When Replacing A Breaker Panel, Would You Do this?

Page 1 of 4  
On this week's episode of Ask This Old House, an electrician was replacing the service wire and panel in a house. There were code problems within the panel (broken breakers, doubled up circuits, etc.) There were at least 3 generations of wiring at the panel: BX cable, cloth cover Romex and modern Romex. There was a rat's nest of wiring in and around the panel.
He noted that he would normally mark all the wires before removing them but since the existing labeling was wrong, he chose to simply cut all of the wires and "figure it out afterwards".
As he was connecting the wires to the new breakers he used this simple method to determine which wires to connect to which breakers:
"There are 3 sizes of wires. The smaller wires go to the 15A breakers, the mid-size wires go to the 20A breakers and the largest wires go to the 30A breaker."
Doesn't this seem to be an oversimplified, possibly dangerous, method?
Since it was obvious that whoever came before him violated codes by doubling up breakers and who knows what else, isn't it dangerous to assume that the correct wire sizes were used as the mess grew over the years?
Maybe they were just saving air time by using that explanation, but it seems to me that a lot more investigation should have been done as opposed to simply letting the wire size determine the breaker size. To even imply that the wire size is the determining factor seems irresponsible on their part.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Sounds good to me. If the wires were checked out to be 14, 12, and wiring large enough to carry 30 amps. The breakers are to make sure the wires are large enough to carry the current.
The devices plugged into the wiring should have fuses or breakers to protect them built in.
Maybe more time could be spent, but if the house has been that way for a long time, hopefully the wireing is close enough not to be a hazzard.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

It all boiles down to how much time and money is to be spent. The breaker box can be changed in a few hours. To check out the whole house may take a day or two. The job description was to change the box, not check out all the wiring in the house.
It would be up to the home owner to determin if all the wiring should be checked out at a much larger cost, after finding a code violation or two with the instalation.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 2:20 PM, Ralph Mowery wrote:

That's it in a nutshell. The service is one job. If, while doing the service the electrician has reason to suspect rube wiring in other areas of the house, he'll bring his suspicions to the home owner, with suggestions for how to proceed.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

.
RBM:
I'm not a lawyer nor a licensed electrician, so this is are legitimate (i.e. not a smart ass) questions. I always respect your answers related to electrical questions, so...
If you had reason to suspect rube wiring based on what you saw at the panel, would you...
1 - Mention it to the homeowner 2 - Accept his choice not to address your suspicions 3 - Connect the wires based on size 4 - Sleep comfortably even knowing that your suspicions were not addressed?
If indeed there was rube wiring elsewhere, and a problem occurred e.g. at that 12g to 14g junction later on, could the electrician be held liable if he simply matched wire size to breaker size at the panel? Isn't there some deeper level of responsibility, as in perhaps refusing to take the panel replacement job, if the electrician has reason to believe other parts of the system are unsafe?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 3:01 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

Very often people have finished basements that were never filed for or inspected. When they go to sell the house, the non compliant area pops up, and the town requires them to get a certificate of occupancy. In order to get a C/O from the town, they need an electrical certificate. (in my area), to get this, I as a licensed electrician, have to hire a certified electrical inspection agency to do the inspection. The walls are closed. You can only determine so much, so they issue a "closed wall" inspection or "electrical survey". As part of the form, it specifies that the inspection is, "to the best of our knowledge" and terms like we're not liable for things unseen, etc, etc.
When someone hires us to do a service,or any other job, we price that job alone. We absolutely bring anything unseemly or dangerous to the attention of the customer, with recommendations for repairing or replacing, as a separate job . When we do a service. We have that work inspected and provide a certificate of compliance, as part of the job. If there was some wiring problem downstream of the electrical service, it would still exist, but wouldn't have anything to do with the work we did, nor would we have any way to know
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

...
Makes sense...Thanks!
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Sun, 15 Jan 2012 12:01:04 -0800 (PST), DerbyDad03

