I have a friend who runs a business. Their main breaker is on the
outside of the building right along a busy back alley. Inside the
building directly behind that main breaker is the panel with all the
individual breakers. The box looks similar to this:
If you look on the bottom, there is the tab that sticks out with the
hole, which is meant for a small padlock. The problem is that the box,
had a plastic tab. Why the manufacturer used a plastic tab (the rest of
the box is metal), is beyond me. It had a lock on it, but the plastic
tab broke off, and ever since people keep shutting off the power at
least once a month. That affects all kinds of electronic equipment
inside, and disrupts business. The business owner is a woman who dont
understand all the technical issues, she just wants the box to be tamper
proof. I told her I'd see what can be done, and will install something
I suggested drilling a few holes and putting a hasp on the box, with pop
rivets and padlocking it, but I tend to wonder if there is any sort of
legal requirements. I suppose in the event of a fire, the Fire Dept
might want to shut off the power. This makes me question what to do.
I'm also not sure who to ask locally about this? Maybe the power
Anyone know anything about this?
One other thought was to drill a hole right below that slot and just use
a cable tie through the slot and the hole. Anyone can cut it off, but
it might be enough to discourage them. Right now all they need to do is
lift the cover and shut off the breaker. At least a cable tie would
require more effort by tamperers, and still be easily cut in an
Is this covered in the USA electrical codes? I dont have the book.
(Are the codes available online?)
On Sat, 09 Jun 2012 03:16:49 -0500, email@example.com wrote:
This comes under the definition of readily accessible. You are allowed
to put disconnects and overcurrent devices behind a locked door to
prevent access by unauthorized persons as long as all tenants have a
The fire department is not an issue. If they want in, they will get
The NFPA 70 handbook says "The definition of readily accessible does
not preclude the use of a locked door for service equipment or rooms
containing service equipment, provided those for whom ready access is
necessary have a key (or lock combination) available."
On Jun 9, 4:31 am, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
You are so full of shit, may AHJ's require total access
to buildings protected by a fire alarm system which
is connected to the fire departments dispatcher...
So yes, given the commercial occupancy access
to the main utility cut offs no matter what flavor
is something the fire department will have a say over...
A lock box containing keys which open the whole
building is how a lot of those AHJ's define
On Sat, 09 Jun 2012 14:53:34 -0400, email@example.com wrote:
Darn thing should be INSIDE the building, for starters.
In the office building where I work every morning, both the main
transformer vault and the electrical service room, which contains a
couple smaller transformers, main disconnect, several timers and 2 sub
panels are under lock and key at all times. 2 other sub-panels are
located in the kitchen. All 4 sub-panels have key-locks on the doors,
but are not locked. This is in Canada - so could be different in the
On Jun 9, 2:53 pm, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
You are full of shit as far as this quote:
"The fire department is not an issue. If they want in, they will get
By your own quotation of the the NFPA regs your statement
of the above is bullshit as the fire department is one entity
to whom ready access to the utility cut offs is mandatory...
The NEC is one set of standards which must be complied with,
in commercial occupancies you can not get an certificate of
occupancy unless the fire department also signs off, not just
the wiring or building inspector... Having a lock on a main
disconnect or having that disconnect located in a locked
closet or room would not be "readily accessible" per NEC
nor as defined by the fire department without providing a
key which is secured in a fire department only accessible
So it seems that any proposed solution which does not
need both the NFPA criteria as well as the NEC (or whatever
local electrical code being enforced) for being "readily
accessible" would not pass muster which includes any
ideas which leave the fire department wanting for a key to
the main shut offs of any utility...
Is the National Electrical Code available online? -- Yes, here:
It is read-only and you can't print it out or cut and paste from the
document, but it is free, and this link does not require people to set up a
free account or log in.
Thanks for that answer. I am interested in the same question as the OP
about whether it is okay to put a lock on this outside main cutoff.
From what you wrote, it seems like it is okay. Maybe also giving a copy of
the key to the local fire department would be considered the appropriate
protocol. But, if it is a small padlock, all local fire departments carry
bolt cutters on their vehicles so cutting off the padlock in the event of an
emergency would be no problem for them even without a key.
