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MoreCowbell 04-01-2008 10:59 PM

Subpanels & cutler hammer arc fault breakers

I have several aluminum circuits, and we recently found a 2nd smoking junction box that looked pretty close to sending our home up in flames.

I will be going through and pigtailing 'suspect' connection points; the previous owner had a habit of using electrical tape instead of wire nuts... so he's left me plenty of unpleasant easter eggs.

What I'd like to do in the meantime and also for added protection, is pull out all 6 circuits that are aluminum from the main service panel (100 amp) and relocate them to a new subpanel that I will fill with cutler hammer arc fault circuit breakers.

The old panel doesn't support the larger arc fault breakers, which is why I'm using a sub panel.

I have a 30 amp double pole breaker that I'll be using to power the new subpanel. My questions:

Where can I get a small, 6 - 10 circuit subpanel, preferably cutler hammer, online for a reasonable price? I'm very much a newbie; we have an electrician in the family that will hook everything up for us, but I need to get all the supplies myself.

Lowes/Home Depot have the breakers - but they only seem to have 'main service panels' ... or so the guy at Lowes told me. Not subpanels. Also, they seem to have two types of the same kind of 15 amp arc fault breakers - 'CH' and another ... which is best? The price difference is minimal.

The aluminum branch circuits that will be on this sub panel don't hold much more than a few light bulbs and alarm clocks, so I'm not worried about capacity, or tripping the 30amp breaker that's powering the subpanel.

I would be *thrilled* if someone could recommend a reliable online vendor that I could order everything I need from. :)

Thank you!!

220/221 04-01-2008 11:33 PM

I don't shop online for electrical supplies but.................I need more cowbell

MoreCowbell 04-01-2008 11:35 PM

Glad someone go the reference. :)

Ok, I guess it doesn't have to be online. I just need to find the right supplies for the job. How about a model number for the panel?

220/221 04-01-2008 11:49 PM

Just go to Home Depot or Lowes and see what they have. I am sure that you will find small subs there and the appropriate breakers.

After all these years, that's what I would do.

MoreCowbell 04-01-2008 11:51 PM

As I mentioned, the guy at Lowes said they only had main service panels ... and that I needed a main lug? ... or something like that. He seemed to think they didn't have the type of subpanel I need.

220/221 04-02-2008 12:02 AM

You can't do home centers over the phone. The clowns that work there often know less than you do. Somretimes ya just gotta make the trip.

If it is too far, call again and ask for someone in electrical that knows something. I am 99% positive that they would stock smaller sub panels.

MoreCowbell 04-02-2008 12:03 AM

Thanks - I actually was there, that's what the guy in electrical told me. Maybe I'll try home depot next time.

Speedy Petey 04-02-2008 06:07 AM

Or a real electrical supply house. :thumbsup:

hms 04-02-2008 07:33 AM

Let your fingers do the walking! go to the phone book and find yourself an electrical supply house. Most of them will sell to the public, wholesalers or not.

jrclen 04-02-2008 01:25 PM

If it was me, I would skip the panel and arc faults and replace the aluminum circuits. Why do things twice?

MoreCowbell 04-03-2008 01:15 PM

Feel free to come over to my house and do the job we were quoted $10K minimum.

jrclen 04-04-2008 10:09 AM


Originally Posted by MoreCowbell (Post 113560)
Feel free to come over to my house and do the job we were quoted $10K minimum.

For replacing the wire in "several aluminum circuits?" I have put in new 200 amp services, along with completely rewiring two story houses for that kind of money. But I live in farm country, and I know prices vary by area. I understand your looking for an alternative in that case.

WoodworkerDave 04-04-2008 11:33 AM

I would go to my local electrical supply house and talk to them about getting a panelboard (load center) that has the specifications you want. If you don't mind paying for a master breaker you don't really need, you can use a standard load center instead of one with lugs. They are both acceptable to use as a sub-panel.

Also, the arc-fault breakers you use should be rated for use with aluminum wire. Cutler-Hammer makes two different types of panelboards. Their CH type is their higher end line, primarily used in new construction. It uses breakers that are 3/4" wide. Their BR line is more economical, and has features that make it nice for retrofitting into pre-existing systems (such as breaker slots near the top of the box so you can move wires from an old box and still have them be long enough to reach the breakers on the new sub-panel). The BR line uses 1" wide breakers. Therefore the arc-fault breaker you buy must be designed to fit into your specific panel box. There is no "standard" size.

As far as arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) go, the early ones were designed to detect only parallel arcing between a hot line and neutral or ground. These were called "branch feeder types". Later they developed arc-fault breakers that could also detect series arcing, where there is a small break in the hot line with associated arcing. These newer arc-fault breakers that can detect both parallel and series arcing are called "combination type" AFCIs. The 2008 NEC requires that combination type AFCIs be installed in all habitable areas of new construction.

Let me add that I'm an inexperienced newbie who has been doing research to install a sub-panel in my basement shop. I defer to all those with experience in this subject who know a lot more than I ever will.

jrclen 04-04-2008 10:19 PM

Great post Dave. :thumbsup:

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