Congested Main Panel

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Rodango
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Joined: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:14 pm

Congested Main Panel

Post by Rodango » Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:52 pm

Hi all,

We bought this house built in the 1970’s. As part of my inspection I pulled the cover off of the main panel and checked it out. The thing that really stuck out at the time was that there are two a/c compressors (one for upstairs, one for down) and they were double-tapped to the same 220V breaker pair — which was rated for 15Amps. I was surprised that they both ran at the same time (I think they’re both 2.5 ton units.)

I asked the seller to get a professional electrician out to put each compressor’s circuit on its own 30Amp breaker pair and to inspect and approve the rest of the workmanship for code compliance and for safety (should be the same thing, but not necessarily.) He did the work and ok’d the rest. I was not able to be there to ask questions and he was hired through my realtor to the seller to the selling realtor...I haven’t been able to contact him for info.

Recently pulled the cover because I’m going to install a Siemens FS 140 whole-house SPD. I was able to line up a pair of adjacent slots each on a separate leg (or phase) for the 30Amp breaker pair. The location in the panel is great: it allows the shortest wiring length, and they just about don’t have to bend (ideal for the SPD). But on removing the cover I see this rat’s nest of tangled wiring and numerous pigtails (in lieu of double-tapped breakers, I assume.) The ground and neutral buses look like a mess to try to work with.

To clean up what looks like careless workmanship, would it be better to lose the pigtails and make the double-taps at the breakers themselves (all either 15 or 20Amp circuits)?

Second, it looks like the neutral and ground buses are both filled, but with only one conductor per each screw. None are doubled though there are several hots, ground and neutral pairs or triplets that are combined with wirenuts and pigtailed onto a breaker or ground/neutral bus- using #12 or #14 leads for up to 3 conductors of the same size.... Should I shut off the main breaker and clean this up by attaching directly to the breakers or buses with 2 conductors per screw? Seems like it would be more of a direct connection and also wouldn’t be depending on a single #14 pigtail lead (for example) for neutral to 3 - 15Amp circuits?

Rodango
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:14 pm

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Rodango » Mon Aug 05, 2019 2:20 pm

Here is a photo of the panel and wiring. Note all of the wirenuts. I think a lot of work was done by different hands as workmanship and parts vary.

I set a double pole 30A breaker sitting partway into its location lower on the lefthand column. Rat’s nest of neutrals and grounds upper left. I’ve considered attaching an extra, bonded neutral+ground bus, maybe on the left side, or else doubling up some of the pigtailed N/G on the existing buses. Good idea? Comments? Thanks.
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Aaron
Posts: 3411
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:03 pm
Location: St. Paul, MN

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Aaron » Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:30 pm

That's a pretty congested panel. Much of what you're asking depends on your local authority having jurisdiction (LAHJ). The LAHJ is typically your city, county, state or province--whichever governmental official who employs electrical inspectors in your area. Not all LAHJs have the same requirements or allowances.

Having said that, one thing you cannot do is double-tap under breaker terminals. A short pigtail is a solution to circumvent that limitation, but some LAHJs do not allow splices in the panel at all--only straight terminations to breakers or terminal buses. With that in mind, another workaround solution are tandem breakers. These split a full-size slot in your panel into two circuits on the same "leg" of your incoming power. It looks like you have several of them. Double-pole breakers occupy two adjacent full-size slots, those are what you have with the thick wires going into them in the top right.

Whether you can double-tap neutrals and/or grounds, that is determined by the panel manufacturer's listing with UL and/or CSA, AND your LAHJ. Some will allow up to three ground conductors under one screw, but only a single neutral per screw (obviously no mixing of neutral and ground under one screw). The allowances or limitations of any given panel make certain brands of panels either "a favorite" or "an avoid" among electricians.

So that's the information, sorry for the "it depends" answer. Hopefully emtnut will see this post and offer his 2 cents.

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Aaron
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Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:03 pm
Location: St. Paul, MN

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Aaron » Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:57 pm

One thing you are fully in control of doing right now is assessing exactly what each breaker is powering throughout your house. There's no easy/fast way to do this... You turn off a breaker and go and discover which receptacles and lights are not energized. Make a very detailed inventory of exactly what is powered by each breaker.

There is a sort of phenomenon that is common over decades of a panel wiring by lazy electricians and/or inexperienced/uninformed homeowners and/or handypersons where there literally can be one breaker powering just a 120V receptacle somewhere in the house, or maybe two. Such a circuit can often be easily consolidated in a junction box somewhere in the house with another circuit, in which case you could remove one cable in your panel by "swinging" it to a junction box instead, a potentially free up a slot.

Rodango
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:14 pm

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Rodango » Mon Aug 05, 2019 5:08 pm

Very helpful even if it’s not definitive on all points, so thanks!

I think the panel is ‘over used’, but not overloaded. I got permits to do entirely new work at my last house, from the service mast & entrance to the panel, sub panel in my shop, to every run and outlet. It had been 60A 4 fuse panel, with no grounds on any of the runs...then my work was inspected with no questions or problems. New work is so much easier, you have the opportunity to do it the right way.

I was mainly hoping to clean up this wiring a little in the panel and install the Surge Protective Device. I think if I can stack 2 or 3 grounds there will be plenty of room for all of the neutrals as singles. Wish I had the SPD installed already - big thunder outside of Atlanta tonight.

We had a serviceman over to replace a board on the frig under warranty. He commented that he had an exceptional amount of work in my area. He considered our power to be ‘pretty dirty,’ and suggested that I look into surge protection. Coincidentally, as a service, Ga Power will install and maintain a type 1 SPD. It costs US $9.00/month. It does the same job, but neither device is a complete filter.

I’ll check the code, as amended, by the local authority

Rodango
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:14 pm

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Rodango » Mon Aug 05, 2019 5:13 pm

Thanks for the consolidation idea, too. I’ve been looking at that in the basement and found two exactly as you describe.

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Aaron
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Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:03 pm
Location: St. Paul, MN

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Aaron » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:26 pm

I'd probably take up that $9/mo service from your utility, honestly, at least for the time being. Nice and turn-key. They may install their device next to the meter so you aren't in any real hurry to modify your panel config. Cheap peace of mind.

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Aaron
Posts: 3411
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:03 pm
Location: St. Paul, MN

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Aaron » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:35 pm

Also explore solar since you're in the south. You get nice clean AC current from photovoltaic panels. No spikes or sags. Big-time gov't energy rebates and your utility may be mandated to subtract surplus power you don't use.

Rodango
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Aug 05, 2019 1:14 pm

Re: Congested Main Panel

Post by Rodango » Mon Aug 05, 2019 7:51 pm

I really like the concept of solar, but this property has a lot of older, very tall pines and white oaks. Very little full sun

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