“Main” breaker only shuts off 120v circuits.


I live on the coast of western Washington where we have several power outages per year. Two years ago, it was out for a week after a big storm. I just bought a 120v/240v, 15 amp, generator. I thought I could just kill the main breaker and plug the generator into a 240v, 30 amp, drier outlet to power the whole house (assuming I limit my usage to 15 amp). Close inspection inside the breaker panel reveals that the “main” breaker only shuts off the eight 120v breakers (4 of each phase). The only way to disconnect the 240v breakers (6 of them including the “main”) from the pole is to remove the meter outside the house. Is this a code violation? I’ve come up with two temporary stopgap solutions to partially energize my house from the generator without exporting power to the neighborhood. (1)    Shut of the “main” breaker and connect 120v from the generator to either phase A or phase B via a wall outlet. (2)    Shut off the “main” breaker and the drier breaker; disconnect the output of the drier breaker and connect it to the output of the “main” breaker. I could also shut off a baseboard heater breaker and connect its output to the drier circuit (assuming I only use the 500 watt or 1000 watt heater). Obviously, these “solutions” are hazardous if tried by a dummy; they’re undoubtedly illegal, as well. I rent this 30-something year-old house, and the slumlord hates to spend money. He just finished a major remodeling of the shack next door without applying for permits. Should I call the fire department?
------------------------------------- Retired tech.\\//.
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On Wed, 23 Sep 2009 21:49:45 +0000, anniemalover_at_hotmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (Smartass) wrote:

I'd say this is absolutely impossible to have happen. The only way is if someone modified the breaker box, and I don't see that happening.

IF (see, big IF) that were true, absolutely a code violation.

You should IMMEDIATELY call an electrician, and notify your landlord that you are doing so and why.
I strongly recommend you not try to do anythign with an emergency generator, it is beyond your abilities, and perhaps also beyond the wiring of the house. BTW, if the house is about 30 years old, it should have been wired properly.
Please take some pictures of the setup, and post them on a web site.
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On Wed, 23 Sep 2009 15:06:46 -0700 (PDT), RicodJour

Shhhsh... You'll ruin the fun!
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Just use extension cords to power what you want (being as it is a rental).
15 amps is not going to power much anyway. I use my generator to power the refrigerator and a few lights. Just enough to get by until the power is turned back on.
Get a large gauge "contractor" long extension cord at a home improvement store - like 12 gauge wire.
"Smartass" wrote in message

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On Thu, 24 Sep 2009 05:15:32 -0700, "Bill"

