It's done. Here's the report.
A few years ago, we had a 200-amp service box replaced on one half of a
duplex. The cost then was $850.
Time to do it for the other side. Bids from three large electrical
contractors were from $950 - $1050. Here's what we did instead:
1. BOUGHT (total $205)
A. A "kit" from HD - $149.00 (Square D brand)
B. Extra breakers not included in the kit. Mostly double-20amp to
substitute for the single 15-amp breakers in the kit
C. Six feet of 2/0 wire
D. Ten feet of 10g wire in case of splicing
E. A box of 100 wire nuts (two were used to hook up whole-house surge
F. Packet of sticky wire-numbers (they wrap around the wire to assign it a
G. Can of "Great Stuff" to seal hole in brick.
2. Called the power company to remove meter seal (their standard is to
respond in 6 hours or less). In our city, Houston, no permit is required.
3. Tools needed: Seemingly everything I owned. One tool that was handy was a
Greenlee chassis punch to get a hole in the breaker box, in the right place,
for an external conduit. Also a large Allen wrench to secure primary lines
plus a big-ass screwdriver. Masonry bits. Unexpected: Chisel and sledge to
A. Saturday noon, removed meter and began.
B. Removed each wire from existing circuit breakers, labeling each black
or red with a number and noting to what size breaker it was attached. Also
paying attention to which wires were attached to double breakers (mostly the
240-type red-black pairs).
C. Removed old breaker box.
D. Oops. New box has no hole remotely close to where wires come from wall.
E. Using Dremel, cut a 2"x3" hole in back of new breaker box to
accommodate wires. Still not good enough. Remove one brick up. Now the
existing wires will reach. NOTE: Electricity is required for Dremel and
maybe drill. Long extension cord and compliant - or ignorant - neighbor
F. Mount box using two 1/2" masonry anchors (on hand)
G. Following chart created in step B, attach house wires to appropriate
breakers. It's easier to attach the wire to the breaker(s) before inserting
the breakers into the box.
H. After all the breakers in place, go back and attach all the white and
green wires to the grounding strap.
I. Dress all the wiring neatly, making sure nothing is rubbing where it
shouldn't - much like a chaperone on a senior trip.
J. Make hole in box to attach one external bit of conduit (here's where
the chassis punch came in handy). Hook his wires up.
K. Punch out hole in bottom of box to attach whole-house surge suppressor.
Had to extend existing wires using wire nuts and tape.
L. Last step: Re-visit EVERY screw and tighten the hell out of it.
3. Smoke test
A. All switches in off position.
B. Replace meter. Look for smoke.
C. Turn on master 200-amp switch. Look for smoke.
D. Flip on each breaker, in turn, pausing to look for smoke.
E. Attach cover, then door.
F. Squirt Great Stuff in any cracks. Plan on caulking to further
waterproof in a couple of days.
4. Have beer while picking up and returning several hundred tools to their
proper places. Finished 5:00 pm.
5. Tally stuff left over: 8 circuit breakers (mostly 15 amp), 98 wire nuts,
4 feet of 2/0 wire, misc screws, couple of unknown thingies, Spanish
language stickers. Lots of wire numbers.
Total time elapsed for two people: Five hours. Money saved: ~ $800, plus the
satisfaction in a job well done; if I might say so, better than the
"professional" job done on the other half of the duplex.
Call power company on Monday to replace meter seal.
This is a non-trivial, but straightforward project. Total curse-words
necessary were less than ten! In our case, there was very little backing and
filling. That is, if we had it to do over, we might be able to shave an hour
off of the event. Still, it was not rocket surgery and a fairly competent
DIY person should be able to save big bucks.