My dad was an electrician. He replaced a LOT of service panels. Often the new panel was the first step in rehabilitating the entire house wiring system. It can NEVER be the last step.
In quite a few houses he connected what he knew to be "safe" and did not connect what he knew to be "unsafe" and told the owner what really needed to be addressed first.
He often got the dirty job of rewiring the whole house - often piece at a time.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

And simply not connect the "rube" circuit if he deams it dangerous.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Sun, 15 Jan 2012 10:42:16 -0800 (PST), DerbyDad03

Short of tearing out the walls to find the wire, how ELSE would you recommend he do it?? SOMEWHERE on a 12 guage circuit someone COULD have connected a 14 guage wire. ANd there is no law saying you can NOT fuse a 12 guage at 15 amps.
Assuming the correct breakers were installed in the first place is also risky.
Personally I'd identify what goes out when the (20 amp) breaker on a #12 is tripped to see if it NEEDED to be a 20, or should be a 15, and connect ALL 14s to 15 amp breakers.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Jan 15, 4:24pm, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

.
safest to see what each wire services, and only use 12 gauge wire at panel to loads that absolutely need 20 amp breakers.
everything else goes to 15 amp breakers.
except 240 volt loads, probably few of those, so they could be checked for wire gauge.'
14 gauge 15 amp is on consertive side, its unlikely a 14 gauge wire would get hot enough to cause a fire on a 20 amp breaker
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
wrote:

Actually unlikey on a 30 unless loaded to the ragged limit. Voltage drop can be an issue if the undersized wire is very long.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
DerbyDad03 wrote:

What alternative makes more sense than the voice of experience that's probably older than the funky wiring? * Assume the possibility that somewhere there might be a junction box with a bell wire connection, therefore every breaker should be 5 amps? * Find, and inspect, every junction box, outlet, and switch to determine wire sizes and hope there's not a hidden junction box behind a plaster wall?
You're right, it is a dangerous assumption. But it's also a trade-off.
Plus, the TV show you saw may have simply been using poetic license.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 12:13 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

He did it exactly the way I normally would. The most important thing to determine, are small gauge circuits that are 240 volt. Pretty much any #10,8, 6 or larger gauge cables are going to be 240 volt circuits, but you don't want to miswire a 15 or 20 amp circuit. As you disconnect the wires from the breakers, you'd take notice of anything unusual about the fusing and make a notation if necessary. Overall, you're pretty much going to reconnect the conductors to the proper amperage and voltage of the conductor size.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 12:13 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

You are barking up the wrong tree. first off, it is a boiler not a furnace. If it makes hot water, the issue is not with the boiler, it's with the heating zone system. First you need to describe the components . Is the hot water, from a coil within the boiler, or do you have an indirect tank? How many heating zones? Do you have circulator pumps or zone valves, and how many of each? What type of relay controls, aquastats, etc. do you have?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 1:16 PM, RBM wrote:

Sorry, I'm barking up the wrong tree. News server issues

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 1/15/2012 12:13 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

LOL. I saw the show and thought the same thing.
But on the other hand, was the customer willing to pay extra to have the electrician pull every outlet, switch and fixture in the entire house to make sure the proper sized wire was used on each circuit?
Of course, the safest fix would be to rip out all the old wiring and replace it with new.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

I was assuming that they would do it this way, go through and switch each one on and off to see what it really did (for labeling) and then change things if this indicated it was needed.

--
People thought cybersex was a safe alternative,
until patients started presenting with sexually
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

As I mentioned before, you do not size the breaker for what is downstream, you size it for the wire. If you need to have a certain amount of current for several devices, you use large wire and a breaker to match.
Older houses were wired when the kitchen did not have many high current devices in use. Now many people have the several things going at once. Toaster, microwave, coffee pot. About 30 years ago I lived in a 2 bedroom apartment that was built in the 1950s or before. It had 2 20 amp fuses in it for the whole thing except the stove.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Sun, 15 Jan 2012 17:06:52 -0500, "Ralph Mowery"

The house my Dad bought in 1957 had 2 fuses. One for the lights. One for the receptacles. 6 room 2 story house with basement. I think there were 7 lights and 4 or 5 receptacles in the whole houe
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

    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.