Splice in Neutral to Panel - OK or Not?
Hey Folks. A friend of mine just bought a condo and wants to rearrange some of the inside walls and have new wiring put in. We are going to do all of the branch circuit wiring ourselves but he's hiring a licensed electrician to put in a new panel. Here's where the big problem comes in... The service to the upstairs apartment/condo passes through the main panel of the downstairs unit. The neutral wire goes into the downstairs panel then another wire leaves that panel to go to the neutral bus on the upstairs panel. In other words, the neutral is daisy-chained. We know this is not acceptable, and we're pretty sure having the feed for the upstairs running through our panel is also unacceptable, but how to go about fixing these two problems is where a major difference in opinion and price comes in.
One electrician says the existing neutral can still be used for just the upstairs apartment by moving it, as well as the two hots, into a junction box. This means all three wires going to the upstairs unit will have splices in them. Meanwhile, a new neutral wire will get pulled to the downstairs panel and the existing hots will be re-used. The service comes from a ganged meter/main circuit breaker box about 30' away. This electrician says that a separate and unbroken ground wire does not need to be pulled because the panel in the apartment will be the "main panel" (have its own disconnect).
Another electrician says that because there is a main disconnect at the ganged meter box outside, the panels inside the apartments have to be treated as subpanels, and therefore need unbroken neutrals and grounds. So both apartments would need to have two new wires pulled to each panel, neutral and ground. He says no problem with having splices in the hots as long as they are in a junction box, not in the panel (he agrees with the first electrician on this point). Obviously, this guy's price is a lot higher than the first one's, but if the first one's won't pass then it really doesn't matter. Can someone shed a little light on this one???
NOTE - the existing service to each unit is 100A and uses #2 Aluminum THWN wires. Both electricians say #4 copper THHN is equivalent to #2 Aluminum THWN - correct? And no, the service ampacity can't be upgraded - the condo association prohibits it.
Thanks for any help - we're basically treading water until we get this squared away!
Forgive me for posting twice on the same question, but for clairity I will do it this way.
First is that you should check with your local building dept about doing electrical work in this dwelling. Usually a home owner can if proper permits are pulled as long as he lives there himself and does not rent any portion of the building which he is doing the work in.
Since these are condos and the work done in one part can directly effect the occupant of the other part, it may not be legal to do any of this work yourself.
Your local building department will have the final say on this issue.
With regards to the rest of the setup.
The meter/main has the overcurrent protection for the service and is therefore the Main Panel.
The term we need to use to discribe the wires from the meter/main to the panels in each condo is feeder. You need to end up with a four wire feeder to each sub panel unless the wires are run in metal conduit, in which case, with bonding bushings on each end, the conduit can act as the ground.
The feeders for one panel may not pass through another panel. There is nothing however to say that they may not be spliced. It is even ok to splice the neutral if needed. Even the neutral can be spliced. The problem is that this splice point must remain accessable. That means in a box with a cover that can be remived if needed for future investigation or repair.
Unless there is some local code involved, I would have to say that either you misunderstood something, or that neither of your electricians was 100 percent correct.
Thanks for the quick reply, jwhite. The condo is my friend's first "house" and he will be living in it. He helped me re-do all of the plumbing in my 75 year old house 6 months ago so now I get to repay the "favor" remodeling his condo. At least we don't have to crawl around in the dirt to do the work on his place!
A further bit of info - the condos (apartments) were built in the early 60's - I'm assuming that back then it was probably acceptable to have a 3 wire feed (hot, hot, grounded neutral). Not sure if it was acceptable to run the feeder for the upstairs unit through the panel of the downstairs unit, but that's how it is nonetheless. That said, if the upstairs unit is not being renovated, then does it have to have its electrical feed upgraded to 4 wires? The feeders currently run in 2" rigid from the meter/main to the downstairs panel then transition to 1 1/4" EMT going to the upstairs panel.
II guess the first electrician was right after all, then. He did say that the conduit (2" rigid from the meter/main to the panel) would be the ground and while he didn't mention bonding bushings specifically, those things aren't exactly high dollar items. Thanks again!
If the entire system is in conduit then you do have a four wire feeder. The conduit counts as the ground. The bonding bushing will cary the ground from the conduit to the ground bar. There are times when the lock nut on the conduit can do this. So that part may all be ok.
It may have been ok to run the feeders through your panel back then, I would not know. You may have a grandfather clause here. The answer to that question is only going to be found at your local building department. It may even be a judgement call on the part of the electrical inspector.
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