I'd like to add a hot tub... and after speaking with an electrician, he asked if I had "room in the panel". So I opened the panel to have a look. The spa needs 50AMPs... and I'm full... so I guess that means I need a subpanel? I don't see any opportunity to use the thin breakers and make room.
It's ok if they all add up to more. It is assumed they will not always be at full capacity. A 15 amp circuit may only be drawing less than an amp depending on what's plugged into it.
If there is no physical room you will want to either add a subpanel or maybe consolidate a few circuits on a single breaker to free up space. For example if there is a circuit for some plugs that have no more than a plugin and a radio plugged you could just add that circuit to a lighting circuit (pigtail to one wire and add that wire to the breaker). Be careful though as there may be certain codes in your area where a certain circuit (ex: kitchen) cannot be shared.
Unfortunately there are "limits" you might run up against.
1. Maximum number of breaker handles allowed in the panel. This limits the number of thin breakers (single wide double breakers; tandem breakers) you can add.
2. Total house load. This is a somewhat arbitrary number computed by doing a load analysis (refer to National Electric Code) and can possibly require a larger main panel and larger (more amperes max) service.
Even though a hot tub may be used only half an hour to an hour a day, even though you plan your electricity use to not trip the main breaker, the hot tub's 50 amps adds a significant amount to the total house load figure.
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