Help upgrading Service panel from 60A to 125A, please.

Howdy,
Just got me a new home and some troubles as well. Labor of Love one should not wonder.
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 this job.
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 big box.
All help will be appreciated with extreme prejudice.
Cletus
Bytolierฎ
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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 mis informed. 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 spa.
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. Dave
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DaveG wrote:

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.
Cletus
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I hate to see pros blow off guys with simple questions with 'call a pro', but....
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.
Tim S.

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TimS wrote:

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 time.
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.
Cletus
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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 freezer.
TS

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good for you. me, I'd rather let someone else handle the live 120V/2000A wires...
changing your main is not a DIY job
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j j wrote:
chop the top

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 present situation.
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.
Cletus
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says...

Another thing to consider. The local utility may not energize the box unless the work is inspected and approved by a licensed electrician.

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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.
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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 regulate this.
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.
-- Mark Kent, WA
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Mark or Sue wrote:

Exactly the kind of information I was looking for. Thanks. And especially thank you for not telling me it should be done by a professional that had achieved Sainthood.
Cletus
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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 outlet. 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.

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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 cord-and-plug connected. 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.
-- Mark Kent, WA
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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!
Anthony
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On 27 Nov 2003, Cletus Milsap wrote:

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
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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
http://www.gallerytungsten.com
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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.
Mike O.

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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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