Just got me a new home and some troubles as well. Labor of Love one should
I could barely insure the home. It has 60A in this 1959 house. They want
125A. At least that's what the insurance said. (Home is in Solano County.)
I went shopping for panels. I'm no wizard with Electricity. (Note the
respectful big "E") But I do get by. I understand what is what in a
circuit. Clear on how them breakers work and wiring in general.
But I'm no expert electrician. Still I know with some good help I can do
First I got a permit. Was not too tough. And have a call in to PG&E to
talk to an inspector about requirements and the like. What I need is a step
by step by someone who does this routinely. What's next?
I had conflicting bids from electricians on the upgrade. Some said - $1200
to $1500. When they had found out the main power is coming in from the
bottom, they just laughed and said "All you need is the panel, Cletus." The
present panel is a single panel with the meter on the top part and the
breakers under it. Got the Spa wired to 220V on a bridged 40 amp breaker.
The rest is small potatoes. 20A breakers running to simple outlets and the
like. I was told by Home Depot, I need a separate breaker for the Spa,
located 6' or less from the Spa, and that the way it is in the main box, is
a violation. Ugh. (That'll be tough, as the Spa is on the Patio, away from
the wall by 15' or so.)
I'm willing to buy the box for that as well though.
I need to be pointed to a step by step, or if it's not too much trouble,
post one here. I'd like to be clear on the steps to take.
Can I surface mount the 125A box? The present one is recessed into the
wall. The box I was looking at requires a BIG hole! I'd like to just get
the wires in on the bottom, and cover up the present little hole with the
All help will be appreciated with extreme prejudice.
If the people at Home Depot told you that your disconnect must be 6' or
closer to the spa, run, do not walk, away from that place. You were grossly
For you spa to meet current code, you must have a GFCI breaker protecting
the power to the spa. You can put this GFCI breaker in your main panel if
you want to. A GFCI breaker is rather expensive, though, at maybe $80 or
more, depending on the brand of breaker you need. This breaker can go in
your main panel if you want.
You must also have a form of disconnect within line of sight, but no closer
than 5' to the water in the spa. This disconnect does not have to be fused,
if you have the GFCI breaker in your main panel. It is okay to mount this
disconnect 15' away from the spa. The disconnect must not be closer than
5', but it can be as far away as 50' if it is within line of sight of the
You can use a simple 60 amp rated a/c disconnect if you want. Or you could
keep the existing breaker that is in your panel, and mount a spa panel no
closer than 5' to the spa, and put the GFCI breaker in there as your
disconnect. You can get a not sure if you can get a spa panel with a 40 amp
GFCI breaker, though. Most of the ones I've seen are 50 amp.
There are other code requirements for you spa, depending on your specific
situation, and what the electrical code you will be held to. Mine was a new
installation, and our city is inspecting to the 2002 NEC. Your situation
may be different. Spa wiring codes can get kinda picky, so check out what
they'd require from you in your situation.
Sorry I cant help you with the replacement panel question.
Thanks a million. I was thinking this guy was full of chickenfeed. He was
talking backwards. Seems there is no good answer. All the answers go to the
pot when an inspector that did not get any booty last nite, comes and
decides he or she likes it this or that way.
I'm truly dumbfounded what people get away with in certain positions. I
understand the need. They want to protect the dumbasses from killing
themselves. Without regulations and rules, dumb people would die. Smart
people would make smart kids. 3 generations - no more dumb people. And the
guy's great grand kids would be out of a job. No need for them.
In the meanwhile, I'll wait for the inspector with finger sandwiches and a
good keg of Sarsaparilla.
Thanks for your answer.
I hate to see pros blow off guys with simple questions with 'call a pro',
Your 'step by step' request is actually impossible, based on the 711 page
book I have to operate by.
Make sure as many as possible individual circuits are up to snuff, buy the
same brand panel so your breakers can move from old to new, (respectfully)
manage the inspection process yourself, and bite the bullet and hire a
master to guide and handle the actual service swap.
I will guide a homeowner on his permit, nothing wrong with that, but I can't
do it blind.
Thank you for the good intentions, Tim.
I have done many many things in my life that a "Pro" insisted they can
only do. Once a person with good common sense and good information put their
minds to do something, it can be done. Happiness does indeed lie in doing
something others say you cannot do.
But to the point. This project would make me very sad, standing there
watching someone hang a box, pull them cables through, attaching them to the
correct size breakers they came off of, and then charge me $1500, or more.
There are cases where a Pro, is indeed a pro. And jobs that are too
technical for the average person. This is not one of them. Once I'm told how
it is done and what not to do, it is as good as done.
