I'm about to get my electric service upgraded to 200 amps from 125
amps. I have a small breaker box from 1964 that has run out of room
for new circuits and I'm getting it replaced with a larger box in the
same location. The outside electric meter is almost directly above
the basement breaker box, about eight feet higher and on the opposite
side of the same wall.
The electrician is asking $850 for the job. Perhaps I am not
realizing everything that goes into such a job, but that seems a bit
expensive to me. What do you folks think? We don't have many local
electricians, so I may have little choice in the matter.
Also, are there any gotchas that I need to look out for? The Square D
breaker boxes and breakers that they are installing are a brand I have
seen before, but I don't know their reputation. Are they of at least
average quality, durability and safety? If there are several levels
of square d products, which should I prefer? Should I expect a new
cable to the electric meter as a part of this job? Should I have them
estimate in some GFCI breakers as a part of the job, or add those
myself later? I can always use the standard breakers somewhere else.
I'll be running a number of new and replacement circuits from the new
box, as time permits, to provide outlets for garage tools & computer
equipment. Are there any concerns there that I might provide for in
the upgrade job?
Thanks in advance,
<< The electrician is asking $850 for the job. >>
Did you ask for or get a breakdown of parts, labor? If not, request one.
<< The Square D breaker boxes and breakers that they are installing are a brand
I have seen before, but I don't know their reputation. >>
This is a good brand preferrred by many pros for ease of installation. Be aware
that there are two quality levels, the QO series (better) and Homeline (not so
hot). Check any box store for prices on QO in your locale. Add in breaker
prices, subtract from quote, and the balance is labor, and miscellaneous
supplies. Find out how much time will be spent on the job and you will have an
idea of the labor rate. If you are curious about what rates journeymen are paid
call you local union office. If the numbers add up reasonably well accept the
bid. If not, discuss it in a polite way for resolution. HTH
Do not expect a break down of labor and materials. Most will not give you
any accurate information unless you agree on a time and materials price. My
new home has the Homeline, I just purchased a plug in surge arrestor for the
panel. Pretty neet little device. The guys at the orange box said it would
not protect from lightning strikes. Like anything will.... Orange box
wanted 120, Lowes was 65.
All the wiring for the service drop will be new, if the service drop is
Better check for permits and locations with the building department and the
utility before you start. I once had to move a service 20 feet because the
utility did not want the service drop in the middle of a span.
Depending on what requirements the building department has you might want to
consider some arc fault breakers, now required for the bedroom circuits.
There are a lot of "misc supplies" that are going to be required. A new
meter base ($50), new wire ($30), probably new conduit and weatherhead
($40), probably two ground rods and wire ($25), #4 bonding wires ($6). The
new panel and breakers will probably be about $150. If you can get him to
specify SquareD QO equipment, I think $850 total is a reasonable price.
When I worked at Paylass Cashways years ago, we tended to avoid SquareD
supplies because the design was proprietary - you couldn't throw a GE
breaker, for instance, into a SquareD box meaning you were out of luck if
you didn't have a SquareD supplier, which leads to the second reason: they
weren't as easy to find as GE or CutlerHammer, but that may have changed
since then. God knows you can find just about anything you'd want on the
In New Jersey $850. for a 200 amp service is ridiculously low. If someone
gave me a price like that I would question everything. Does that price
include labor AND materials? How about permit and inspection fees? I
assume that the job will be done to your local code requirements.
For a service upgrade all service entrance wire will need to be upgraded as
well as the fittings, straps, panel, meter socket, ground, etc. Your power
company may have to run a new line to the house also.
The Square D QO line is very good. The Square D Homeline is compatible with
other brands, but I'm not sure of the quality. Make sure that you will be
getting a 40 circuit panel or at least a 30/40 circuit panel. I've seen
other contractors keep the price down by installing a 24 circuit panel which
gets filled up quickly.
GFI protection is required in the National Electrical Code on certain
circuits such as bathrooms, kitchens, basement outlets, outdoor outlets, and
garage outlets. You would have to check with your local building department
to find out if they abide by the NEC or have their own code in place.
