breaker panel clearance

How much clearance (left and right sides) is needed for breaker panels? Is the 3-feet clearance applied to sides also? I have four panels side-by-side next to each other. They literally touch each other. I can't remove the front panel of the center ones without first removing the panel of those on the edge. An electrician told me that's illegal and it would cost $1300 each to move the panel boxes 3 feet apart from each other. That's $5200. Kind of high.
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There is no requirement for seperation of those panels under the US NEC! The cover issue can be addressed by replacing one or more of the covers with surface mount covers that don't overlap the edges of the panel. Each panel must have a clear space accross it's front that is either thirty inches wide or the width of the panel whichever is larger. This space can extend accross the front of other panels. The thirty inch width can be measured from either edge of the panel cabinet or simplyeclipse the front opening of the cabinet. The depth of space is only thirty six inches for medium voltage panelboards of 150 volts to ground or less.
"110.26 Spaces About Electrical Equipment. Sufficient access and working space shall be provided and maintained about all electric equipment to permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of such equipment. Enclosures housing electrical apparatus that are controlled by lock and key shall be considered accessible to qualified persons. Key to understanding 110.26 is the division of requirements for spaces about electrical equipment in two separate and distinct categories: working space and dedicated equipment space. Working space generally applies to the protection of the worker, and dedicated equipment space applies to the space reserved for future access to electrical equipment and to protection of the equipment from intrusion by nonelectrical equipment. The performance requirements for all spaces about electrical equipment are set forth in the first sentence. Storage of materials that blocks access or prevents safe work practices must be avoided at all times. (A) Working Space. Working space for equipment operating at 600 volts, nominal, or less to ground and likely to require examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance while energized shall comply with the dimensions of 110.26(A)(1), (2), and (3) or as required or permitted elsewhere in this Code. The intent of 110.26(A) is to provide enough space for personnel to perform any of the operations listed without jeopardizing worker safety. These operations include examination, adjustment, servicing, and maintenance of equipment. Examples of such equipment include panelboards, switches, circuit breakers, controllers, and controls on heating and air-conditioning equipment. It is important to understand that the word examination, as used in 110.26(A), includes such tasks as checking for the presence of voltage using a portable voltmeter. Minimum working clearances are not required if the equipment is such that it is not likely to require examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance while energized. However, “sufficient” access and working space are still required by the opening paragraph of 110.26. (1) Depth of Working Space. The depth of the working space in the direction of live parts shall not be less than that specified in Table 110.26(A)(1) unless the requirements of 110.26(A)(1)(a), (b), or (c) are met. Distances shall be measured from the exposed live parts or from the enclosure or opening if the live parts are enclosed.
Table 110.26(A)(1) Working Spaces     Nominal Voltage to Ground    Minimum Clear Distance      Condition 1    Condition 2    Condition 3     0–150    900 mm (3 ft)    900 mm (3 ft)    900 mm (3 ft)     151–600    900 mm (3 ft)    1 m (31/2 ft)    1.2 m (4 ft)     Note: Where the conditions are as follows: Condition 1 — Exposed live parts on one side and no live or grounded parts on the other side of the working space, or exposed live parts on both sides effectively guarded by suitable wood or other insulating materials. Insulated wire or insulated busbars operating at not over 300 volts to ground shall not be considered live parts. Condition 2 — Exposed live parts on one side and grounded parts on the other side. Concrete, brick, or tile walls shall be considered as grounded. Condition 3 — Exposed live parts on both sides of the work space (not guarded as provided in Condition 1) with the operator between."     copy right 2002 National Fire Protecction Association. -- Tom
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