Worst case scenario happens when the person tells me I had misunderstood
the "Code". And I have to add an inch or cut off an inch. Won't be the forst
I'm not arguing that professionals are needed. I'm saying I really think
this is not that big of a deal. The permit itself says, this upgrade does
NOT have to be done by anyone licensed. Just gotto be done right and
inspected. If it passes said inspection, well, it's a done deal.
And it will be.
Much thanks and please don't feel I am telling you your skills are not
needed. Black and Decker would not sell a million copies on Electrical Home
repair, along with countless others, if these things were not to be done by
the thinking person. Only the ones with the paper.
Part of my reasoning is ....
Where I live, the utility has see the county inspector's approval before
attaching new service.
So, approval in the morning, attaching in the afternoon leaves little time
to correct errors.
I still think hiring a master to guide you, and manage the changeover would
be worth it.
Also, he would have a generator, or at least the insurance, to cover your
Actually, I had never said I had no experience with high voltage. Handled
220 and 460 many many times. What I was looking for is instructions on the
steps to take on the legalities. I got the permit. I can go and buy the box.
Now I need to know who to call first. I called PG&E. Made an appointment. So
I will have most my questions answered when they come out to look at the
Steps to take: Have them shut off the power. Do the job as PG&E said it'd
be acceptable. Call the inspector. Have the inspector call PG&E to turn
power back on. Or is that my job?
Other steps: Test each circuit and see if it's not over loaded with lights
and plugins. Mark them all. Yank the old box. Mark wires. Put on new box.
Pull in wires. Connect to correct size breakers. New or old, depending if
your old breakers match the new box. Is this right? I will know once I had
done it. Sounds right. This was the original question. A step by step.
This is all I asked. The steps. And once I am done with this job, I will be
able to tell someone that is ready to do the same, the steps to take to do
this job. As always, I'm on my own. Used to it.
It's tough to seek simple answers. They throw the book at you. And the
pros, well, they tell you you can't, shouldn't, couldn't do it.
Sad but true.
I do not recommend this practice. First off 1959 breakers are
probably questionable at this point and would need to be tested before
you could safely reuse them. I'm not referring to anythign elaborate,
I'm referring to a test outlet wired directly into the breaker that
you stick a hair dryer and toaser oven on to see if it trips, etc.
Plus no old panel is going to have the newer types of breakers in it
(GFCI, Arc fault) that you will be needing now so the number you could
potentially reuse is not going to be all that great.
I don't believe this is always the case. If the spa has no underwater light,
and this is a branch circuit and not a feeder, then a GFCI is not required.
Its always a good idea, but not required. The rest of DaveG's information is
correct -- spa disconnect must be no closer than 5', but must be within
sight of the tub (which means 50' or less and you can see it).
As far as a step by step process:
1. Check with your power utility to determine their requirements for
electrical services. Mine has a web site where this document was located.
Much utility stuff is not regulated by the NEC, so you won't find it in the
NEC code book.
2. Is your underground conduit sufficiently large to accomodate the wires
you need. I think you'll need a 1.25" or 1.5" conduit, but the utility will
3. Evaluate your existing panel and the wire lengths of the circuits coming
in. Will they reach their proper location in the new panel? Should the panel
be mounted higher, lower, or the same?. Can you meet the meter height
restrictions while allowing most of the wires to reach the proper bus? You
can wire nut in the panel, but it is discouraged.
4. Evaluate your grounding system. Do you have a metal water pipe in contact
with the earth for 10' or more? Do you have a ground rod or two? What size
wire is connected to your water pipe and ground rods (if you have them)?
These steps are what you need to evaluate in order to determine what the
next steps are. Once you've installe the meter main combination panel, the
utility may need to upgrade your transformer and/or service lateral wires to
your house. This may or may not cost you money.
A surface mount panel is allowed, but look at where the wires must come in
and out of the panel. Generally, each cable should go through its own hole
with a clamp. Using a huge hole with a large NM cable clamp to hold all your
existing circuit wires is not usually permitted, but you could ask your
inspector if this saves a lot of effort. I'd plan on removing some siding on
each side of the panel and mount it in the wall like the old one. Or, use
the existing panel as a junction box and mount the new one next to it. This
would be ugly, but workable.
Sorry, but I respectfully disagree with you. A GFCI breaker is required
for any spa.
Even our whirlpool tub in our bathroom has to be put in on a GFCI protected
And that tub has no lite. I'd think that any power outside of the dwelling
would need GFI protection to meet code.