Do you happen to know where the citation in the NEC about this is located?
The free online version of the NEC is a little cumbersome to use so finding
the correct citation is sometimes a problem.
For those who posted that the contractor should not have put the main cutoff
outside, that is a requirement in some areas for some types of buildings
(commercial, multiple dwellings, etc). And, my understanding is that the
purpose is so that the local fire department can cut off the power in an
Access to the service disconnect is in 230.70(A)(1)
"(1) Readily Accessible Location. The service disconnecting means
shall be installed at a readily accessible location either outside of
a building or structure or inside nearest the point of entrance of the
Readily accessible is defined in article 100
"Accessible, Readily (Readily Accessible). Capable of being reached
quickly for operation, renewal, or inspections without requiring those
to whom ready access is requisite to climb over or remove obstacles or
to resort to portable ladders, and so forth."
Thanks. That really helped and I was able to go right to those sections.
Since Ed showed me how I can do a cut and paste from the NEC, here is a cut
and paste of some of the sections:
Accessible (as applied to equipment). Admitting close
approach; not guarded by locked doors, elevation, or other
Accessible (as applied to wiring methods). Capable of
being removed or exposed without damaging the building
structure or finish or not permanently closed in by the structure
or finish of the building.
Accessible, Readily (Readily Accessible). Capable of being
reached quickly for operation, renewal, or inspections
without requiring those to whom ready access is requisite
to climb over or remove obstacles or to resort to portable
ladders, and so forth.
230.70 General. Means shall be provided to disconnect all
conductors in a building or other structure from the service entrance
(A) Location. The service disconnecting means shall be
installed in accordance with 230.70(A)(1), (A)(2), and
(1) Readily Accessible Location. The service disconnecting
means shall be installed at a readily accessible location
either outside of a building or structure or inside nearest the
point of entrance of the service conductors.
(2) Bathrooms. Service disconnecting means shall not be
installed in bathrooms.
(3) Remote Control. Where a remote control device(s) is
used to actuate the service disconnecting means, the service
disconnecting means shall be located in accordance with
One thing that I thought was interesting is the first definition of
"Accessible (as applied to equipment)" which is,
"Accessible (as applied to equipment). Admitting close
approach; not guarded by locked doors, elevation, or other
I wonder if that throws a slight curve into to question of whether the
service panel door can be locked -- under the meaning of "not guarded by
I still think that putting a small padlock on the outside main service
disconnect would be okay (with the building tenants, the fire department,
etc. having a key), but I am not 100% positive about that yet.
The thing about the NEC is you have to be looking at the right
language to make a decision.
In the case of service disconnects it says "readily accessible" and
that is the language you use.
I posted the commentary from the NFPA 70 handbook that says this does
not preclude locked cabinets or locked doors as long as the
appropriate maintenance people have a key.
It is very rare that a panel or an equipment room in a public area of
a commercial installation will NOT be locked.
The fire department is not going to take and store a key. The fie
department may want a key box that is available to them using THEIR
key. That is the standard thing in SW Florida.
You can save it (all 840 pages) on your hard drive as a PDF file.
Then, as you see below, you can copy and paste. Thanks for the link.
IMPORTANT NOTICES AND DISCLAIMERS CONCERNING NFPA DOCUMENTS
NOTICE AND DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY CONCERNING THE USE OF NFPA
NFPA codes, standards, recommended practices, and guides, of which the
document contained herein is one, are developed
through a consensus standards development process approved by the
American National Standards Institute.
This process brings together volunteers representing varied viewpoints
and interests to achieve consensus on fire and
other safety issues. While the NFPA administers the process and
establishes rules to promote fairness in the development
of consensus, it does not independently test, evaluate, or verify the
accuracy of any information or the soundness
of any judgments contained in its codes and standards.
That is translated to the code is written by a group of industry reps
and building code officials and suggested changes come from anyone who
wants to write a proposal. This becomes a model code that is adopted
almost universally as law in the US and many other countries. Then the
AHJs and legislatures make amendments. After that the AHJs decide what
it means to them in their patch. Such is the business.