Impossible to tell from here. It depends on whether he can reuse the
existing service conduit (probably not) and meter socket. There's a lot
of labor involved in taking out the old 1 1/4 conduit and replacing with
2" (just guessing the sizes). Are the service lines to the utility
underground or overhead? Maybe he has to dig up the service lines and
Square D has 2 product lines. You want the "QO" series, not the
"Homeline" series. Homeline is adequate, but QO is better and the
difference in cost is minimal compared to the total cost of the project.
Do you really need more amps, or just need more spaces? Maybe the old
box has a kit you can install to feed a second box directly off its main
bus (what are those called, feed thru lugs?) That would give you about
20 more spaces if you install a 125A main lug load center next to your
old box, but it would not increase the size of your service. The main
breaker in the old box would be the disconnect for both boxes.
Or you can install a subpanel next to the old box and feed it from a
huge breaker in the old panel.
As long as you feed the subpanel after the main breaker, you don't have
to update the service wires and the meter.
You don't justify why you have to go to 200A service; if
it's only because you're out of breaker-space, that's not a
good enough reason IMO. I think that's the first question
to ask: Is it necessary?
The cost sounds reasonable, but it depends on lots of
-- What has to be changed out? Meter, yes, but what else?
New wiring needed? Expensive, esp if underground. Entrance
wire? Can be expensive, depending on the run & method of
-- I usually get good info on who's good/who's not and
whether he's the only game in town from my code enforcement
officer: He knows the skinny on about everyone, usually
including who's going to get passed on the first try.
-- Who pays for the rework if there's a prbolem with the
-- Building Permit: Does he have to submit dwgs and
papers, or just a form? Drafting/electrical dwg can be
expensive - shouldn't be, but can be.
Around here, that actually would be high unless there was
more than a meter-change and wire from the meter to the
service box. When we lived inChgo though, I'd hav e said
that was a good price, check his insurance and references,
and go fer it!
Oh yeah; no bond, no insurance, no hire him! In my
experience the honest guys are proud to display it to you
and offer phone numbers for references/verification. You
can really learn a lot by asking the questions here, just be
watching them squirm (or not) and find reasons that's not
necessary to have. Don't let him/her do anything that would
screw your house insurance should you ever have to make a
As for the computers, well, you -can- get surge arrestors
and line inductors installed in the panel, but personally I
recommend against it. It's much better to go out and buy a
good surge/spike controller and place it right at the
computer, which is the recommended location. Also, they are
placed on individual ckts, so if you decide to move the
computer room to that newly vacant bedroom or something,
you'll lose all your line protection. PLUS, it's REAL
expensive to repair in-panel protection if you do take a
serious hit or a power surge and it blows the protectors.
Might I suggest you consider instead a UPS
(Uninterruptable Power Supply) from APC or the like? Add up
the watts consumed by your computer, monitor, modem (switch
if you run one, etc - whatever you want to stay on in the
event of a power outage) and then get a UPS with a wattage
rating at least 3 times that. Today's and last year's
machines run the PC and monitor at about 130W or so, and a
reasonably priced 500W UPS is under $200. They also of
course condition the power and keep it right at rating
during brownouts, surges, line drops, motors turning on,
etcv etc etc; very handy. Do a Google on UPS and you'll
find lots of vendors with prices and specs - you want the
most watts and joules of protection you can affort, plus a
switching time from line to battery of about a tenth of a
cycle of 60 Hz or better.
The idea of a UPS is not to be able to use your computer
during power outagesk, BTW; it simply keeps them running off
a battery long enough for you to turn everything off
normally and avoid system damage from the power fluctuations
when power does go down.
A friend of ours had theirs replaced last year (Columbus, Ohio area).
A 1969 house, 100 to 200 amp upgrade. The cost was about $950 to
replace the panel with a SquareD Q0 series panel. Another $250 to
replace the service wire up the outside of the house (the city
electric department is responsible from that point). The $1200 range
seems to be about average from what I've seen.
email@example.com (Gregory) wrote in message
Have you considered doing this yourself?
