# Residential electical question

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 3:11 pm
There's some long explanations here. Skip to "The Heart Of The Matter", below, if you don't want the story.
Just to set the stage: the original structure of our house was built in 1920. From 1954 to '56, my uncle added a garage/office to the back (West), extended the bedrooms (North), and enclosed the screened-in porch to make a dining room (South - pretty neat: in the basement you can still see the "door" that was used as access to the area under the house, hinges and all, that's now floored over).
Of course as the house has been built / added to over the years, the electrical system is one huge bowl of under-powered spaghetti. The main panel, a 60 amp fuse box (yep, fuses), powers most of the house. Another box beside it holds the "Main" and the "Range", plus four fuses which control the West addition, and under the stairs is _another_ box with 10 fuses, also for the West addition. The last box, the last one I've ever found anyway, is a double-pole breaker for the air conditioner. The box under the stairs appears to be wired directly to the meter, but that's another story.
By day I'm a mild mannered computer programmer. My office at home has two computers with all the trappings, plus a MIDI workstation, mixer, amp, etc etc etc. My wife and I also own a business making shirts and tights for renaissance festivals throughout the country, so in the basement are three industrial sewing machines, plus all the trappings that go with ~that~.
No, we're not blowing fuses. The problem is, I've got four boxes, and no more circuits - by rights, if I'm doing my math right, the costume shop alone should have two, for instance, but there was only one left in the box. Each computer should have its own circuit. I'm not overpowering the box, I'm just out of room.
--- THE HEART OF THE MATTER.
I called an electrician and gave him the situation, saying I was exploring having a 200 amp box. He told me flat out that 200 amp was for industrial applications only, and wouldn't do it. My contention is that the codes as they exist were by and large written at a time when a floor lamp, tv and vcr setup was considered a lot of electricity for a room. To setup one computer in my house takes an outlet for the computer; a monitor; a printer; a scanner; the DSL modem; a broadband router; a switch (I have a home network). That's seven. The entertainment center: a tv; vcr; dvd; an amplifier/receiver; cd player. That's five.
Thesis: We live now in an age where there is more Electical Stuff in common usage than anytime before, and that the conventional/traditional wisdom needs some updating.
Thoughts?
--
William Morris
Tailor, Seamlyne reProductions

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 3:32 pm
Since you're not blowing fuses, there doesn't appear to be any urgency to upgrade, assuming of course that the proper sized fuses are being used on each circuit. It does sound as though your electrical system is due for an upgrade though.
A 200 amp, 220 volt, single phase service is not unusual for a residence. I suggest that you consult with several other electrical contractors. Tell them you want a 40/40 panel.

(West),
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all,
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exploring
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computer
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• posted on November 24, 2003, 3:38 pm
Thank you, John. If you have time, could you say more about a "40/40" panel?
- Wm

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 4:25 pm
William Morris wrote: <SNIP>

He's flat out wrong.
The *only* way that the new service can be sized correctly is to perform a load calculation as required in Art 220 of the NEC.
I would expect the town inspector and maybe the utility will insist on seeing the calculations before issuing the permit (he was going to get one, wasn't he?).
Given the details of the "spaghetti bowl" wiring, expect the inspector to insist upon correcting any existing problems he may see.
You could be looking at a can of worms...
Jim

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 5:13 pm

Do remember that those calculations yield _minimum_ service ampacities. You can install bigger services if you want (and the power utility is willing to).
200A services aren't in the slightest bit unusual. Indeed, here, any ordinary sized home with electric heat has to have a 200A service.
Some upscale and larger homes need 400A services.

Could be. It's more likely that most (if not all) of the wiring issues he'd see will be solved simply by transferring all of the existing circuits to a new panel.
The code permits the inspector to insist on upgrading circuits that you didn't intend to be touched if you're altering enough of the system.
This is normally intended for things like having the inspector insist that you GFCI the bathroom outlet if you're installing a new light fixture on that circuit.
It's been my experience that inspectors won't carry things so far as to require large-scale ripping out of existing circuitry just for a panel upgrade. For example, in an _almost_ full rewire (wall teardown etc), there was a segment of K&T feeding a fixture in the ceiling of a really beautifully plastered ceiling. The inspector didn't tell us to rip it out. He told us how to connect the K&T to the new circuit.
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It's not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 4:58 pm

(West),
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all,
box.
exploring
vcr
computer
common
This is Turtle.
On most all ''all electric homes'' built today require 200 amp service because of you need in some cases a 100 amp breaker for the just the back up electric air handler strippes on the new heat pump systems if the heat pump breaks down. On most all 2,000 or + square foot homes today will have a 200 amp service to start with. It is common place on these homes.
Now if you have gas or propane [ heating system, hot water tank , cloths drier, and stove ] , you can get by with a 125 if you wanted to.
TURTLE

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 6:16 pm
William Morris wrote: <snip>

Why? Computers typically do not take much power.

