11:22 PM

If this was my own house i would rip out the whole service and put in new everything. I rather have any means of disconnecting inside my house then outside. This could be a local rule though and you may need.

I would highly recommend you hire an electrican to do the service for you. He will be able to come and in one day have the old stuff ripped out, new put in, inspected and power back on before the end of the day.

If you do it yourself and you screw something up chances are you will be without power becuase the inspector won't allow it to be powered up and then you will be sleeping next to your panel since your wife will be :censored: off with you.

220/221 01-18-2008 12:45 AM


Can I replace the main service panel because the main breaker is outside? Meaning are the main lugs still hot with an external breaker?
I am sorry, I am not understanding what you are saying?

Main breaker outside is a good thing as it protects the wires feeding your panel

And...are the main lugs still hot with an exrernal breaker? Huh:jester: ??

The main panel lugs? The main breaker shuts off the power to the panel so the lugs would not be hot.

The pics of your panel show some warning signs. Where do the two wires tapped off the main feeders go?

Post a pic of the service outside.

It looks like you have plenty of room to work with and all the cabling is exposed.

If you only replace the panel inside, you will need to replace the feeder cable with a 4 wire and isolate the grounds from the neutrals. Is the path from the service entrance to the panel accessible...accessable...whatever?

It is generally a good idea to replace the old FPE panels. There is a reason they don't make them like that anymore.More pics from a little farther back along with outside pics.

handyman78 01-18-2008 09:31 AM

For the age of this panel, a replacement is warranted. It "appears" as the incoming feed on the left is 3 conductor SE cable. This would need to be replaced back to the outside main so you have 4 conductors between the two- 2 hot, 1 neutral, 1 ground. And as 220/221 mentioned your main outside is a good thing in that it cuts off all power to this panel.

J. V. 01-18-2008 10:52 AM

Why does he need a four wire service? Has something changed that I don't know about. Now, a sub panel needs four conductors. He is talking main service panel, right?

HouseHelper 01-18-2008 11:17 AM


Originally Posted by J. V. (Post 89604)
Why does he need a four wire service? Has something changed that I don't know about. Now, a sub panel needs four conductors. He is talking main service panel, right?

Read the part about "main breaker outside".

handyman78 01-19-2008 08:46 AM

Good Catch HouseHelper- Yes, as you know the outside main breaker makes any panel beyond it a subpanel so that grounds and neutrals remain separated. Bcoleman6 used the term "main service panel" loosely.

gone_fishing 01-21-2008 11:54 AM

Man, if that box is in bad condition you ought to see the mess I have in my house!!! I have intentions to have the service upgraded and the entire box replaced. I will run new wiring to the points where they go to other points of the house.

Jiffycake 01-21-2008 12:52 PM

I think those are federal pacific breakers. If they are you should replace that load center ASAP. They tend to not trip when they are overloaded and have around 65% failure rate!!! Most other breakers have around .01% failure rate.

Green = Normal trip.
Yellow = Trip, switch position did not move or something else went wrong.
Red = Looks tripped but the circuit stayed energized.

Bcoleman6 01-22-2008 09:40 AM

I had to cut away a tree/bush to view the meter and what I thought was the main breaker. It turns out it was just a box for the A/C. This of course explains why the ground and neutral bars aren't separated. It looks like I am unable to shut of the power to the box and therefore am defiantly going to have the box replaced when the electrician comes out later this week.
The power company will put in a pigtail, so at least I won't lose heat. And I guess this means I won't have to have the main feed replaced.

Thanks for the advice everyone.


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