From your post is sounds like you will be running all of the new circuits
from the panel anyway so I am assuming that you have some experience with
electricity. On my house in Wausau, WI. I did the upgrade from a 60 amp
fuse box to brand new shinny Cutler Hammer 200 amp panel myself. Went down
the local electrical inspectors office, he told me exactly what I needed to
do (proper grounding, size of cable etc.). He sent me home with my $25
permit and his blessings. I installed the new panel right next to the old
one this of course made it easy to tie all the circuits into it later. I
was able to keep the old service hooked up until I was ready to go. After
the new panel was connected I ran two BIG (I think #6) wires from a 50 amp
double pole breaker (which I needed eventually to run to the stove anyway)
in the new panel to the old 60 amp panel and effectively hooked it back up
and re-powered my house. Then I would "pull" the circuits one by one (at my
leisure) into the new panel. The only part that was a real pain was running
the wires from the new 200 amp meter to the panel I believe it was a 4/0 or
maybe 2/0, whatever it was, I had to cut it with a hack-saw and it was like
arm-wrestling a lead pipe to get it pulled through the conduit into the new
One other thing, the old service was over-head, which the utility
company would have replaced for free. However, for $125 (which seemed
pretty dang reasonable to me) they ran the new service underground including
my phone and cable, so when all was said and done I went from three wires
running overhead in my backyard to NONE!
I read in one of the replies to this post where someone was questioning
the need. I agree, I am pretty sure you can get 125 amp breaker boxes, why
don't you install one of those instead, if you don't need 200 amps then
don't pay to put it in...
Something like this perhaps;
just my two-cents
I have considered doing it myself, but ultimately I realize that I am
not experienced enough to be comfortable with the service upgrade
task. I consider the panel to be a base point which I need to be able
to rely upon when I am working on the smaller parts of the electrical
system. A mistake there can affect operation and safety throughout the
I'm fine with adding individual circuits, as needed, but I think I
will just observe the service upgrade this time.
All of you folks have provided a wealth of promising information for
me to consider. The best of it was the advice on what to make sure
the electrician includes in the contract.
I suspect that I am going to be much more satisfied when the job is
done because I will know a bit more about what I am buying.
I disagree. I also don't plan to live forever.
Without knowing what my amperage needs are, you can't possibly know if
the upgrade to 200 amps is insufficient. I assure you that it is
sufficient. The increase in current usage is not rapid enough to
justify a large service upgrade, even if the upgrade cost is not very
By the time that I need 400 amps, I will be happy to pay for another
service upgrade. I expect to be a very old man by then, and unless my
DeWalt Power Denture Cleaner draws 90 amps, I don't think I will need
even as much juice as I use now.
Glad I'm not the only one tired of the "get more than you need,
you never know..." mentality on this newsgroup. You ask this
crowd what's involved in adding an outboard motor to your three
seater rowboat and they tell you you're an idiot if you don't
just go and build yourself a cabin cruiser while you're at it.
Again, way to speak up.
TP / Network Man __________________________________
If u want the races for free,
$1500.00 around here and thats if it's a straight foward change out .
Also thats using type SE or type SER cable up the side of the house . If
you need a conduit riser or if it's under ground the price is alot
Are you adding the circuits themselves, or is the electrician ??
$ 850 sounds pretty reasonable if you are having a certified electrician
do the job. Here in California a new service costs around $1200. Here
the Edison company won't even energize the home unless the new service
is approved by an electrician and you definitely have to pull a permit
with the city. All of that goes into the price of the service upgrade.
Interesting how the requirements differ in different areas. Here in my
area in North Texas, all that is required is an quick inspection by the
electric company lineman before connectiing service. I recently
upgraded to 200 A . The local electic company gave me a diagram
showing the required heights, wire size, grounding methods, etc. No
building permit or inspection required. They even gave me a meter
box and pipe interface for free. Home Depot sold me a 200 amp
service panel with a main disconnect for around $130. Misc pipe,
wire, and ground rod added another $50.
I built it, mounted beside the existing service panel, and called the
electric company. They sent a man out, who looked it over, and
called me at my office to tell me it looked correct and verifying that
he was going to make the changeover. That was it.
While it's true I am a licensed electrical engineer and have done this
a number of times over the years, I was very pleasantly surprised at
the level of cooperation I got from the power company and the ease
of the whole thing.
Finally, if you live in an area where you can do it yourself, and have the
skills, be aware that each power company seems to have a slightly
different set of requirements : Diameter of pole, height above ground,
type of weatherhead, etc. I have always found the guys sitting around
the stove at the power company to be very helpful, PROVIDING you
don't go in with an attitude. Just say you've done several before in
other places and ask if they have a diagram of their requirements that
you can get a copy of.......
Andy in Fink, Texas
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