There's a big difference between the number of circuits versus outlets versus devices plugged in. Most of the items you identified take very little power. One surge suppressor (let's not get started on a thread about their value, or lack of) can handle each computer and peripherals, the same for the entertainment center.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 7:28 pm

True, and if that were the only consideration I would agree - monitor and PC are usually no more power than four or five table lamps. Presently, my system is running on a multioutlet surge suppressor and UPS and has been for quite some time. However, I have client data on my primary box, and as I understand it, the standard in my industry is to isolate the "server(s)" from other devices (like refrigerators, stereos, etc) as one facet of a multifaceted approach to safeguarding data. Makes your heart skip a beat whenever someone in another part of the house starts up the microwave and a screen with three-quarters-of-a-million records of customer data jumps.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 10:17 pm
William Morris wrote:

Understand. Definitely should not be on the same circuit as something like a microwave.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 7:42 pm
A 40/40 panel is a circuit breaker box that has spaces for 40 full-sized circuit breakers.
200a is pretty typical these days, by no means is it for industrial applications only.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 7:54 pm
>A 40/40 panel is a circuit breaker box that has spaces for 40 full-sized >circuit breakers. > >200a is pretty typical these days, by no means is it for industrial >applications only. >
How to determine the size of your panels? I have 2 independent panels at entrance. The main switches on both marked 200A. Do I have 200A, or 400A?
Do all amps refer to 240V, or 120V votages?
YJ

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 8:09 pm

Do you have 2 meters as well? If you do you definately have 2 x 200a services.
One of those 200a panels might be fed from the other. The only way a layman can be sure is to turn off the main in one panel. If 1/2 the place goes off, turn it back on. Then throw the main in the other panel. If the other 1/2 goes off, you have 2 x 200 a panels onm a 400a service,
If the entire hoise goes dark, you have a 200a service and 2 200a panels.

If the service was installed post mid-'60's, yes you have 240v.

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 8:24 pm
>> >A 40/40 panel is a circuit breaker box that has spaces for 40 full-sized >> >circuit breakers. >> > >> >200a is pretty typical these days, by no means is it for industrial >> >applications only. >> > >> >> How to determine the size of your panels? I have 2 independent >> panels at entrance. The main switches on both marked 200A. Do >> I have 200A, or 400A? > >Do you have 2 meters as well? If you do you definately have 2 x 200a services. > >One of those 200a panels might be fed from the other. The only way a layman can >be sure is to turn off the main in one panel. If 1/2 the place goes off, turn >it back on. Then throw the main in the other panel. If the other 1/2 goes off, >you have 2 x 200 a panels onm a 400a service, > >If the entire hoise goes dark, you have a 200a service and 2 200a panels. >> >> Do all amps refer to 240V, or 120V votages? > >If the service was installed post mid-'60's, yes you have 240v. >
Thanks. I guess I have 400A then, since I know each of those panels serves different circuits (based on the switch labels on each panel).
The house was built in 2000, and has 2 zone ACs - maybe that was the reason for 400A.

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• posted on November 25, 2003, 8:43 pm
HA HA Budys Here wrote:

Same here. Northeastern Canada. Our house which has by no means the amount of equipment mentioned by the Original Poster, built 33 years, ago has 200 amp. Terry

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• posted on November 25, 2003, 9:07 pm

applications only.

I must have an industrial complex then -- my house has 400A service. This replaced a 200A service that was installed in the 60's.
-- Mark Kent, WA

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• posted on November 25, 2003, 9:12 pm

That must be SOME house! 200a in the 60's WAS "industrial!" Even all the houses in Levittown only got 60a 220v, and they had electric ranges!

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 9:29 pm
I'm surprised the electrician would say that about a 200 amp service. Here in Virginia, that is standard now for most new home construction. Indeed, some of the 6000 square foot "McMansions" that are being built in Loudon County near Wash, DC have 400 amp service.
Also, when trying to get power to my new barn, the local utility, Allegheny Power, offered to hang a transformer on a nearby pole and bring 200 amps to the building.
You should continue calling around. Nothing industrial about 200 amps anymore.
- Bruce

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• posted on November 24, 2003, 10:26 pm
In fairness to the electrician, our house is not large - only about 1300 sq ft not including the basement. Each room was wired in the 1950's for 1 or two overhead lamps and one or two outlets. Really inadequate by today's standards, I would think.
- Wm

exploring
industrial

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• posted on November 25, 2003, 1:07 am
It's understandable if he felt 200 amps was too much for YOUR house, but to respond that it is only used for industrial seems a bit odd. As others have said, 200 amps is quite common.
William Morris wrote:

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• posted on November 25, 2003, 9:04 pm
Heck, there's still electricians who scoff at pre-wiring homes for coaxial cable or satallite TV, or Cat6e wiring, or 3-way switches!