Thanks for pointing that out. That worked. I know that the free version
that is on the NFPA.org website doesn't allow cut and paste etc. I think
the only reason that they post a free read-only version is to comply with a
legal decision that stated that if they are going to create regulations that
apply to the public (if adopted by local governmental entities), they have
to make them available for free.
But, I guess that since the link that I posted is from the Garner, North
Carolina government website, they decided that they are entitled to post a
pdf copy the regulations that they adopted (2008 NEC) and make it both free
and able to be cut-and-pasted, printed, etc.
I ran into a similar problem recently when I was trying to cut and past a
page from the 2006 International Residential Code. The only free version
that I could find online was one that would not permit a cut and paste.
Thanks. I did find that before at
I can only do a read-only of the document, no cut-and-paste, no printingcopies
of pages, etc.
I can only do a read-only of the document, no cut-and-paste, no printingcopies
of pages, etc.
That is strange but maybe just a New Jersey thing. I can copy/paste
and print the Florida code.
Maybe it is because Florida rewrites the code into legislation and not
That's what I was thinking too. You don't necessarily need a strong
lock on it. Just a small lock will discourage 99.9% of the problem.
With nothing on it, any kid walking by can see it as an invitation for
mischef and just open it and flip it off.
With even a small padlock, they are unlikely to bother screwing
Also, regarding the fire department in a fire emergency, around here
they typically don't go looking for the disconnect. They go looking
the meter and pull it out. If the meter is outside and accessible,
I wouldn't worry about the fire dept not being able to cut power.
Interesting. I had not thought about the option of the fire department
pulling the meter to cut the power.
One reason that I am interested in this topic is that I have two properties
in the same town that I bought a few years ago. One is a 2-family duplex
with all separate utilities for each tenant and the other is a 3-family
triplex with all separate utilities for each tenant. After buying each one,
I had new electric service installed in both properties.
I had the 2-family duplex done first. For that one, which already had a
separate service panel in the basement for each tenant, the question came up
about whether both tenants had access to the basement. The electrician
explained that with new service being installed, the code required that each
tenant have access to their own service panel and the main service
disconnect. Since both tenants have access to the basement (and the service
panels) -- meaning they each have a key to the basement -- it was okay for
both service panels and main disconnects to be in the basement. As part of
the new service upgrade, the electric meters for each unit were moved to the
outside and mounted on the front wall of the property.
From the NEC citation that gfretwell posted I found this that refers to that
230.70 (C) Access to Occupants. In a multiple-occupancy building,
each occupant shall have access to the occupant's service
Then, when I had new service installed in the 3-family triplex, I already
had service panels and a main disconnect in each of the three tenants'
apartments. With the new service, I was also adding a separate "house"
panel for the outside lighting etc. And, as before, I was having the
electric meters moved to the outside of the building where each service
entered the building. But, this time, because the property had 3 or more
dwelling units, the local officials required that the 3 tenant services and
1 house service each have an outside main service disconnect. And, in my
case, each of the 4 main service disconnects on the outside of the building
look similar to what the OP has on his building.
My original plan was for the main service disconnects to be inside the
building, right where each service came in, but inside a utility room that
only the property owner (me) could access with a key. Then, in each
apartment, they would each have their own existing service panel (actually a
subpanel), each with its own main cutoff breaker. But, that wasn't okay
with the local code officials, so all 4 main service disconnects are now on
the outside of the building.
I understand why they have that requirement (fire department and other
emergency shutoff capability etc), but it made me a little uncomfortable
since anyone walking by could (and still can) turn off the power to any or
all apartments at any time. All that I have on each outside service
disconnect box now is a short twisted piece of 12 gauge wire holding each
box closed (where a padlock could go). Seems a little strange to me, but
that's how it is. And, it has been 2 years of so since they were installed
and no one has bothered to tamper with the boxes since then. Nevertheless,
I am curious if it really would be okay for me to put small padlocks on each
one -- if any problems with tampering do seem to start up.
*You can go ahead and put padlocks on the outside disconnects as long as
each tenant will receive a key. There are special padlocks that are made to
be cut with a bolt cutter that I have seen on fire sprinkler valves and
fence gates to electrical equipment. The locks have a notch cut into them
making it easier to cut. I think McMaster-Carr sells them.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.