If you spa has no lite, then you may use romex to power to the spa. If the
spa has a lite, then you are not allowed to use romex, and the entire run of
line must be in conduit.
I went back and reads parts of NEC 680. I'm confusing some of the insulated
ground rules with the
GFCI rules. In general, I'd say you're right, in that 680.44 requires that
tub/spa "outlets" be GFCI
protected. I would expect the disconnect to be the outlet if it is not
There is an exception for spas that are part of a pool (which is the type I
have), and for spas that
have heaters greater than 50A at 240V.
Also, just about all cord-and-plug connections for pools, tubs, spas, etc must
be GFCI protected --
explains the whirlpool tub.
I do not know the specific codes for GFCI requirements, but common sense
would say to use a GFCI anywhere there might be water involved, Bathrooms,
Kitchens, Laundry, Outdoor Outlets, Crawlspace Outlets, Spa/Hot Tubs,
Garages, Sheds, Etc. I think the codes generally reflect this thinking.
Imagine standing in a puddle of water while holding an extension cord with
cracked insulation. Or, dropping a hair dryer into the bathtub or lavatory.
Or, splashing water out of the hot tub onto an electrical outlet. Or, a
leak in a spa pump that allows water to contact the pump wiring...
Even if a GFCI may not be "required" in some areas, it's cheap protection
to save your life!
One thing I would not waste any time worrying about is getting
your old wires to reach into your new box. This is nearly
impossible unless you mount the same sized box in the identical
spot, and who wants to be restricted like that?
Your new circuits (sounds like you'll have a few of them!) will
not be an issue, and your existing circuits can be rewired from
the nearest junction box back to the panel with crisp, clean,
new wire that you can properly dress inside the panel, not try
and stretch to reach a breaker. That's just plain ugly and can
easily be unsafe. If there isn't a nearby point to make the
changeover to new wire, then make one. A simple 1 1/4 * 3 1/2
octagon box and blank cover, a couple of connectors (one for
your new Romex, the other for the old BX or whatever else you
bave for existing) and you're in business. Even if you have to
hang 4 or 5 of these up in your joists, so what? It will give
you a clean and safe installation.
Baisez-les s'ils ne peuvent pas prendre une plaisanterie
You didn't mention what size wire is running to the existing service. For
going to 125A you may well need a larger size wire for the service.
If you find out that you need a larger service, you could run the conduit
and wire for your service while leaving the old one connected. Once you
had the new service inspected and connected, you can transfer your
existing wiring to it. Maybe the electric company will let you run meters
on both panels for a couple days while you transfer circuits.
You might also want to get a 200A service while you're at it.
Jedd Haas - Artist
When we moved into our house last year, I knew I would soon need to replace
the full, rusting, 35 year old 100A Federal Pacific panel. Last May I took
care of it. When a neighbor had theirs done a few months before by an
electrican it was about $1,200. After doing some research, I decided to
tackle it myself. I've done electrical work before, but nothing this big.
Did a lot of research, several calls to the inspector. Here's the sequence
the city (Westerville, OH) uses:
-Get the permit from the building dept. Take the permit to the elec dept,
they provide the new meter base.
-Schedule the day/time for the cutoff and the later inspection.
-At the scheduled time, the work crew comes by, cuts & covers the overhead
lines and disconnects the meter.
-Homeowner (or electrician) replaces/upgrades the panel
-Inspector shows up, checks everything. If it's OK, he calls the crew to
come back and re-connect the feed.
As far as the panel itself, it wasn't all that hard. I tried to do as much
as I could ahead of time; tagged all the lines, install the ground rod (old
system used cold water pipe only, not acceptable now). Another thing I had
ready was the backing board. The old panel was about 1/3 the size of the
new 40 space 200A SquareD Q0 panel, so I had the plywood pre-cut. Even with
the pre-work, it still took me about 6 hours. There were a couple of minor
things he pointed out (I didn't bridge a ground line across the water meter,
etc.) that I could take care of later, but he was satisfied with my work and
OK'd the reconnection to the main power.
I ended up with about $450 in parts. I shopped around, but ended up getting
most of it from Home Depot or Lowes.
The biggest suggestion I would have is to talk to the inspectors.
Ultimately they're the ones who are going to approve (or disapprove) your
installation. Our inspectors generally stick with the NEC, but take more
conservative limits on some of the wire sizing.
One other thing I did was run a long extension from a neighbors house for
our sump pump (it had rained for several days before), and just in case my
cordless tools and/or flashlights died (they didn't).
And yes, I did ask the neighbors first...
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