It might make more sense to the OP if he totally rewired and added a complete second electrical system beside the existing one. For each outlet, add a second emergency outlet next to it. Wire these emergency outlets back to the generator.
Then when power fails all he has to do is to unplug things and plug 'em into the 'emergency' outlets!
This is especially useful for the rental property the OP is living in! (I'm now going to hid as far from here as I can! <BSEG>)
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Smartass had written this in response to http://www.thestuccocompany.com/construction/Re-Main-breaker-only-shuts-off-120v-circuits-18032-.htm : I have posted pix, as suggested by Peter D, at my Comcast personal website: Power Panel
http://home.comcast.net/~philip_janes/pwpimages/Power%20Panel.jpg
Panel Diagram
http://home.comcast.net/~philip_janes/pwpimages/Panel%20Diagram.jpg
Let me know if these links work.
I think you can see that it IS possible. You’d be surprised at what’s possible in darkest Washington; the US Snail doesn’t even come here, despite the fact that I’m next door to an elementary school, an intermediate school and a high school.
It’s a GE model 2---probably bought from a salvage store when the house was built in 1972 (at least that’s when the carport cement was poured). It does appear to be wired in accordance with GE’s diagram. The only inspection sticker in my panel is for the septic system circuit only. Peter D, I don’t see how a 15 amp generator can be “beyond the wiring of the house”. The only real problem (aside from code violations) is that I can’t disconnect the 220v circuit breakers from the pole without also disconnecting them from each other.
As for calling an electrician myself and billing the slumlord: I need to tiptoe around such matters to avoid having my rent raised. I’m only paying $435/month for this 18’ x 36’ wood-frame shack; that’s because I’ve always paid the rent on time for 6 years. (I also have to spend about $10/month on HEPA filter cartridges to control the black mold.) The slumlord is asking $550 for the newly remodeled 16’ x 30’ house next door; he’s been planning to put me in the little house and remodel this place when he has enough cash. Living on so-shallow security, I can’t afford to pay more; they say there won’t be any COLA this year or next.
Bill, instead of buying a contractor extension cord, I might want to make a “Y” cord with a 240v male plug for the generator and two 110v male plugs to be connected to wall outlets on the two phases of the house wiring. Alternatively, I could short the two phases of the house wiring together (temporarily, of course) while the “main” breaker is off and connect the 120v generator output to a single wall outlet. That would power everything I need except for the heaters and range. I could use a kerosene space heater, plug in a hot plate and bathe with a pot of hot water.
PeterD, you gotta be kidding about a separate wiring system for the generator! If and when he remodels, it would make far more sense to put in a new panel with a provision for connect a generator to it. I have seen a panel with a recessed male 240v socket right on the outside of the box; you just plug in a regular male-to-female 240v extension cord from the generator. I think this socket automatically disconnects when the regular power is restored or when you switch on the main disconnect; ideally, it should not be possible to have both the main and backup turned on at the same time.
For now, all I want the landlord to do is install a disconnect. I don’t care if he puts one outside the house or if he replaces the panel. Either way, I know he’s gonna schit a brick over the expense.
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Smartass had written this in response to http://www.thestuccocompany.com/construction/Main-breaker-only-shuts-off-120v-circuits-18026-.htm : I have posted pix, as suggested by Peter D, at my Comcast personal website: Power Panel:
http://home.comcast.net/~philip_janes/pwpimages/Power%20Panel.jpg
Panel Diagram:
http://home.comcast.net/~philip_janes/pwpimages/Panel%20Diagram.jpg
Let me know if these links work.
I think you can see that what I have described IS possible. You’d be surprised at what’s possible in darkest Washington; the US Snail doesn’t even come here, despite the fact that I’m next door to an elementary school, an intermediate school and a high school. I guess it is rural, though; my neighbor shot a bear in his yard last week.
It’s a GE model 2---probably bought from a salvage store when the house was built in 1972 (at least that’s when the carport cement was poured). It does appear to be wired in accordance with GE’s diagram. The only inspection sticker in my panel is for the septic system circuit only.
PeterD, I don’t see how a 15 amp generator can be “beyond the wiring of the house”. The only real problem (aside from code violations) is that I can’t disconnect the 220v circuit breakers from the pole without also disconnecting them from each other.
As for calling an electrician myself and billing the slumlord: I need to tiptoe around such matters to avoid having my rent raised. I’m only paying $435/month for this 18’ x 36’ wood-frame shack; that’s because I’ve always paid the rent on time for 6 years. (I also have to spend about $10/month on HEPA filter cartridges to control the black mold.) The slumlord is asking $550 for the newly remodeled 16’ x 30’ house next door; he’s been planning to put me in the little house and remodel this place when he has enough cash. Living on so-shallow security, I can’t afford to pay more; they say there won’t be any COLA this year or next.
Bill, instead of buying a contractor extension cord, I might want to make a “Y” cord with a 240v male plug for the generator and two 110v male plugs to be connected to wall outlets on the two phases of the house wiring. Alternatively, I could short the two phases of the house wiring together (temporarily, of course) while the “main” breaker is off and connect the 120v generator output to a single wall outlet. That would power everything I need except for the heaters and range. I could use a kerosene space heater, plug in a hot plate and bathe with a pot of hot water.
PeterD, you gotta be kidding about a separate wiring system for the generator! If and when he remodels, it would make far more sense to put in a new panel with a provision for connect a generator to it. I have seen a panel with a recessed male 240v socket right on the outside of the box; you just plug in a regular male-to-female 240v extension cord from the generator. I think this socket automatically disconnects when the regular power is restored or when you switch on the main disconnect; ideally, it should not be possible to have both the main and backup turned on at the same time.
For now, all I want the landlord to do is install a disconnect. I don’t care if he puts one outside the house or if he replaces the panel. Either way, I know he’s gonna schit a brick over the expense, and the last thing he wants is have the place inspected. ------------------------------------- Retired tech.\\//.
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On Fri, 25 Sep 2009 23:03:15 +0000, anniemalover_at_hotmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (Smartass) wrote:

The images work. I'm astounded, and appologize for doubting your story! That is the most incredible mess I've ever seen.
First, and formost, the setup is incredibly dangerous. Second, you absolutely should not try to interface with that wiring at all. Just use an extension cord. Also, make sure you have full smoke/fire detectors, and several fire extingushers on hand.
What is missing is that whoever wired the box originally did things terribly wrong, including selecting the wrong box for the job. This box was intended to be used as a sub-panel, fed from a breaker from the main panel, not as a main panel.

It is likely older than 1972, but regardless is the wrong box for the job.

I'd guess possibly the house is older than the carport!

First, see my appology above. Second, anything is beyond the wiring of this house at this stage!

I was... But seriously, just use an extension cord (12 gauge) and don't try to feed/backfeed the existing house's wiring. Doing so is both a violation of law (lack of a switch over box) and a major safety issue.
BTW, it *looks* like those 30 amp 240 volt breakers are wired with 12AWG... If so that's another fire hazard, they need to be at least 10 AWG. I spotted the drier breaker that circuit doesn't look large enough.
It looks (very hard to tell) like breaker #7 is wired with white wires. Is that the image angle or are there white wires on that breaker?

Any remodling would require a proper box.

Don't EVER forget you are the one living in this house! If/when there is a fire you, not the landlord will be the one hurt or killed. Make 100% sure you have renter's insurance as well.

Any change done legally will have to be inspected.

Get a battery lamp, just use that when the power failes. If the failure is extnded go to a shelter.
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Either install a proper transfer switch for the generator and bring the wiring up to code, or use an extension cord.
If you connect the generator to the house wiring and the there is still a connection to the utility electric system, the electricity would work "backwards". It would send electricity out through the transformer on the utility pole, then this would step up the voltage to thousands of volts and be sent out on the electric lines!
Electric company employees working to repair the electric lines could be electrocuted by your generator! (Not to mention anyone else like kids, fire department, etc. who could come in contact with down lines!)
This has happened in the past, so that is why there are harsh penalties for doing this and why permits are required - proper transfer switches and all associated wiring brought up to code.
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Smartass had written this in response to http://www.thestuccocompany.com/construction/Re-Main-breaker-only-shuts-off-120v-circuits-18042-.htm :
Sorry about the double post; I didn’t know where to look for the next-page link (new to the board). There doesn’t appear to be any way to edit or delete my own posts.
I shall raise this issue with my landlord when the time is right. The other house on this lot has been vacant since March, and I don’t think the owner has collected any rent from it since January. In that time, he has poured several $thousand and many days of his own labor into renovation on it. It should be occupied any day, now. So the first time it starts returning his investment should be a good time to tell him about my little problem. Anyway, I’m ashamed that I didn’t discover this problem when I moved in 6 years ago. On the other hand, the landlord should have discovered it when bought the place 3 years ago.
Hopefully, there won’t be any outages until the first winter storm, which can occur as early as October; the worst one on record was Columbus Day, 1964. I’ll probably take your advice, guys, and just use extension cords and power strips. The generator only has one 120v outlet, which can only deliver half the rated power of the generator. If I want to get 100%, I’ll have to make an adapter from 220v to two 120v extension cords on opposite phases. As for feeding back into the transformer, I know better; that’s what prompted me to start this discussion in the first place. Anyway, There are several other houses connected to the transformer, so I’m sure my generator’s circuit breaker would immediately trip if I did that.
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On Sat, 26 Sep 2009 18:01:23 +0000, anniemalover_at_hotmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (Smartass) wrote:

As it is not your property, I really do thing extension cords are the best idea. YOu don't want to be improving someone else's property.
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