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Old 07-13-2011, 11:39 AM   #1
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!#@%*$ Up Electrical Panel

I myself am not an electrician; although like many here, I would consider myself an "advanced, unlicensed DIYer," which means I know my limits & when to ask questions (and will hire a contractor before I even get close to being in over my head), unlike the Putz who previously owned my home.

Maybe I'm being harsh, but for starters, there is certainly no shortage of MWBC's all over the dang house (on single, unpaired breakers). Also, there's a potpourri of different breakers (I counted six different mfg's). And either he's a Phoenix Suns & Denver Broncos fan or there must have been a sale on rainbow-color wire since he has more purple, orange & blue coming off breakers than he does black, not to mention a number of loads being carried on green. At least he used the right gauge wire.

So here are my questions:

1) What is conventional wisdom regarding the panel/breakers... should it/they be replaced with matching breakers? Any harm with just leaving it as-is? (Money happens to be an object right now.)

2) Given the answer to #1, what's the simplest, compliant fix for the MWBC's -- Pull separate neutrals? AFCI breakers? Replace the breakers with doubles?

3) Any concern or compliance issues with the purple, orange & blue wires carrying load from the panel, or is this just sloppy work? Should I tape off the ends with black tape, or is it fine left alone?

4) Is there any rationale or explanation to his use of green to carry load other than "he's a complete idiot"?

5) Any other suggestions, code issues, concerns I should look for given the above red flags?

6) Finally, none of this was pointed out to me by the home inspector when I bought the house (he did pull the face off the panel because his report made mention of it). Is it common for home inspectors to overlook the above wiring issues?

Any feedback is appreciated.


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Old 07-13-2011, 11:52 AM   #2
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I am also an unlicensed DIY'er, but I have been doing my own wiring for many years now, and I have the advantage that my brother is an electrical contractor, as is my brother in law, so if I have a tough question I ask them. Here is my take on your issues:

1. My brother tells me that it is always a good policy to use the same manufacturer of breaker as the panel, and to use all the same manufacturer of breaker within the box. Apparently mixing breakers and panels can result in unpleasant events like multiple breaker trip from a single fault, or failure to trip a breaker. I do not know why this occurs, I am simply repeating what I have been told by a licensed electrical contractor.

2. I have no knowledge of MWBC, there are none in my house.

3. So far as I know, there is no code requirement that hot wires be a specific color. By tradition, 120V hots are black, and 240V are red and black, but so far as I understand, this is tradition, not code, and not mandatory.

4. Green is generally reserved for grounds, as you know. It is very confusing, hence probably dangerous, to use green to carry load or as a neutral, however I cannot cite a section of NEC that prevents this practice, perhaps one of the electricians on this forum can.

5. I would check the outlets to see if any of them were back stabbed, which is bad news based on personal experience. I would also check each outlet to make sure it is grounded.

6. Home inspectors are not electricians in general, and by the terms of your agreement with them, they perform a limited function. They are not code compliance officials. They are typically not engineers. Many of them did not need to pass an exam, and in some states they need not be licensed. They are also typically underpaid (what did you pay them for their service?). Unless there is a glaring problem, i.e. the outlet does not work, I would not expect them to flag and mention something like non-standard wire color, or mismatched breaker manufacturer in a panel.


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Old 07-13-2011, 12:01 PM   #3
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I can address a few things here.

Breakers must be listed/labeled for use in a particular panel. Some brands are interchangable, but it can be difficult to determine which particular breaker/panel combinations are permitted.

Any color wire except white, green, and maybe grey, can be used as a hot wire. So the green wires carrying current have to go. I'm assuming from the wire colors that this house is wired in conduit? Shouldn't be too big of a job to replace a few wires then.

MWBCs: As of 2008 (I think) MWBCs do need to have their breakers handles tied together. Individual breakers may have been legal at the time it was installed, and there's no requirement to change it as long as: A) the circuits do not terminate on the same yoke, as in a split duplex receptacle with the top and bottom outlet on different circuits, and B) The breakers feeding an MWBC are on separate legs of the service, with 240v between them. If they're on the same leg, with 0 volts between them, the possibility exists to overload the shared neutral.
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Old 07-13-2011, 02:28 PM   #4
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Any colour but white, grey or green can be used for hots. No problem with the rainbow colours. Actually makes it easier to trace them if needed.
Green is reserved for grounds. It can not be used for neutral or hot wires.
Breakers must LISTED for use in your panel to be compliant.

Under current code, but not past codes, MWBC must have a handle tie. Past code only required a tie if the two hots landed on the same yoke, eg. split wired receptacle.
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Old 07-13-2011, 02:56 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Daniel Holzman View Post
5. I would check the outlets to see if any of them were back stabbed, which is bad news based on personal experience. I would also check each outlet to make sure it is grounded.
Funny you mention this... with two small children at receptacle level, the first thing I did when we moved in was swap out all of the duplexes for TR's and install GFCI's in the kitchen and basement. Guess what I found... "I don't get mad, I get stabby."

As McSteve surmised, everything is running through EMT. Not a requirement of local code, but since we're in suburban Chicago, I suppose the builder was simply more comfortable with what he knew. A quick check of each outlet with a multimeter (ohms b/t neutral and ground/box/conduit) turned up satisfactory... which means Putz didn't install his own conduit, thankfully.

Last edited by BennyB; 07-13-2011 at 03:09 PM.
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